WORDS: AMANDA ARBER | PHOTOGRAPHY: ELLIS SCOTT
There’s a certain retrospective quality that comes with all-handmade items, whether we’re talking clothing, jewellery or even friendship bracelets (the kind you’d get on the last day of term in year 9). Duffy, a bespoke jeweller for whom keeping it within the neighbourhood is a basis for his creative outlet, hand-makes and locally sources as much as humanly possible for each of his pieces, which range from an extravagant, sculpted swan knuckleduster to simply set floating stone pendants.
With a client list that includes Janet Jackson and Rihanna and collaborations with some of the world’s biggest and most respected brands, Duffy has gained well-deserved notoriety and has a dedicated following that would make the likes of Charles Manson jealous.
After conversations about Lion the Lion (his childhood toy which often gets beheaded by airport staff) being pegged as a drug mule, his collection of skulls and taxidermy and an awkward case of mistaken religious orientation we soon moved onto the work chit-chat. Of course stopping at certain points to compare our worst tattoos and pet his adopted studio puppy.
What initially got you into designing and making jewellery?
I wanted to be an illustrator originally. I spent all my time drawing and copying comics, like Judge Dread and Spiderman. They were my main two to copy. I then realised I’d get bored as an illustrator, you had to do what other people told you to do, 9 times out of 10 and I didn’t like that idea. I liked making stuff as well, my Dad suggested why don’t you be a jeweller and I shrugged it off and said “no, girls make jewellery’, which was stupid considering it’s actually the polar opposite and most people that work in jewellery are actually men. It just stuck in my head from about 13 and then I hit 14 and decided “yeah, I really want to do this, I’m pretty sure I want to make jewellery”, at that time I worked for an antiques dealer, so I was always around it, I was always handling it, from the age of…God knows when. When I was 16 I then went and did work experience for a jeweller called Jeremy Hoye, I made my first piece on the first day…
What was it?
It was a ring, I’m wearing it now… I found it the other day and, you know, it was the first thing I ever made, so I put it on to remind me of how crap I was. But yeah, first piece I ever made and from there I just fell in love with it.
I then had the decision, do I go to university or do an apprenticeship and apprenticeships in jewellery I saw more as the traditional way, like in building you have brick layers and jewellery kind of works in the same way, you’ll have stone cutters, stone setters, polishers, ring makers, it just goes on and on, but they’re all an individual skill set. If you do an apprenticeship you tend to end up specialising in one of those things and you become purely a craftsman, there’s no design side, so like stone setting, you’ll do a 5year apprenticeship before you’re let loose on the world. I realised that I’d have no creativity in it and I didn’t want to just be a craftsman, but I couldn’t go to university cause I was only 16. So I needed to kill two years and went to collage and did a 2 year foundation, did all the crap in the first year where you just flick paint and sit about just being ‘art students’ and the 2nd year I specialised and did 3D design.
You said just then that you like the idea of it being traditional and not using machines, is that why you make everything by hand?
Yeah, I mean I out source casting, if I’m dong multiples, just at a casters up the road. I like to keep everything in London. There are certain machines involved, but they are all jewellery based…
You wouldn’t send something off to get it mass-produced?
No, that’s kind of something, that over the years, I have toyed with the idea. Working within the fashion side of things, you start to get brainwashed with the way it all works. Ya know, seasonally, two seasons a year and you have to produce collections and sell them to X amount of stores. I started to think I had to do that, then realised that wasn’t why I wanted to make jewellery, I wanted to do one-off, or limited runs and crafted pieces and that’s what I stick to now. 80% of my works at the moment are all bespoke commissions. That’s pretty much all I work on.
Is that all through word of mouth?
Yeah, it’s crazy, but it is word of mouth. Or it’s people who have seen my collections in store and then wanted something bespoke. I’m not ENTIRELY opposed to things being manufactured, but I think if I were to do it, I’d want it all done in London and it’d be done under my eye and in smaller runs. I never want it to turn into something cheap.
Tell us about some of your collaborations.
[Nike] asked to do something with Mark Cavendish’s old bike, I thought I could just get it melted down, but then realised the whole thing was fibreglass. SO they sent me the metal parts and I melted them down and I made a broach, which was solid silver, but with a bit of metal from the bike and then I make a skull. I didn’t really have a brief though, I had a few ideas, told them and then they were like ‘yeah go’. Just to work on a different size and with a different medium was really, really good. Anything sculptural, I love.
You started tattooing lately, right?
Why tattooing instead of something else, like apparel design for instance?
I think it comes back to the drawing thing, body adornment is still kind of an embellishment. I dunno. I’ve always wanted to give it a go, I’d never had any tattoos myself….’til recently….
Did you do it?
Do you have a stick’n’poke of the word ‘rad’ on you or something?
Er, it’s not far off to be honest.
I’ve got a bunch of friends that are BMXers and we all go on a road trip every year and they were here drinking and this song came on the radio, so they did ‘138’ on all their ankles and then locked the door and were like ‘ you’re doing it’. My mate started putting gloves on and I was like ‘ you’re not touching me’ and so I just tattooed myself.
It’s terrible, but I have one now. It also stops people giving me shit when I’m tattooing them. I think I just needed something to separate my life from just jewellery, ‘cause it kind of is my entire life, I work more or less 7 days a week, I try to be better about it and give myself time off and it’s always on my mind, but it’s like I don’t go home and just think I can deal with something tomorrow, it’s on my mind the whole time, especially if there’s projects on.
I just wanted something that was still a creative outlet but could just be fun. I wanted to learn how to do it anyway, so bought a kit and got some advice off friends who are tattooists and then just had some really nice friends who let me play around on them.
How did the first one go?
The very first line I did was about a year and a half ago at a friends tattoo studio and he let me have a go and it came out fine, because he’d set the machine up and everything was set-up right so I didn’t have that much of a change to fuck it up. The first one, a year later, with my own kit……that was a little different. I did a shakey mess on my friends ankle, I was just nervous. It’s still there, just wonky. I was going to correct it once I got better, but now he’s decided he likes it.
I dunno, it’s quicker than jewellery and social. I can sit here with a friend and do it. I’ve stopped doing it to myself when I’m drunk though.
Would you ever combine that and the jewellery and make ornate tattoo guns?
I have thought about it. Maybe for a show, just do like one with caseing, I dunno. If time allows me, yeah.
What is your next collaboration?
I was asked to do a t-shirt with Fred Perry as part of a project they did, so have done some metal work design for it. I’m also working on a single high-ed piece with a gem stone company at the moment, which will go on a world tour in March. I haven’t even started it yet. It’s designed and the stones are cut, I just have to start the actual piece. I have a million and one commissions and then I want to try and release a new collection for spring time.
Are there any other jewellers that you admire? Or that you’d put alongside your own pieces?
I dunno, there are a few people who I’ve done shows with who are amazing; Jasmine Alexander, Lauren Adriana, House of Waris. I appreciate the creativity in their work. I know my stuff is really an acquired taste, I got asked why I make my stuff, like this massive cool knuckleduster and it’s just because I wanted to. So I appreciate other people’s work for the same reasons.
Do you design with something in mind?
No, never, I never stick to a strict theme. People ask what my inspiration is and it’s like, I’m 29, I’ve seen stuff, I’m not saying it’s anything epic, but everyday you walk down the street and see a poster or picture, it’s all in there somewhere. I find it a little regressive or pointless to just go and pick up a book and go ‘right, it’s all going to be based on water buffalo this season’ and then have every piece look the same. I mean there is a market for that, but for me, it isn’t what I’m aiming at.
Would you say your work is more art than fashion?
Erm, I’d like it to be considered as smaller sculpture maybe and that it can sit on it’s own
I do find it weird how fashion is so formulaic, something that is supposed to be so wild and creative is extremely controlled, down to how you design, how you make, constantly having to explain yourself. I find it quite odd that you constantly have to explain yourself. Surely if you like something, you can just like it, without having to be told ‘oh, it’s based on this’. That’s the side of fashion I find difficult to follow. I just can’t do it.