Circles loom large, and small, in the life and work of Yorkshire jewellery maker Sam Morton. “I’m just a little bit obsessed with circles,” she says. “It’s the way they reflect and symbolise so many things for me – the circle of life, nature, earth, the moon, the sun – everywhere around us. I absolutely love symmetrical things, I always have, and it is definitely born from my background in graphics. I find the balance of symmetry very simple, but beautiful.”
Sam lives on the moors above Hebden Bridge in a former reservoir keeper’s house. In the evenings, she and her husband, retired mortgage adviser Clive Miers, walk by the reservoir to watch the sun set, catching the circular ripples on the water. It is an evocative place, brimming with wildlife and teeming with inspiration.
“We are right in-between where Sylvia Plath lived at Heptonstall and where the Brontës lived in Haworth,” she says. “It’s a very lovely, rolling, pretty area. Sylvia Plath said of Heptonstall Moor that it’s a really wild and perfect place to work and the perfect place to create, and I have a real affinity with that feeling.
“We have lots of beautiful wildlife, deer, pheasants, and the lambs running around at the moment. It just fills you with creativity. When I moved up here, because of the views and the open space, it gave me the time to think and take in the surroundings.
“We have the beautiful pine trees, the straight lines of those, and one thing I have always been in awe of, since we moved here, is that the light pollution is zero in the evening,” Sam says. “It is really stunning when you look up and you get one of those beautiful nights where you have the stars and the moon against a darkened sky. It’s gorgeous and has inspired the way I photograph my jewellery on black slate. Having the lovely hammered finish, which gives a bit of a sparkle and a twinkle against the slate, always reminds me of the night sky.”
Sitting at her jewellery studio-cum-office at home, Sam designs and makes all her jewellery pieces using silver wire and silver sheets bought from Birmingham, cutting out designs with a saw and hammering the finish by hand.
Her company is called Creative Noir Jewellery and it offers three main collections – based on circles, hearts and stars – each with a variety of options for necklaces, pendants and earrings. Pieces can also be made bespoke to order, adding extra stars, circles or hearts to the chains, and initials can be stamped on the backs. Lockdown, it seems, has awakened a new desire for simple, personal jewellery.
As well as being a jewellery designer-maker, Sam has a career spanning more than 25 years in design, photography and art direction. Originally from Bradford, she has a degree in graphic design from the University of Leeds, after which she worked for a small advertising agency in Cleckheaton, creating technical artwork for print on the drawing board, then worked for mail order retailer Empire in Bradford as a graphic designer. She was design manager for another mail order company, Damart, in Bingley, for 10 years, also working for the firm in Lille in France, before moving to Oxfordshire to work for a small brand that made jewellery, which she styled for photography. She says: “I had always been into jewellery but that spurred me on to thinking about, how is that made?”
Sam’s varied experience in the world of fashion has proved invaluable, not least when it comes to photographing and presenting her own jewellery designs for her website and social media channels, capturing the glistening, hand-crafted pieces to perfection. “I have art directed photographic shoots nationally and internationally and have been very lucky to work in some amazing locations such as South Africa, Miami and Mauritius,” she says.
Sam went freelance in 2013 when she relocated back to Yorkshire and continues to work as an art director and conceptual graphic designer for online mail order retailers including JD Williams, Simply Be, Ambrose Wilson and Shop Direct. “I still love being within the industry and having that creativity around,” she says. “I think it is important to keep up with the fashion trends.”
It was when she and Clive moved to their reservoir keeper’s house three-and-a-half years ago that she began to make the jewellery she had always wanted, having studied silversmithing. “It felt absolutely right to do it,” she says. “It was my passion and I had the space to do it, and the time to be able to set everything up.”
She wanted to create sterling silver jewellery that was strikingly simple and of high quality but lightweight and easy to wear. “Earrings that don’t drag your ears down,” she says.
Being completely plastic-free, both the pieces and the packaging, was also important to Sam and to her customers, especially the local ones. “Hebden Bridge is full of wonderful, independent, creative people, and independents will support other independents. I wanted to give the personal touch so that people are talking to the person that has made the product for them,” she says.
She sells through five channels – her own website, and through Facebook and Instagram, and through her Etsy shop, which now accounts for 50 per cent of her orders, including many from overseas customers, especially to the US. But being online does not steer the business away from being local, far from it. Creative Noir Jewellery also features on the Totally Locally website for Hebden Bridge, and Sam has been known to walk three miles over the moors to the next village to deliver a pair of earrings.
Prices start at £14 for a pair of small, hammered, silver drop earrings and go up to £95 for the long, hammered, silver circle necklace.
Sam says: “Lots of people have said that they are very reasonably priced, especially for handmade, but I want them to be achievable for a lot of people. People are taken aback by the quality and I get a lot of return customers.”
She is a fan of the BBC All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewellery Star series hosted by Katherine Ryan, which has placed the spotlight on jewellery making and reminded viewers of the important place that jewellery has in the hearts of many people, as keepsakes, heirlooms and treasures, marking life’s events, great and small.
Soon, when life returns to normal, Sam hopes to expand her collections and grow her business by moving into gold, having already signed up to study goldsmithing. She is looking to the future... and, one suspects, circles and symmetry will continue to be her hallmarks.
See Sam’s designs at www.creativenoirjewellery.co.uk.
The Hebden Bridge Totally Locally website is at www.hebdenbridge.totallylocally.shop.