Incredible journey from unhappy schooldays to life of arts

Peter Stupples reviews, Tony Williams: Goldsmith, by Tony Williams, published by Potton & Burton.

Dunedin is home to a host of cultural treasures - both people and objects. Tony Williams is one and the crafted objects that come from his hands, mind and honed skills are others.

This richly illustrated appreciation of Williams's career as a fine-art jeweller marks his move into semi-retirement. His career has been an incredible journey. After unhappy schooldays, a series of fortuitous circumstances brought him to the Birmingham School of Jewellery in the UK, where he found what he wanted to do with his life, to work as an independent jeweller on his eventual return to New Zealand.

In Birmingham he assiduously collected the necessary tools and techniques for the type of work he hoped to make "from diamond setting to repousse techniques". When he graduated in 1972 he went on to the workshop of Andrew Grima, in London. The Anglo-Italian has been called "the James Bond of jewellery" and the influence his flamboyant style can be enjoyed in the wide range of Williams' work illustrated in this finely produced book.

When he eventually returned to New Zealand, he did indeed set up his workshop/studio in Dunedin. From the beginning Williams was ambitious; not for him were the safe but more mundane tasks of the high-street jeweller. He was temperamentally of a different caste. From childhood he was drawn to the exotic - the romance of the past, the fantasy of Lord of the Rings, of Lewis Carroll and The Wizard of Oz - all of which found expression in brooches and rings, necklaces and pendants. He made contact with Veronica Bunda in Australia and the quality of Williams's work soon became known, enough to sustain an income supported by the more routine work of repairs and the resetting of clients' jewellery.

He gathered about him sympathetic colleagues. Jeffery Chambers presented his work to its best advantage with custom-made boxes. He was passed on work from Bob Daniels and supported by John Bezett to engage an apprentice. For many years Williams also taught evening classes in the Dunedin School of Art at the Otago Polytechnic: "Education isn't just about getting people ready for jobs; it's about giving them knowledge, and hence, a richer inner life, if you like."

In 1989, with an Arts Council grant, Williams took a sabbatical to visit jewellers' workshops in Italy, and then undertook further experiential training in enamelling with the goldsmiths and silversmiths Kempson and Mauger, near Chelmsford in Essex. On his second return to New Zealand these newly acquired skills soon became evident in the enamelled work of his later creations. Indeed he was now a unique craftsman, the only one of his particular kind in New Zealand. "His inspiration comes from everywhere: from visiting exhibitions of Afghan and Egyptian jewellery or the couture of Jean Paul Gaultier ... from Cellini ... Faberge ... from the mountains, the bush and the sea."

Williams' life and work are well served by the elegant and perceptive introductory essay of Emma Neale, by the historical contextualisation of Rigel Sorzano and the editorial and publishing team who helped to put this jewel of a book together. A worthy tribute to a remarkable jeweller.

Peter Stupples, now living in Wellington, used to teach at the University of Otago


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