Mythical creatures from the side-lines of our past: jeweller Ruby Taglight

Posted by Rae Gellel on

Ruby Taglight’s Untitled Collection plucks playful celestial beings from the margins of medieval manuscripts, murals and architecture and transforms them into tiny wearable sculptures.

Using the ancient art of lost wax carving and employing liberal use of colour through bright, lab-grown gemstones, the Glasgow School of Art graduate uses her jewellery to explore the idea of adornment and its changing perception throughout history.

Creatures such as cherubs classically used to adorn palaces and cathedrals now adorn the body, in abstract, yet bold statement pieces. Each is signed off with the up-and-coming maker’s namesake; a lab-grown ruby.

Jeweller Ruby Taglight setting a red ruby into a piece at her jewellery bench

Hello Ruby. So, what first attracted you to career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?

I first studied painting and printmaking at the Glasgow School of Art. During my time there, I made life-sized, heavily adorned, pastel-coloured figures. Then I began to look into adornment and our relationship with ornaments. I ended up moving to New York to study gemmology at the Gemological Institute of America, and when I came back to London, I began working in jewellery shops and taking short courses, kind of combining all of my knowledge to make jewellery.

What made you transition from printmaking and painting to jewellery?

It was a process of trying to figure out a viable way to have a creative career. I've always been drawn to jewellery, but it was just not something that I'd ever really considered as a profession. I always knew I wanted to paint, but as I progressed through university, I realised for the first time that becoming a jeweller was a possibility and so I began to focus my attention on pursuing it. Many of the skills I learned at university are transferrable to jewellery-making.

During my studies, a lot of my sculptures were made in plaster and then cast, and now, I mostly make my pieces in wax, by carving and casting them. Wax behaves quite similarly to plaster because it starts as a liquid and solidifies. So, it’s the same, just on a smaller scale.

Can you tell us a little bit about the collection you'll be debuting at Shine 2022?

This collection started with me going to an exhibition of medieval manuscripts when I was in Florence. I was there to study at the Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School, but the trip was cut short due to Covid. I was there for two and a half weeks, and the museums were very empty – so I took advantage of the empty space, using it as an opportunity to get an intimate look at the work.

I noticed that all around the borders of the manuscripts were these creatures that existed in the realms of decoration, within these valuable books. Then, when I looked through the archive of images that I often refer to for inspiration, I began to see more of these creatures that existed in the sidelines of the historical buildings or the religious spaces that I have visited. So, I really wanted to make this collection a celebration of these overlooked creatures and beings.

How would you describe your design style?

I would say it's very textural and very visceral. There's a lot of hidden details in the work that I make. I sign every piece with a lab-grown ruby, which is my signature, and I think most of my designs are quite chunky, bold and really colourful. I want them to be fun retellings of the historical stories that I'm looking at.

Have you explored any new techniques or materials whilst working on this collection?

It's definitely made me work in a different way! Before this collection, I was only really making one-of-a-kind pieces. I was really concentrating on the fact that the wax is lost when it's cast, meaning that everything I created was unique.

With this collection, I really wanted to focus on being able to reproduce the pieces, whilst offering bespoke options in terms of choice of metals, colours and stones, so that the customer can still make each piece their own and I can still focus on these really detailed designs.

So, I've definitely been thinking a lot about the process of casting and its limitations and have been figuring out how to replicate designs and cut up waxes and casts in specific ways. That's definitely taught me a lot. There are still one-of-a-kind pieces in this collection, like my still life pieces which are based on game and hunting paintings. Although they all follow a similar structure, they’re all unique.

What’s your favourite thing about being a maker?

I'd say it's the making and perhaps that comes from a fine art background - you're really focused on the making process. I find wax carving just so soothing and meditative. I could sit there for hours doing it. I also enjoy the first time that I cast a design. Even though the technology has progressed and you’re able to monitor the temperature of the metal, there’s still an element of chance which I really love. You never know how something is going to turn out until it’s cast. That’s one of my favourite parts.

It is also a great feeling knowing that a piece is unique, that there’s just one of it in the world and it’s loved by the client. Every piece I make is based off a story that’s quite specific, and when someone makes a connection to that story, it’s quite special – it’s like it was meant for them.

What does your creative process look like?

I do sketches, but I also usually take to the wax pretty quickly. I carve what I have in mind, and then usually melt it and carve it again and try to slowly manipulate the form to fit a piece of jewellery. Then I usually go back and draw it again. If it's like a mythical creature or animal that I'm looking at, I’ll try and find different versions of it that can bounce them off each other.

Is there one piece in this collection that you would say is your favourite?

I'd say my Cherub Studs. I'm wearing them right now.

I love Rococo palaces, and when I went to visit Charlottenburg Palace, there were cherubs everywhere, looking down on me from every angle. They’re so high up on the vaulted ceilings. I wanted to be close to them, so I decided to create cherubs that seemed like they were plucked from the ceilings of palaces. They’re 3D and move through the air like they’re playing, which I think is really sweet.

What kind of person do you think will be most attracted to your collection?

I'd say someone who likes quite bold jewellery and who also appreciates the story behind a piece. I'd definitely say that my work is geared towards people that have an appreciation for art and art history. Also, I want my pieces to be really fun and to be worn lightly, on a daily basis, yet still have an air of luxury about them. So, someone just looking for a bit of sparkle. This specific collection is mostly cast in recycled silver with synthetic gemstones, so there is a playful, almost costume vibe to the pieces, because they’re quite big and chunky.

So, what’s next for you - what are your professional and creative goals for the next two years?

I want to start experimenting with making larger pieces, such as in the realms of homeware, like candelabras. I used to make large pieces during my time at university, so I’m keen to play around with size.

I think a larger scale would lend itself quite well with my designs, as I’d be able to use the space to add more detail. I loved the whole process of planning moulds and casts for this collection, I love the science behind it, and want to explore applying it to a huge-scaled piece. That’s my main goal for now.

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