Niall Montgomery

The Kilkenny Design Workshops were an initiative  of the  Irish Government.   They were set up in 1965. It was believed  that in order to compete successfully on world markets  product design in Ireland required attention. Designers from around the world were brought to KDW in Kilkenny City to assist in addressing the issues.  Over time  many products were developed.

Below is a link to an Irish Times  article about the architect Niall Montgomery.  He gave life back to the stables of Butler Castle for KDW.   His work was widely admired and while KDW no longer exists his buildings are still in use. Niall Montgomery



Filed under History of design


I really enjoyed my interview recently  with  Bert Archer of  The Globe and Mail.  A Canadian newspaper.  It was a great hour  discussing many aspects of Irish  design today.  In his article Bert  describes his encounters around the country with a real understanding of Ireland  now.    The writing is good too…

The Embrace Ring

The Embrace Ring

This  Embrace Ring  is  mentioned.

Sterling silver with 18ct gold detail, textured and polished finish.   2.2 cm*1.9cm *4.9cm high.  2008

The ring was inspired by the play of light upon the architecture outside my window.  It is intended to  be playful.   The negative spaces allow light to penetrate the work, while the interior is overlaid with gold to intensify the outward reflected light.

The light is  embraced…

Some pieces I make for the National Museum shop are to be seen on my Pinterest page. 

Please see the link to the article below

From The Globe and Mail: Why you should visit Ireland now –


For more information:      My website                The National Museum of Ireland.



Filed under Breda Haugh designs, News


Necklace for Wanda. Maker David Poston 1974/5

Necklace for Womba.
Maker David Poston


I noticed recently that David Poston has an exhibition in Middlesex University in the UK.

Necklace for an Elephant and other Stories.

This  Elephant necklace is famous, and I love it.

I  saw it and the image  years ago.  It has not been  easy to forget, and looks as if it was made for the elephant, but it wasn’t.

This is , approximately, the story of how it came about.

When author and curator  Ralph Turner was leaving his job in Electrum Gallery in 1974,  David Poston gave him a silver necklace of heavy fused beads, in gratitude for his support.

Later Turner invited him to exhibit something BIG for the group show  Jewellery in Europe  in the mid 1970s.

He decided to make a really big  copy of the necklace

The result was this gigantic item,  comprised of Portland limestone beads, weighing  160kg.

The beads were  carried 300ft up a cliff path, and  prepared for the necklace with steel and textile dividers, all threaded on thick hemp rope.

The problem was how to display such a piece for photography.    Turner’s  solution was an elephant called Womba, then  wintering with Chpperfield’s Circus in the East Midlands safari park.

This iconic image is the work of the late David Cripps, and  illustrates a very  productive  period for Jewellery in the UK.

The image was used for the exhibition poster, and while  acceptable for the Edinburgh venue was replaced for  the  Victoria  & Albert Museum  as Turner considered the  elephant unsuitable for such an institution.

The poster lived on , however.   In recent years a  signed copy  was auctioned in aid of Japanese Tsunami victims during  the Electrum Gallery’s 40th anniversary exhibition.

The necklace too found a home  long ago- with a private collector.

Poston studied  at Hornsey College of Art- later Middlesex University.  He participated in the  original student protests whose actions were a conduit for major changes in Art School education, that have been influential to the present day.

His  unique jewellery is in the collections of several museums including the Victoria  & Albert  and the National Gallery Melbourne.

Poston  considers himself to be an interdisciplinary designer, inventor and 3D designer.

The Elephant Necklace reflects the originality, fun and inventive creativity that characterised design for UK  Jewellery in the 1970s.

It brings a smile…….


With thanks to David Poston for information , by E-mail 2013


Further Information:

David Poston’s  website:                         David Poston

Details on the current exhibition :     Middlesex University




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Filed under Designers and makers, History of design, Inspiration


A long narrow   piece of jewellery I saw on exhibition in London puzzled me for years.    I remember words inserted under glass domes whose hinged covers invited concealment.  Was it a  political or philosophical message?

Who made it?  I didn’t know, but recall being transfixed in a bright room.

Determined to find out, I recently contacted the British Crafts Council, to no avail.   Later when randomly researching 1960s jewellery on the net, suddenly there it was- the brooch.   Mystery solved – see  Figure 1

Silver brooch with enameled decoration and glass. 1966/7

Figure 1. Silver brooch with enameled decoration and glass. 1966/7













This silver , enamel and glass brooch  is the work of German born Jeweller Helga Zahn (1936-1985), who  came to England in 1957.

She studied first at Leeds College of Art and later at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London.  Thus she  acquired  painting and printmaking skills  prior to those for  jewellery .

Made in 1966/7 the words in the brooch read as follows:

 The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.
– Karl Marx, Theses On Feuerbach: Thesis 11 (1845)

The use of this  strong  piece as a medium for a message  was a surprise.   Interesting too  is how the wearer may control  access to  the words –  layers and secrets.

This was eye opening  experience for me. I  had never seen jewellery  like it belore.

Zahn describes her work and process as follows:

…. to explain why I hate also making jewellery …… and I do, not only because

the actual period of creation is very short, and the process of  making  very

tedious, but because of its limitations in self expression and materialistic

overtone the word “jewellery” carries.

I tried once to break that rule with a brooch I made, with a quotation by

Karl Marx inside it. I failed miserably. The piece in itself is a contradiction,

so is the quotation, . and the way I exhibited … another…

I experienced  no  sense of  these frustrations,  but Zahn’s  perspective  is revealing.

With the exception  of an articulated pendant in Figure 2,  the structure and style of the brooch seems unique in Zahn’s output.

Figure 2.  Silver and amber articulated pendant

Figure 2. Silver and amber articulated pendant

Instead she  is known for combining metals  with pebbles, shells, and bones- exploited for their shapes and tactile qualities

A stunning   example   is the dramatic  Cornish blue pebble set  silver neckpiece  in Figure  3 .   Another  the long  silver articulated  pendant, shows some  influence in the choice of colours  with the work of Scandinavian jeweller Torun  (1927-2004) – Figures, 4, 5 .  This demonstrates the enduring influence of   the Scandinavian  approach.

Figure 2. Blue Cornish Pebble set silver neckpiece. 1966/7. Collection Victoria & Albert Museum . M7-1991

Figure 3. Blue Cornish Pebble set silver neckpiece. 1966/7. Collection Victoria & Albert Museum . M7-1991

Figure 3. Silver pebble set Pendant on handmade linked chain. 1960s

Figure 4. Silver pebble set Pendant on handmade linked chain. 1960s


Figure 5.  Pebble set silver linked pendant on neck torc.  1948

Figure 5. Pebble set silver linked pendant on neck torc. 1948









Ralph Turner, Curator, writer and critic of applied art. Head of Exhibitions, Crafts Council, 1974-1989, commented that from the outset Zahn  “ questioned accepted values of jewellery and  made decisive and often defiant statements.”    He believed her to be one of the first of the .. important jewellers of the period who took contemporary jewellery beyond the  traditional into the territory of experimentation and expression of feelings.

Zahn was recognised in her time, with a solo exhibition of her work mounted by  the Crafts Advisory Committee (British Crafts Council) in 1973.

Now that I am  fully aware of such a legacy  I appreciate the  clarity, skill and originality in the work.

In fact  British Jewellers  of  this period  in the 1960s and 1970s- were creative, innovative, and exciting

We are very  fortunate to have this  heritage  so readily available to us, with many examples on display in the  Victoria & Albert Museum  – London, and other locations.


Further information:

The Victoria & Albert Museum – London-  Jewellery collections

Information  and work re Helga Zahn:         http:

The British Crafts Council-  Archive on line:     http:// www


Figure 1   Source for image of Brooch by Helga Zahn :

Figure 2  Source for image of pendant by Helga Zahn on  British Crafts Council website:


Figure 3   Neckpiece is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum:

Figure 4   Source for image of neckpiece by Helga Zahn:

Figure 5  Source for image of  neckpiece by Torun: http://http//

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Fig. 1 MM with unique neckpiece.

Fig. 1 MM with unique neck piece.


While little known, today, the Swedish silversmith Marika Murnaghan played an important role in 1960s Ireland,  by making modern design fun, fashionable and affordable.   This was with her, now iconic, modern Scandinavian style silver jewellery.

A newly confident Ireland responded with delight, and the successful Marika Brand was established.  The jewellery, affectionately recalled today, was marketed through its own dedicated boutiques.

Having completed her training in design and silversmithing   Marika Murnaghan, came to Ireland to marry in the mid 1960s.   Shortly afterwards she began working in the Sheabac jewellery Workshop in south Dublin.  The jewellery, however, only  become popular when  Murnaghan established her city centre workshop in the late 1960s.

Thus the Marika Brand began in an Ireland ready for affordable modern design.  Also in comparison to the situation with traditional jewellery women could now choose to buy their own, and  did so in their droves.

A  factor in this receptiveness for new ideas in the 1960s was Irelands  greater access  to the influences of international fashion and music via the  medium of television, in particular British channels.

Scandinavian influences were seen too in the jewellery  by  visiting European  designers to The Kilkenny Design Workshops ( 1965-1988)   However the Marika Brand had a greater share of the  market.

Fig. 2.  Fun presentation of  jewellery

Fig. 2. Fun presentation of jewellery

Fig. 3.  Rings.

Fig. 3. Rings.


In terms of Design,  Marika Jewellery was a fine example of modern Craft Design for metals.    The collections were designed to appeal to a fashion conscious clientele, and comprised simple fresh modern abstract shapes for full ranges, including rings all often set with gemstones-Figures 2,3.

Murnaghan appreciated  Irish culture, too,  and  referenced it in  her collections and  unique pieces.   An example from the collections is her interpretation of a Penannular brooch, as illustrated- Figure 5.    This minimal design was in sharp contrast to the often insensitive reproductions , generally available, of artefacts such as the Tara Brooch, that catered for the long established market for Celtic jewellery.

Fig. 4   MM Retail Outlet.

Fig. 4 MM Retail Outlet.

In time to cope with demand, a Marika manufacturing facility was established.  It is fondly remembered by ex employees, who numbered forty towards the end of its time.

Marketing and PR services maintained the success of the brand. The marketing style reflected current fashion with a lightness of touch, evident in the Marika retail outlets, point of Sale material, and packaging- see  Figure 4

Public relations were conducted in the print media and television, by in depth press interviews and exhibition reviews.   This approach to marketing for an Irish jewellery brand was unique.

Additionally Murnaghan completed an extensive portfolio of silver ware, and unique one off jewellery pieces that displayed her design and  silversmithing / jewellery skills.

An example for jewelllery  is the unique neckpiece she is shown wearing in Figure 1, a modern interpretation of Celtic imagery.  The piece is clearly designed to draw attention to the wearer.  I really like this  strong well proportioned  elegant design.

Murnaghan carried out important commissions.   An example, in 1983, was  her design for the comb to be the first piece of platinum hallmarked in Ireland. It was made in her workshop, see Figure 5.


Fig. 5. Murnaghan with Platinum comb.

Fig. 5. Murnaghan with Platinum comb.

We are very fortunate to have a selection of Murnaghan’s  work on permanent display in the National Museum of Ireland, where her  contribution may be appreciated.

With her passing a unique modern Brand for Jewellery that shone for twenty years in Ireland, faded away.

I find the story of  the Marika jewellery  Brand very  inspiring,  especially the  ambition to  bring  modern  affordable  jewellery  to its very receptive market, and the style in which it was managed.

The timing was perfect – just at the cusp of change.



Further suggested research:
Marika Jewellery and silverware: National Museum of Ireland-Decorative Arts and History.- Out of Storage.

Marika Murnaghan archive-National Museum of Ireland – relates to the purchase of examples of Marika work and contains press cuttings. 

Image credit
Figure 1, Murnaghan  wearing unique silver pendant. Archive – National Museum of Ireland  The Irish Woman  September 1978. Courtesy the Irish Country Women’s Association. 

Figure 2, Marika Jewellery . Archive; National Museum of Ireland. Evening Herald 1970. Images Courtesy  Independent Newspapers.

 Figure 3, Selection, Marika Rings – Archive; National Museum of Ireland – Evening Herald 1970 Courtesy ;  Independent Newspapers.

 Figure 4, Marika Retail outlet. Archive; National Museum of Ireland  Evening Herald  1970. Courtesy  Independent Newspapers.

 Figure 5, Decorative Hair comb, platinum. L16.5cm 1983.  The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin – Exhibition 1637-1987. Courtesy; The Company of Goldsmiths.

For more information:
National Museum of Ireland


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October 1, 2013 · 2:16 pm