As silversmiths we usually focus on the metal in our masterworks. However, it has always been part of London’s artisan community to find stone cutters, enamellers, box, silk and ribbon makers that are as much a part of the history of gold and silver working as the silversmiths themselves. From the earliest days of London’s guilds, apprentices were bound to a master and his workshop and would live the life of a journeyman. In this series of posts we’ll be looking at the parts that aren’t silver or gold, but are so much a part of the work that built our global reputation.
Malachite - The setting of Masterworks
Malachite is unmistakable. The vivid green, black and white mineral gets its characteristic hues from copper carbonate hydroxide, which often forms as water dissolves copper ore and deposits it in deep limestone caves, forming stalagmites and stalactites. The resulting bands of vivid greens have made this a sought-after and valuable mineral for thousands of years.
From Ancient Egyptian ceremonial jewellery (the afterlife was an eternal paradise called the Fields of Malachite) through to the renaissance where the powdered mineral was the base for green pigments in art and glass, malachite has been in demand as a decorative material. It was also prized as an amulet and charm in the middle ages, believed to bring good health and protection in the winter months. Like lapis lazuli, porphyry and jasper, malachite’s enduring appeal comes not just from colour but also by the fact it’s soft enough to be worked by stone masons, gem-setters and sculptors with hand tools and polishing grit, but hardy enough to resist fading or cracking under bright sunlight. This made it perfect for display pieces, inlays, elaborate sculpture settings and ceremonial uses.
Malachite can be used to form vases and jewellery, it can be worked into amulets and bangles too. It is often paired with precious metals, especially gold and silver. This is because there’s a deep contrast between the highly reflective metal and the deep, vivid green. It’s a classic colour combination that is often replicated in velvet linings for silver boxes, or leather trim on silver cars. The colours range from classic British Racing Green to light lime greens, and the colours reflect in the metal work producing light and tones that accentuate the curves and angles of fine silverware.
At Grant Macdonald London we select malachite - cut to our specifications - as an accent colour, we use it for bases to create vivid green settings for our silver masterworks and sculptures. Blending green tones with silver and gold makes a particularly striking combination.