LONDON — The Royal Mint can trace its roots back to a coin with the portrait of Alfred the Great that was struck in the ninth century. And the business, owned by the British government, has been striking coins for currency and collectors, and trading in investment metals like gold bullion ever since.
But as financial exchanges have gone digital — even the man panhandling outside the local train station now has a contactless card reader synced to his smartphone — and the need for coins has declined, the Mint has announced a new venture: jewelry.
“The use of coins as currency had been decreasing significantly but Covid really made a step change,” said Anne Jessop, the Mint’s chief executive. “We had to think about how we could marry currency and collectible coins, and further diversify. What else could we use our skills for? Jewelry was the answer.”
The Royal Mint’s Britannia silver T-bar pendant…… and 18-karat gold large hoop earrings.Credit…Photographs via The Royal Mint
Its new brand is called 886, for the year the Mint was founded. And the inaugural 15-piece collection, introduced on its website May 20, features genderless items from hoop earrings to plain bands, each made in 18-karat gold, 9-karat gold, sterling silver or Britannia silver (an alloy with a high silver content).
Prices range from 195 British pounds ($240) for stud earrings in Britannia silver to 24,495 pounds for a large cuff in 18-karat gold.
The Mint has said it will strive to keep the jewelry manufacturing at its current facility in Llantrisant, southern Wales, using gold extracted from electronic waste and the other metals, and working them with traditional coin and medal-making techniques.
So, if an 18-karat gold ring from the collection seems heavier than you might expect, that’s because it is. The pieces are being struck, like coins — hammered, pulled and forged into shape, which increases the metal’s density and, the Mint said, results in jewelry that is 30 percent stronger than items manufactured by a casting technique.
In May 2021 Dominic Jones, a jewelry designer and five-time winner of the British Fashion Council’s NextGen award, was appointed creative director of 886, the Royal Mint’s new jewelry line. Credit…The Royal Mint
Dominic Jones, a jewelry designer and five-time winner of the British Fashion Council’s NextGen award, said he had not known much about the Mint’s history before he was appointed creative director of 886 in May 2021. “This was a chance to go out with the more nuanced aspects of the story of the Mint,” Mr. Jones said, describing how he spent hours at the Mint’s museum, pulling out drawer after drawer of old coins.
But Mr. Jones decided not to use traditional coin decorations of portraits of kings and queens as his inspiration for the jewelry line. (Although portraits of a diverse range of Britons, including the fashion historian Judith Watt, the Olympic sprinter Niclas Baker and the poet Destiny Adeyemi, are being used to promote the introduction.)
“I wanted to start with something that was synonymous with the concept of intrinsic value, both in function and purpose. I took that gold bar everyone thinks of when they picture Scrooge McDuck,” he said, referring to the wealthy Disney cartoon character. “But I warped it, made it feel soft and fluid and turned it in on itself.” The result was the slightly tapered, softened edges of rings and bangles, which range in scale from slender to determinedly chunky.
The 886 collection includes a simple band, rendered in 18-karat yellow gold ……and in 18-karat white gold.
The idea of precious metal as a portable form of wealth also informed other aspects of the collection, Mr. Jones said.
“I had a friend with a gold bangle that had these notches in it,” he recalled. “The idea was that he could sell a section when he needed money, like wearable coins.” So the collection’s bangles in silver and gold also feature engraved lines, each one marking off approximately five grams (or around two-tenths of an ounce) of metal.
The edges of two very large cuffs also are engraved: the silver one has lines from “Silver,” by Walter de la Mare, a 20th century English novelist and poet, and the gold has “Gold,” by Thomas Hood, another English poet but from the 19th century.
886’s Britannia silver cuff, with lines from “Silver,” a poem by the English novelist and poet Walter de la Mare, engraved along the edge.
“Lots of coins have messaging in the form of text and poetry, and I wanted to bring that in,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s a beautiful, hidden element celebrating the material itself.”
Dora Thornton, curator at the Goldsmiths’ Company, one of the 12 livery companies, or guilds, in London, said the Mint had been synonymous with high quality manufacturing since its founding.
“The fact that it is turning this expertise to producing jewelry and objects made from reclaimed precious metal, extracted from discarded electronic waste, is exciting,” she said. “It will be fascinating to see how the creative direction of the product develops to reflect this innovative approach in the future.”