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Jeweller's Paradise: Baroque Rocks meets Deakin & Francis

Posted on May 14 2019

Jeweller's Paradise:
Baroque Rocks meets Deakin & Francis


Darling All 

You may have wafted through Mayfair’s Piccadilly Arcade on a carpet of citrussy scent courtesy of Santa Maria Novella, when your gaze is arrested by a dazzling display of cufflinks; quite unlike any you may have seen before!  Artfully articulated, jewelled and enamelled creations, behold Deakin & Francis “D&F” the jewellers, with over two hundred years of heritage, not to mention their modern-day twist on exemplary wrist management! 

The centuries old craftsmanship that saw the firm creating a cache of covetable bejewelled objets d’art from silver, gold and gemstones for Asprey’s of Bond Street and other renowned Mayfair houses is admittedly jaw droppingly impressive, but the work under David Deakin during the 1960s and 1970s is what originally captured Baroque Rocks’ beady eye.  

This was a heady era, where previous jewellery conventions were thrown to the wind and the intrinsic value of a piece of jewellery was no longer solely attributable to its stones, but to the artistry of the piece itself.  Jewellers metamorphosised into artists; viewing precious metals and gemstones as vehicles for self-expression, often dramatic and gloriously audacious.  These jewels were wearable pieces of art, made for the design conscious who heralded this modernist flamboyant spirit.  (Those in the know are aficionados and collectors.) 

Deakin & Francis today is still very much a family affair, currently run by the seventh generation Deakin brothers.  By a happy set of coincidences, and chiefly owing to our passion for the 1970’s D&F pieces, we were invited to meet with the company’s creative force, James Deakin at the beating heart of the company situated in Birmingham’s bustling Jewellery Quarter.  The Deakins refer affectionately to their head office as ‘The Factory’, but this is no ordinary factory!! This emporium is to magpies, what Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is to the chocolate fanatic.  Manna. 

We are shown into the boardroom, where crystal cabinets adorn the walls, filled with eye- catching treasures, and a once deep emerald green - now gently peridot - carpet. In the centre of the room, an oversized mahogany table spills a mound of papers with detailed drawings, various era’d photographs, jewellery moulds, and an array of exquisite, uncut stones.  

As our eyes dart this way and that, we notice a heavily laden drinks trolley with spectacular silver necked decanters, hosting various exquisitely enamelled animal heads together with a few bottles of British distilled Chase Gin!  Tempted to sneak a snifter, we spot a large photograph of David Deakin with his sons, Henry and James beaming down on us.  And then, as if on cue, the photograph James enters the room.

Mr Deakin is charm personified, with abundant energy and a tremendous humour – all of which is imbued through his own clever creations.  He proffers us a cup of instant coffee, for which he is endlessly apologetic, stirring it with an oversized white gold skull & cross-boned signet ring clad paw whilst telling us about studying at the revered Gemological Institute of America and becoming a Gemologist.  The Gold Blend tasted as if it were sprinkled with gold dust – it probably was!! 

Baroque Rocks has two extraordinary pieces of Deakin & Francis, both coincidentally dated, 1977, and made by David Deakin over forty years ago.  James hands us a grainy photograph, the original snap taken of the Sapphire and Diamond pendant: an open work gold cartouche, with the surmount designed as overlapping textured crescents, before the oval-cut sapphires and brilliant-cut diamonds had been added (see photographs below).

1977 Deakin & Francis Diamond & Sapphire Pendant Necklace

At time of writing, this magnificent piece was sold.

A sense of wonder and exuberance engulfs us, for being able to trace these pieces back to their birthplace is awe inspiring and magical, much like the piece itself!  With contagious excitement James delves into the mound of papers and produces a box, fishing around for the original mould.  Unfortunately, he was unable to find it, though he quickly announces: “We do have the mould somewhere!”  Nothing has ever been disposed of at The Factory, bar a few pieces of paper ….

Moments later, like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, he finds not the mould, but a breath-taking pendant necklace.  Our eyes are as wide and wild as the ruby eyes of the Diamond Skull adorning the fine black walking canes James had created for the Rolling Stones.  Not sure we conjure rock and roll with our gawping mouth!  The pendant is a rough-hewn boulder of an Amethyst, which falls seamlessly from a heavily textured gold surmount and chain, from his father’s eponymous “Crystal Collection.”  Its’ cleverly conceived quality is described by David thus:

“The Crystal Collection was successful because everything was hand-made.  The gold work was sympathetic with the mineral specimen.  We poured molten gold from a height into buckets of crushed ice, into sawdust, and sand.  We created mouldy spaghetti golden rods which were then built up like spillikins and cornflakes and exploding beads all to shock the metal.  Many of the pieces were so three dimensionally formed that the mounts were created around the unique uncut stones rather than simply set a piece of jewellery which was very, very exciting!”

Crystal Collection

The pendant is a rough-hewn boulder of an Amethyst, which falls seamlessly from a heavily textured gold surmount and chain, from his father’s eponymous “Crystal Collection.

We were left quaking with admiration – in the face of this piece so fabulously flamboyant and hedonistically decadent that is has transcended four decades to feel sartorially current.

Our day, however, did not end there, as our host took us on a tour of the building; a terroir abuzz with creativity and excitement.   A maze of fascinating studios, with Dickensian work benches where master jewellers pour over daedal creations, air punctuated with loud laughter and a pair of wonderful women, undertaking painstakingly steady vitreous enamelling.  

We were invited then by James to try and emulate Turner’s skies, as envisioned for his new line of cufflinks, handing us a ramekin of baby blue powdered glass and a calligraphy pen!!  We fell short of the first hurdle.  Our efforts certainly weren’t worthy of either Carl Fabergé, nor Deakin and Francis,’ nor as a protégée in the making!  This is a highly skilled and lengthy process best left to the Master Enamellers.

From there we went down a sharp flight of stairs where our senses were foiled into believing we were entering a musty wine cellar – but instead of oak barrels and rows of bottles of wine, behemoth beauties greeted us.  Machinery so enormous and impressive like the Drop Stamp for cutting sheets of silver for cufflinks or the “Captain Francis” (pictured) a Sweeney & Blocks Power Press dating back decades almost to the industrial revolution.  It was fitting at that juncture that James told us that James Watt, The Father of the Industrial Revolution, also at one time occupied the building – no wonder creativity and engineering triumphs pervade the air!

Sweeney & Blocks Power Press known as Captain Francis.
Sweeney & Blocks Power Press known as Captain Francis.

For all the extravagant bejewelled luxury that is created at Deakin & Francis, the abiding sense is one of creative, loving sustainability where nothing is wasted (or thrown away), the century old machinery carefully maintained, rather like its familial loyalty with its master jewellers.

David Deakin’s jewels were and are still full of impact, magnificently audacious and maverick.  Baroque Rocks’ certainly continues to covet and will quite happily challenge anyone to a duel over them!  

James Deakin continues the proud tradition of his forefathers with a mind brim full of creativity – and an excellent line in craftsmanship.  Our hope is that in addition to the wonderful men’s line that D&F has grown so famous for, one day he too will be climbing a ladder and dropping molten gold into buckets of ice to create new extraordinary shaped creations for us all!! Until then, one thing is for sure that Deakin & Francis will continue to as James says: “Innovate, amuse and design beautifully unique, collectible pieces of handcrafted jewellery….”


With love from Emma and the Baroque Rocks Team

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