Inside the Lesley Craze Gallery, the work of more than 120 jewellery designers, both new and more established, is displayed inside various glass geometric shapes around the room. In one cabinet are rings designed by artist jeweller and Craze regular Wendy Ramshaw (whose pieces are also currently on show in an exhibition at the V&A). Ramshaw's rings sit regally atop their own specially designed perspex and brass stands. "Lesley's gallery has a friendly atmosphere, she is very lively and outgoing and she always gives her clients good attention," comments Ramshaw as to why she shows at Craze.
At the other end of the gallery is the "Craze Two" non-precious section, where most of the pieces are one-off originals, but all are for sale. As Craze proudly points out, "we have work here from pounds 10 to pounds 10,000."
Lesley Craze's involvement in the jewellery world came relatively late in life. Born in Cardiff in 1935, Craze was set upon a career in acting. At 18, after two years studying at drama college, Craze moved to London "with pounds 10 in my pocket". In between working "quite a lot and quite nicely" in the theatre, Craze suffered the usual actress jobs, including a stint as an usherette in a Leicester Square cinema ("I saw The Robe about 250 times") and work as a barmaid in the French House in Soho. Chance led Craze into her next career as a schoolteacher, by which time she had married and started a family. "I did some part time work in a school in Islington, taking over each class in turn to give the teachers a break. I was really thrown in at the deep end." Craze turned out to be a natural, and so she decided to return to college to retrain as a teacher. By the late Seventies, she was working full time as a remedial teacher at a child guidance clinic in London, a job which, though "fantastic", was incredibly demanding.
Everything changed when she met Sarah Jones, a jeweller selling at Camden Lock Market, from whom she had bought a snakeskin bangle for her daughter. Craze visited the silversmith's workshop in Old Street and was completely seduced by a "little garret at the top of 110 stairs". This romantic setting, coupled with a broken promise of secondment from her teaching career, made Craze's mind up. After ten weeks of apprenticeship with Jones, the silversmith decided that she had taught Craze as much theory as she could and encouraged her to have her own workbench built and to start putting into practice what she had learned.
For a few years Craze continued teaching part time whilst she set herself up with a market stall selling her own simple designs - first in Camden Passage and later in the crafts market at Covent Garden, where she developed a still loyal customer base. In 1984 she opened her first gallery exhibiting - amongst others - her own jewellery. Four years later the Lesley Craze Gallery opened at its present site.
Today Craze no longer has the time to produce her own designs, because the running of the Gallery, which now includes a textile Hanging Gallery, takes up most of her time. "Silversmithing is dirty, mucky work, it's not romantic as I'd thought, it gives you cuts and funny fingers," she explains, flashing her middle finger with a lump at the top put there by the silversmithing tools.
Craze firmly believes that a piece of jewellery should enhance the wearer, and it must be completely wearable otherwise it's not jewellery, it's sculpture. Her own jewellery box is, perhaps surprisingly, not over-stocked. On one hand she wears a twisted, delicate looking yellow gold ring. "I call this my birds nest ring, you can't find where it's joined, it's by Professor Hiramatsu, I met him in Japan when I was curating an exhibition there." On her other hand Lesley Craze shows me a Joel Degan titanium ring with a rod of gold set through it. It's incredibly lightweight, so Craze often suggests them as wedding rings for men not used to wearing jewellery. Curiously, the ring is full of dents. "This is one of the hardest metals known to man and look at all that marking!" Craze exclaims. "When I walk on the beach, I pick up stones and I have a ritual where I have to throw one up four times and catch it before I'm allowed to keep it. Joel can't believe it, he wants to polish it up for me, but I won't let him. I just love it like this!"
Lesley Craze Gallery, 33-35a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1. Tel: 0171 608 0393