For this month's meet a stockist we talk to Jen about her wonderful Hove shop; Brass Monkeys.
How long has Brass Monkeys been open and how did the business come about?
The shop has been open for 8 years now. Before that I ran a workshop with my good friend Sam Maund, who is also a jeweller. We shared a passion for handmade jewellery but noticed that at the time there weren't that many outlets for the type of work we made and loved. We would regularly open the worksop to the public as part of the Brighton Festival Art Trail and it became a popular venue amongst locals, so we'd often wonder what it would be like to have a permanent retail space. Eventually we decided to take the plunge and found an old second-hand furniture shop in need of renovation. It took a lot of work but we managed to transform it into a gallery displaying work by around 45 different UK makers, with workbenches for several resident jewellery makers.
Where did the name Brass Monkeys come from?
Brass Monkeys was the name of the original workshop I started with Sam back in 2002, not far from where we are now. We hired spaces to 12 artists and makers of all kinds, not just jewellers so it was a really interesting mixture of talent and creativity. It was a great big mechanics garage near the sea front with double garage doors and lots of room for us all. The only problem was that it had absolutely no heating so during the winter it was "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"! I think it's an old naval expression that has something to do with cold cannon balls on deck, but somehow the term stuck in our minds and it became our workshop name. Sam and I became quite attached to it and decided to bring it with us when we opened the current shop and workshops.
You are a jewellery designer yourself, how did you get into it and what do you make?
I graduated with a BA Hons in Three Dimensional Crafts from the University of Brighton in 1996. The course covered working with all sorts of materials including wood, ceramics and plastics, but I was always drawn to metal. My work started fairly big and I was much more of a silversmith to begin with, making small dishes, glasses cases and evening bags. These were eventually scaled down into lockets and then other pieces of jewellery followed but the hammered and textured effect is a recurring theme throughout. It's all inspired by the natural world, with the two main sources of inspiration being seeds and seedpods and rocks and stones.
There are so many amazing jewellery designers out there, how do you choose who to stock in your gallery?
After 8 years of running the shop we tend to have a fairly good idea of our customer's tastes and what will do well here and we can usually spot it. Overall we look for good designs that are well made and collections that have a clear visual identity. We also try to display a varied range of styles and price points so that nearly everyone who comes in can find a piece of handmade jewellery they will love and can afford.
Brass Monkeys is located at 109 Portland Road, Hove. Visit their website here for more information.