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An Interview with Shaun Leane

Over the past year Shaun Leane has been thrust forward into the spotlight again as a household name with the series All that Glitters.
 

If you feel like his name is familiar there’s good reason for that as Shaun Leane is certainly not new to the jewellery scene having famously worked in partnership with the late Alexander McQueen. Shaun is also responsible for designing and creating Princess Beatrice’s engagement ring; a moment he describes as “the proudest moment of my working career.” He worked alongside Princess Beatrice’s husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi to create the ring saying that “It was a real honour and working with Edoardo was a complete pleasure as he understood design and materials and knew exactly the aesthetic Princess Beatrice would like”.


Shaun Leane is a designer who proudly and uninhibitedly pushes boundaries and designs with a devotion and passion for his craft. We at Baker Brothers are proud to have stocked Shaun’s creations for over 15 years; and marvel at how his designs remain exciting and provocative with an emotional connection. I think every member of the team has lusted over a particular piece at some time or another! 
Image Left Hand side: All that Glitters, the BBC show hosted by Katherine Ryan alongside judges Shaun Leane and Solange Azagury-Partridge. Image Right Hand Side: Shaun Leane Silver Large Hook Earrings
Shaun’s Early Years

From the age of 15, before he had even left school, Shaun knew fashion and design was where he wanted to be. Unsure where to turn with this newfound confidence Shaun took the advice of the careers officer and began a foundation course in Jewellery Design and Making at Kingsway Princeton College. It was here he discovered and fell in love with the process of crafting.
Looking back, Shaun fondly remembers this time as ‘the first time in my education I felt I had found something that gained my devoted attention. The beauty in seeing something you had designed and envisaged then being formed and crafted by my own hands was so rewarding. From here he began to explore the different possibilities of design discovering techniques and experimenting with materials allowing him to push the boundaries of his designs.

Just like other great artists throughout history, Shaun didn’t see walls between what art is and what he could design and took inspiration from across the board. “I feel that art, fashion, architecture, and all elements of design feed each other and into my designs.” When asked about his design inspiration, Shaun also talks about the sentiments and romance in literature and poetry being incredibly inspiring and it is clearly seen reflected in his collections; combining traditional jewellery craftsmanship with avant-garde ideas to create jewellery which symbolises modern romance.

Another source Shaun talks of are the great masters of the Art Nouveau, Art deco and Victorian eras. Bold and fearless in their approach it’s not hard to see why; a time in history when design and industry were evolving at breakneck speed and artists with the bravery to do so were exploring new materials, techniques and innovations.
 
It’s not hard to see why this period would be inspirational and this adoration began in his early career when he was first thrust into the world of the jewellery bench at a small company called English Traditional Jewellery. Shaun worked here for over 13 years on the restoration of pieces from the Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Victorian eras. Working under the tutelage of the two master goldsmiths Brian Joslin and Richard Bullock he learnt technique, attention to detail and speed in what must be the ideal triad for any goldsmith. Shaun remembers that through this period of his training, how inspired he was by these past masters and the skill and innovation of design to reflect the time there where in. This triggered a passion inside of him to explore and evolve his craft through designs that reflected the time he was in. Shaun’s time spent collaborating with Alexander McQueen is a time we can easily see this experimentation with materials and form.
Alexander McQueen Collaborator Shaun Leane
No matter what the collection, reflecting the time we are in is such a beautiful concept in the medium of jewellery. Creating pieces that are worn for a lifetime and subsequently passed on to the next generation, are innately steeped with the time, reason and moment they were created and given - their story grows as the generations carry them on.

Shaun Leane Jewellery House

This passion for development never stops at the Shaun Leane Jewellery House and he is always exploring and experimenting with techniques and materials in new, adventurous ways. This can range from using diamonds or crystal, and metals from aluminium to platinum; but regardless of what’s being used, Shaun is always looking at what will enhance and compliment the design concept of his pieces. Shaun tells me the story of his recently created Beetle Brooch which is a fusion of aluminium, gold, sapphire, tanzanite’s and enamel all crafted to perfection using traditional skills, a great illustration of using different materials to achieve a fine crafted piece of jewellery. Shaun wears one of his Beetle creations on the lapel of his suit jacket, he says “my brooch creates an intrigue and a point of difference to set me apart from the crowd. It allows me to portray my personality through a small objet d’art worn gracefully on my lapel, in fact a lapel brooch is my one piece of jewellery every man should own recommendation.
 
Shaun on TV

If you caught any of the series ‘All that Glitters’ you cannot possibly have missed Shaun Leane’s presence as half of the judging panel! Following the journey of 8 amateur jewellers battling it out to win in a jewellery version of a famous baking show.  The series runs over several weeks allowing the contestants to showcase their talents and then slowly, one-by-one, we say goodbye until we reach the final showdown. Of this incredible experience, Shaun says “there was such a mix of emotions on the show, from nail biting timelines to moments of pure pressure and tension. There are fine lines between a piece of jewellery being completed or, by the slip of the hand, being melted into an ingot.

There are also tear-jerking moments, from a proposal of marriage to the unveiling of a beautiful bride. When the jewellers recreated an engagement ring for a bespoke client, the husband took an unrehearsed moment to bend down on one knee and propose again (like the renewing of one’s vows), which brought a tear to my eye. When the jewellers created a Mangtika for an Indian bride, she unveiled her face while wearing the piece and her beauty took my breath away. Jewels are beautiful objects, but it is the emotions and memories they bring that is the true magic.”

Shaun’s Words of Wisdom

I asked what advice he would have for aspiring jewellers as we reminisce about his time spent with Alexander McQueen and the creative platform McQueen gave him to grow and express his ideas with no boundaries. For Shaun, this gave him the chance to take the raw concepts of design and apply them in an unexpected mediums. He would constantly challenge his ideas and push his traditional skills in unique ways to create his concepts. With encouragement to think outside the box and being pushed to explore and embrace new possibilities Shaun gives this sage advice - “I would recommend doing a small part time business course alongside your creative studies, a creative can be blinded by the light of creativity and underestimate the importance of business knowledge.”

Wise and prudent advice I am sure and what an incredible career he has had thus far with much more ahead. To be able to say your very first paid piece of jewellery is still your current best seller is truly stunning!

When you look at his designs be from knife-edge curves of the Talon Collection to the fairy tale spirit of the Cherry Blossoms you can immediately see the interaction of the design and wearer working in synchronisation. These are pieces of jewellery that only come to life once they are on - they need the wearer to make these pieces come alive and tell their stories. 
Photo Credit: All That Glitters - BBC; McQueen and Shaun Leane - The Glass Magazine; What Shaun Wore - Shaunleane.com