Winning gold at the festival

Two young goldsmiths who specialise in platinum, fine arts exhibition at The Scottish Gallery; niello and enamel work have turned an ordinary into an extravaganza.
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The Independent Culture
While you trip through the puddles in Edinburgh this weekend, consider taking refuge from the weather in The Scottish Gallery. Long- established for its presentation of Scottish painters, the gallery has become renowned as the place to find high-quality examples of the applied arts. Its setting - two floors of a Regency townhouse - is as impressive as its contents, which include a range of crafts and an extensive catalogue of 20th-century Scottish paintings.

In addition, the gallery maintains a regular programme of special exhibitions, usually of new work, divided among painting, applied arts and jewellery (for which it is particularly recognised). But their most important annual exhibition is held now, during the Edinburgh Festival.

On show until 1 September, along with the dramatic Scottish skyscapes by the painter James Morrison, is an exhibition of glass, ceramic and silver called Driven to Abstraction - the Vessel Reassessed, with evocative pieces by Nicholas Rena, Rachel Woodman and Simone ten Hompel, amongst others. Many of the pieces are for sale - amongst them, a burnished cloudy blue, asymmetric bowl by Nicholas Rena (pounds 600), a pair of luminous, cast glass vase forms by Rachel Woodman (pounds 1,400), and a hand-sized, whitened silver container with a beach pebble as a lid by Simone ten Hompel (pounds 300).

But of special interest are the three showcases set amongst the paintings which contain a collection of extraordinary, gossamer-like gold and platinum jewellery by two young goldsmiths from Padua, Giovanni Corvaja and Jacqueline Ryan.

Ryan and Corvaja graduated from the Royal College of Art seven years ago, and have become much in demand by museum curators for examples of their work to add to their collections, for example, Edinburgh's Royal Museum of Scotland, in its 20th-Century Gallery.

Contemporary jewellery has an increasingly enthusiastic following in this country - witness the thousands of visitors to last year's exhibition Jewellery Moves at the RMS - but it is not often that one has the chance to see an exhibition of contemporary jewellery for the connoisseur: museum- quality pieces that you will not only covet but can also purchase (not cheap, of course, but not unreas- onably expensive, either, given the quality of workmanship and materials involved).

The prices for this jewellery range from pounds 995 for a pair of petal-like 18K gold earrings, through pounds 6,000 for a brooch of fine, layered platinum wires with gold droplets, to pounds 13,800 for an intricate necklace of 18K gold and lapis lazuli, or a bracelet that has minute balls of niello, like black dewdrops, suspended in a haze of hair-fine 22K gold threads, all protected by a geometric framework of 18K gold.

Although the materials are precious, the true value lies in the artistry. Giovanni Corvaja's jewellery is the result of some high-level technical research (he comes from a family of scientists and is familiar with the chemistry and physics of precious metals). His work shows that he has an exceptional knowledge of his materials - high-carat golds, platinum and niello - and the technology required to work with them.

He is adept at experimenting with different techniques, creating new tools to help him draw down platinum into ever-finer threads, or to achieve a perfectly spherical granule of gold. The result is gold jewellery that is remarkable for its subtle gradations of colour and design. This could just be a cold-hearted display of technical achievement; but Corvaja's artistic skill transcends his technical ability.

Like Corvaja, Jacqueline Ryan's jewellery uses the containing outlines of geometry favoured by most artist-jewellers of the Padua School (goldsmiths who work in the area around Padua in Italy), but her work has grown out of a visual perspective rather than a technical one.

Her appreciation of natural structures, through drawing and model-making, gives her jewellery a spontaneity which belies the hours of work involved in making each piece. Rows of miniature geometric units build to create an overall intensity. Her signature technique involves the use of a piercing saw to cut through the metal to create repeated motifs - almost as if she has drawn in the lines with a pen.

To this she adds brightly coloured enamel or quantities of small, semi-precious stones which lend a peculiarly joyous quality to the finished piece.

Although they work together in a tiny space, Corvaja and Ryan are defiantly independent in their work. This exhibition will be the only opportunity to see their work in the UK.

The exhibition is at the Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131-558 1200, until 1 September, Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm, Sat, 10am-4pm. `Art Jewellery', an illustrated book by Corvaja and Ryan, is available from the Scottish Gallery at pounds 33

Jacqueline Mina is an artist with a specialist interest in modern jewellery