Disa Allsopp: Beautifully crafted, ethically-made London jewellery

DisaAs a toddler, Disa Allsopp already used to keep herself busy kneading clay while her mother was sculpting by her side. But it is a trip to Mexico as a child that decided what her vocation would be. While travelling with her parents, she went to Taxco, a city associated with silver, both the mining of it and other metals, and for the crafting of it into jewellery. There, she heard the musical sound of the artisans tapping the silver and saw their wondrous hands creating beautiful jewellery in front of her eyes. She decided, right there and then, that she would become a jeweller.

06 Gold Chain Necklace

Courtesy of Julia Leakey

Although born in London and of Guyanese descent, Disa grew up in Barbados. She came back to London to finish school and went on to do a jewellery degree at Middlesex University. Then, she went back to Barbados to set up a business in the 1980’s. There, she found the mentalities too traditional for her to develop and excel at her art so she decided to go back to the UK. She embarked on a postgraduate diploma at Edinburgh College of Art and Design in 1993-1994. At the time, Dorothy Hogg was the head of the jewellery department and was an inspirational figure for her students. Subsequently, Disa returned to Barbados. But after her mother’s passing, she came back to the UK.

Back in London, Disa started working with The Design Nation, an organisation that exists solely to promote the excellence of British design by selecting and promoting the best designers working in the country and enabling the public to contact them directly. Peta Levi MBE who was the driving force behind this institution was also the instigator of a show at the Business Design Centre. Subsequently, Disa Allsopp’s jewellery was exhibited in Selfridges. Thanks to The Chelsea Crafts Show, started by The Crafts Council, Disa made a lot of a connections. As a consequence, her work was exhibited in New York (particularly at Barneys) in Japan and in France .

18ct gold :silver spaghetti ring

Courtesy of Julia Leakey

When she set up her UK business, Disa looked for a studio and first settled at Cockpit Arts then went to Leroy House on Essex Road. But after a few years, she needed more space to be at ease so she settled for her current studio. When Disa found it in 2005, it was a shell with great foundations but everything inside it had to be imagined. Now, it stands as a calm and floodlit islet at the corner of a peaceful street.

Since her travels in Mexico, Disa has always been inspired by ancient jewellery of the Etruscans, Egyptians, Greek and Roman civilisations. She uses traditional techniques such as forging, reticulation and patination to produce her unique finishes to the 18kt Gold and Sterling Silver metals that are central to her collections. She buys most of her stones in London from gemstone dealers. But her frequent trips back to Barbados and in East Africa (particularly in Kenya where she has strong ties) can be seen in her use of gemstones such as golden Citrines, rich Garnets and Rubies amongst others. She never ceases to get inspired. One of her favourite pastimes is sketching, along with drawing, sculpting and oil painting. All these fine art skills inevitably feed back into her designs and creations. She reveres the apparent simplicity of Giacometti‘s sculptures and Modigliani‘s models and never misses an opportunity to go to the British Museum, the Tate Modern and The Royal Academy of Arts.

18ct gold diamond spaghetti ring

Courtesy of Julia Leakey

When I met Disa, aided by her two assistants, Eden and Ellen (both students at Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design), she was busy working on an order for a Korean buyer. Her jewellery is presented at the V&A Museum, Dover Street Market and other high end boutiques in London but also worldwide in highly selective boutiques and galleries such as Gago and at the [IKI] Galerie in Le Marais in Paris. For the last two years, Disa has been lucky enough to be part of the Goldsmiths’ Fair and she has also attended The NY International Gift Fair, a trade show which is a formidable springboard to sell her designs around the US and worldwide.

Disa also welcomes private commissions. Being an ethically aware jeweller, she is particularly fond of the idea of upcycling family jewels to give them a new lease of life. She is also keen to get involved in a project abroad that would help indigenous communities research their traditional designs to generate self-sufficiency and income. In that respect, she has in the past participated in a project called LOSA (London-South Africa). LOSA was a cooperation between a group of British designers and South African craftsmen and women that were trained to make jewellery and goods over a period of ten days at a time. The project lasted a couple of years and was very successful. The jewels were sold in Sotheby’s and at The Conran Shop. It was a great opportunity for South Africa, which has a great tradition mining and selling gold and diamonds, to trade in the West.

Oxidised silver chain necklace

Courtesy of Julia Leakey

Having been in business for the last 18 years or so hasn’t tempered Disa’s enthusiasm for the creation of jewellery. She takes each day as it comes and enjoys living in one of London’s rapidly changing neighbourhoods. She’s a habitué of the Cafe Vintage round the corner even if she welcomes the arrival of a deli-cum-cafe opening at the end of the month next door to her. She often eats at Garufa and never misses an opportunity to take a stroll in Clissold Park and a wander round the vintage boutiques in Stoke Newington.

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