St Albans Royal Warrant holder to exhibit at Childwickbury Arts Fair

Placing the item to fire in the kiln at around 1000 degrees celcius as part of the enamelling proces

Placing the item to fire in the kiln at around 1000 degrees celcius as part of the enamelling process - Credit: Archant

A ST Albans jeweller is so inspired by the birds and the bees that she turns her ideas into pieces of wearable art, using the ancient technique of enamelling.

Fiona Rae with some of her signature cufflinks

Fiona Rae with some of her signature cufflinks - Credit: Archant

And there has been a hive of activity, literally, at Fiona Rae’s workshop ahead of exhibiting at the three-day Childwickbury Arts Fair which starts tomorrow.

The beekeeper has been drawing inspiration for her latest collection from the inhabitants of hives she has at the private gardens of Hatfield House, one of the “treasure houses of England”.

The jeweller, who lives on the outskirts of St Albans and has held a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales since 2001, has a studio and shop, complete with kiln, at Hatfield House’s Stable Yard, alongside other independent retailers.

Her historic shop was used during the Second World War to store medicines for the Army.

Fiona uses her surroundings at Hatfield House to inspire her creations, with birds, bees and plants appearing in various guises upon hand-crafted cufflinks and necklaces.

She explained: “I run every morning in the park, and take my two dogs with me. I notice anything interesting or pretty. It’s a creative environment.”

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Fiona makes casts of beech nuts and acorns from ancient trees growing on the grounds of Hatfield House.

She added: “I also have lots of fish incorporated in designs, because I’m intrigued by patterns.”

Fiona has even designed jewellery inspired by the oak that marks the place where a young Princess Elizabeth first heard of her accession to the throne.

When it comes to using bees as templates for jewellery, Fiona takes an emerging queen bee from the hive, which would have otherwise killed the existing queen.

She said: “I like the symbolism, and the connection with Hatfield House.”

However the emerging queen bee is not removed just for the sake of her jewellery. Fiona explained that she had learned the hard way that the newcomer was likely to take half the hive with her.

One hive is particularly feisty with one bee swooping out and stinging Fiona within 10 seconds of the Herts Advertiser photographer taking a snap.

Fiona makes a cast of the bee, and uses an impression of sycamore seeds to depict its wings, as they are too fragile on the real thing to use. The cast is then stamped out in silver, which is enamelled.

This ancient process is the most time-consuming part of making her jewellery.

Starting with a lump of coloured glass, she grinds it down to a fine sand with a mortar and pestle.

The piece of jewellery is then thoroughly cleaned and Fiona starts the laborious process of putting layer after layer of enamel on it, which is repeatedly fused to the metal in the kiln which is heated up to 1,000C.

At least four thin layers of enamel are on her cufflinks while other jewellery pieces can have up to 10 layers.

Fiona said: “At every point I have to be careful. You can’t cut corners. I love working on a really small scale – you need patience and a good eye. Enamelling is an ancient technique which was introduced hundreds of years ago as a way of replacing gemstones.”

Fiona said she was looking forward to exhibiting at the Childwickbury Arts Fair, now in its 10th year.

She said: “It’s a wonderful fair. It allows visitors to see how people carry out their work, and understand the process behind it.”

n The three-day Childwickbury Arts Fair at the Childwickbury Estate in St Albans runs from 10am-6pm tomorrow (Friday); 10am-10pm on Saturday and 10am-6pm on Sunday.

Visit the website at for more details.