Samuel Waterhouse: The Dish and The Spoon
amuel Waterhouse, a highly-celebrated and self-taught North Umberland jeweller, is a rare breed of youth bringing their take to the traditional craft of fine British silversmithing. Influenced by his father’s myriad of hobbies and antiquated metal works, Samuel has mastered the rarified ancient Koren technique of Keum-boo, the fusing of pure gold to fine silver.
Taking this technique to the next level, Samuel introduces a striking palette of coloured golds and complex patterns to considered forms reminiscent of fine ceramics, bringing him the patronage of many high-profile supporters. Through speaking with Samuel about his journey of exploration and experimentation with the Keum-boo technique, I uncovered a uniquely stirring and unexpected chain of events that brought him from studying English Literature to a career path in fine jewellery and vessel making.
N: What pivotal moment (or piece of jewellery/object) spurred your desire to work in the jewellery industry?
S: Without a doubt, that pivotal moment was when my Dad showed me a silver spoon he had made at University during some night classes. I was in my first year of an English Literature degree and had my first serious girlfriend at the time. I thought it would be a good idea to make her a small present; fortunately, my Dad still had a small box of tools, a few books, and some clumps of silver, so I made her a simple silver bangle. Throughout my time at University, I kept making more pieces, then in my final year of studies, I started renting a bench at a small silversmith in Manchester [where I was studying.] I loved my degree, but by the time I finished it, I knew I wanted to work in jewellery making.
The spoon that started it all for Samuel Waterhouse.
N: What was your first experience at the Goldsmiths’ Fair, and how did your attendance influence your creative process and journey?
S: Talking about pivotal moments, my first attendance at the Goldsmith’s fair was another one in my career. After I graduated from University, I spent six months at a workshop close to Hatton Garden. One day, by chance, I was in a jewellery supply shop and was talking to a woman who had just come from the Goldsmith’s Fair, and she gave me her ticket.
Wave Bracelet, By Samuel Waterhouse.
Until this point, I was very naive about how I was going to make [silversmithing] my career…I had no role models. Going to the fair, I was in awe at the quality and ingenuity of the making…I didn’t understand how anything I saw was made, which was completely inspiring. It showed me how I could potentially make a career out of [being a silversmith] if I were able to make it anywhere near that quality. After the fair, I aimed to show my work there…and so I moved to a workshop in Walthamstow.
N: Can you describe what the two-year period between your first fair attendance and your first exhibition was like? When and how did you know you were ready to submit a piece to the Goldsmiths' Company for consideration for exhibition at the fair?
S: I look back at that time as being one of the most formative in my life. The two years were spent at the workshop in Walthamstow. Fortunately for me, it was owned by another Goldsmith’s Fair exhibitionist, Lucy Gledhill. I’m unimaginably grateful to Lucy because she taught me so much. She wasn’t teaching me directly, but our benches were just a couple of metres apart. Working next to her and seeing how she worked and the quality she aimed for showed me how to go about something in such a refined way.
Oxidized Bacelet, By Samuel Waterhouse.
I never knew I was ready to apply for the Goldsmith’s Fair at all. The first time I applied, I was unsuccessful. By the second year, I knew my work had improved, and I submitted a silver bangle inlaid with recessed rectangular sections of green and pure gold…I spent a lot of time working on it…and fortunately, the bangle was accepted.
N: When and how did you discover the Keum-boo technique, and why did you decide to pursue it?
S: During my time at Walthamstow, I came across it by chance in a book. I liked the idea of rolling my own gold and working with pure gold. It’s such a beautiful metal to work with…its malleability and colour are like nothing else. Keum-boo enabled me to introduce slight colour patterns into my work…there are many ways to inlay silver, but I thought Keum-boo would be a beautiful way to introduce these patterns on a silver vessel.
A Keum-boo Vessel, By Samuel Waterhouse.
N: As you began experimenting with the Keum-boo technique, what challenges did you face, and how did you motivate yourself to overcome them?
S: Traditional Keum-boo involves fusing pure gold to fine silver, and that’s all the textbooks say. You can only have a complex enough pattern with two colours, but if you add in a third or a fourth, you can start doing so much more. One thing I did was create different alloys, and therefore different colours like white, green and yellow. These are lower karat golds, but I started fusing them in the way the textbook explained the traditional Keum-boo technique, and seeing the results motivated me to experiment more.
Pillar Bowl, By Samuel Waterhouse.
Another technical challenge I faced is applying the gold pattern before any shaping takes place…it all happens when the vessel is a flat disc of silver. By doing things in this order, the gold is worked with the silver, and it becomes one homogeneous piece of metal; this process also crumples the lines of the pattern making it more pleasing to the eye. The main challenge behind the process is that you must be very careful with the shaping. If you’re not, the pattern distorts too much and loses its finesse. I have a couple of pieces I spent ages applying the pattern onto, but came out terribly because I raised it too quickly…there’s no recovering the work, so this process has taught me to refine my raising technique.
N: It’s mentioned that you have the ambition to be re-selected every year to exhibit at the Goldsmiths' fair. How and in which directions are you pushing yourself creatively to accomplish this goal?
S: Something I’m doing at the moment is making ceramics. I started doing it to experiment with shape and form before I committed to making something in silver. However, strangely, I started making silverware which was sort of reminiscent of ceramics…I like that deceptive element of my work. I use a technique called white baking which turns the silver-white colour, or I oxidize it with a sulfuric solution which turns it a dark grey-blue colour. So, I’m working on applying more refined patterns to shapes reminiscent of ceramics. I’m always thinking of new ideas, but I want to perfect this concept before moving on to something completely different.
The 2022 Goldsmith’s Fair is the primary destination to discover the finest jewellery and silversmithing in the UK today. Browse and learn about over 130 master craftspeople making extraordinary pieces, available to purchase directly from them. The Goldsmith’s Fair will run from September 27th to October 2, and October 4 to October 9th. Learn more about the fair here. To learn more about the jewellery shown in this editorial, please contact Samuel Waterhouse directly. To discover more people like Samuel, visit the People page.