Unlike jeweller’s wax with its many pliable varieties, beeswax is fragile and capricious, given to disintegration if not handled with great care. This did not deter Samantha Snow however, a self-taught, Sussex-based jeweller whose fascination with history has led her to recreate, with painstaking authenticity, the techniques and experiences of 1st century goldsmiths.
Using hand-made tools and a spirit lamp, Samantha has utilised locally-sourced beeswax to craft Nectar, a collection that captures the beauty of wild flowers with an emphasis on organic textures and highly variable, free flowing forms. In doing so, she has tapped into a passionate effort to preserve bee populations, and earned a spot on Shine 2023, our annual showcase of new talent.
What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
I trained as a fashion designer and worked for luxury fashion brands for about seven years. It was a multi-product brand, so I had access to lots of different categories, but jewellery was the one I was most drawn to. I’ve created beautiful dresses for people over the years, and I really liked the idea of creating something that was timeless and could be worn with these dresses, adornments that could complement what I've created in my fashion career.
I’ve always been quite creative. As a child, I’d always be making something at play time, building with K’nex or using clay to create something. When I was in my early teens, I started making jewellery out of wire and polymer clay and then later on, selling it to my friends. I ended up going down the fashion route because I felt it would fulfil the creative desires that I had as a child, then later in life I realised jewellery was another route that could fulfil that need. I was also heavily inspired by my dad, who isn’t a trained jeweller but created my mum’s engagement ring.
I'm self taught, I don't have any professional training. When I was still working in my fashion job, I took an evening class in Brighton in silversmithing, and that's where I learnt my skills. It was a course where if I expressed an interest in making something, they would give me the skills I needed to make it, which was really good actually. It wasn’t a basic “make a stacking ring set” course or anything like that - I’ve always been quite ambitious so I’d approach any evening class with the attitude of, I want to make this, give me what I need to make it happen. Then I slowly bought the bits and pieces and started trying my hand at making at home, and ran with it from there.
Can you tell me a bit about the collection you’ll be debuting at Shine 2023?
The collection is called Nectar. As I use beeswax in my jewellery, I wanted to do a play on the relationship between bees and flowers. The collection is quite floral based, it’s inspired by wild flowers, clematis, wild pansies and forget-me-nots. These are flowers I see as growing in places that are quite untouched by humans and so relate to my organic aesthetic the most, and obviously they have a connection to beeswax, because the life of a flower is dependent on a bee pollinating it. I’ve also taken inspiration from textures found in nature, so the themes are all very interconnected.
Have you explored any new techniques or materials through creating this collection?
This is the collection where I really refined my techniques with beeswax. I was finding my feet with it beforehand, but for this collection, as I was using beeswax which is much more delicate than jeweller’s wax, I had to compromise slightly and do things differently.
I source my wax from a bee farm in Hassocks. Up until recently, I was purchasing beeswax in a sheet form, which is 100% pure beeswax, but because I wanted to connect to the process a bit more, I've since been purchasing beeswax in a unrefined, un-purified form, which means then I have to do the filtering process myself.
I receive the beeswax and it’s still got bits of honeycomb, debris and all sorts mixed in with it, then I heat it up and pour it through cheesecloth a number of times to get it to a really pure beeswax form. Then I pour that into a beeswax sheet myself, and use that as a starting point to mould or start cutting out shapes or create textures within it. The finished result is cast into metal just as you would do with jeweller’s wax.
I know some people in the country who have hives so I've been to see them, but that was actually before I started using beeswax in my work, so I'd like to understand that connection more, and visit hives and talk to a beekeeper about it because I think it’s really interesting.
How would you describe your design style?
I first started looking at the philosophy of wabi sabi, which is about embracing imperfections and seeing the beauty within imperfections. That sort of led me down the route of organic textures. I really like first century gold jewellery, it's so imperfect, it was made using limited skills, yet I find it more beautiful than a lot of pieces that are made now. In order to really capture the organic, ancient feel of my jewellery, I recreate as many processes that would have been used six thousand years ago as I can. I use hand made tools and a spirit lamp to be as authentic as possible. So I really like the idea of something that transcends time, recreating the skills that would have been used to create first century jewellery, but with a more contemporary feel.
Since beeswax is so fragile, bits of the wax will sometimes fall apart during the process, but I actually find it quite beautiful - it means that every piece is different and one-of-a-kind. So for example, it will mean that one piece will have claw settings in a slightly different position to another one, it’s just the way it naturally works. I push the claws over the stones just however they feel right - they’re set very well and don’t fall out, but they do their own thing, it’s a very organic process, and I think that’s really nice.
What do you enjoy most about being a maker?
I feel really proud about what I do. When I've fulfilled a customer's dream, seeing the enjoyment they receive from something I’ve designed and given to them is such a wonderful feeling. Also, when someone gets as excited about my story as I am, that's really special, but I've also always just loved being creative. I feel very lucky that it’s something I can do.
How do you find inspiration for your pieces?
So this particular collection is floral-based, however, I'm very interested in lots of different aspects of history, not necessarily just flowers. I've recently been looking into Akan gold weights, which have really interested me because in order to get them to a certain weight, they'd break a bit off or they'd add something. These weights would have been cast out of wax that was carved into shapes and symbols of that time. So it's about taking aspects of history and then applying my own sort of technique and feel to it.
In terms of finding inspiration for the floral theme, I went for a walk in the woods and saw some beautiful flowers, and it sent me down a road of researching different kinds of flowers, and also relevant topics of history, too. I’ll find something I really like, then I’ll start drawing it before translating it into wax. Or I’ll be walking down the street and see a bark texture that I find interesting, and take a photo of it and use it within my work. The final piece could be a completely different shape, it’s just the texture that will have been influenced.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
I do love the Wild Pansy necklace, it’s two layers of sheet beeswax that I’ve carved textures into and set with pink Tourmaline. My absolute favourite piece is the Nella Ring, however, it’s actually the first piece that I created in beeswax and it incorporates all the textures that I want and it ignited a whole new desire in me.
What kind of person do you think is most attracted to your jewellery?
I've found that I've got two two different customers, which I didn't actually expect when I first came into this. After working in a luxury women's wear brand and designing for a certain type of client, I then envisioned my jewellery for that client. So someone who wanted to adorn their body with something that was timeless, but also contemporary, that almost transcends time.
However, I found that through using beeswax, I've tapped into a market of people who love bees. There’s a huge fan base for bees, because they're dwindling, and people are trying to keep them alive, which is brilliant. I’ve found from doing pop up events and talking to people that more and more people are keeping hives on their balconies and gardens to ensure that bees stay around. So that's a really interesting client that I didn't realise I was going to attract. Beeswax is a waste product from something natural that would just be discarded, so I’m happy I’m able to make use of it. It’s completely sustainable.
What’s next for you - what are your creative and professional goals for the next two years?
I'm very new, and I'm still learning more and more about beeswax. I'm excited about new techniques that I can discover from using it, and I'd like to eventually exhibit at galleries and shops. I’d also love to just meet more people and do more pop ups. I've really enjoyed sharing my story with people, I've been able to connect with them on a level that I didn't realise would be possible, that’s a really nice feeling.