Nigel Cabourn X Johnny Hoxton in 925
Johnny Hoxton is a jewellery designer based in Hatton Garden — London’s fabled jewellery district. Whilst his setting is fairly traditional, his designs are anything but — combining true craftsmanship with a sharp eye for underground pop culture imagery.
Silver castings of He-Man’s head…solid gold Technics turntable headshells… pigeons… his stuff adds a playful blast of flavour to an industry not exactly known for its sense of humour.
Seeing as he’s just worked with Nigel Cabourn on a small collection of necklaces (featuring three symbols close to Nigel’s heart, cast in silver), now seemed like the prime time for a bit of a chin wag…
First things first, how did you get into designing jewellery?
I was introduced to it at a very young age as my dad was a silversmith. To be honest I wouldn’t even call him a silversmith — he was a master craftsman, and I’m not a patch on him. He did very, very intricate work, and growing up, we always had nice things in the house that he had hand-made.
I think his creativity rubbed off on me, as I’ve had a number of different careers over the years, and they’ve all been relatively creative. I made furniture, and then I had a beef jerky company on a market stall on Bermondsey — just because I love beef jerky more than anything.
But I digress, the jewellery thing started with me making things for myself and my friends. The first piece I made was very simple — I took a ring that my dad had made before I was born, and then I cut the face off my He-Man toy and with some modelling clay I moulded it onto the ring. When I was a kid that He-Man toy was the most important thing in my whole universe, it went everywhere with me, so I wanted a way to keep that joy alive and keep him with me. So I made a mould and I cast it in silver, and it got quite a lot of attention!
How long ago was this?
This was maybe about seven or eight years ago. I ended up making a He-Man ring, a Skeletor ring and a Mr T ring and sold them in Present on Shoreditch High St, which at the time had just been voted the best menswear store in London by The Times.
But the real catalyst was back when People Just Do Nothing was just starting, I knew some of the boys, and I said why don’t I make you some pendants of the hand-sign? They were well up for it, and through that I met quite a lot of different people.
And then I did the McDonald’s spoon, which I just did for a laugh. It’s based off the old McDonald’s spoon which got banned. I bought one off eBay and shrunk it down as the actual spoons are too long and would just be too fiddly. And they flew out, I’ve sold over 250 — some guy in America bought 20 made out of solid gold.
And from there, I started thinking about putting different twists on traditional pieces of jewellery.
How did the collaboration with Nigel come about? What’s the story behind that?
I know Nigel’s daughter Sophie, and for years I’ve been hassling Sophie to get Nigel to make a reissue of my aunt’s jacket. My mum’s sister was the first British woman to climb Mount Everest. She did it in this Rab jacket back in 1993. It doesn’t even seem that long ago but I suppose it would be classed as vintage now.
So eventually I went to talk to Nigel and the guys in store, and we came up with some ideas for the jewellery. Nigel always wears that World War 2 Hudson & Co whistle so I thought that we could do a little version of that, cast in silver. And then we did the Broad Arrow, which is featured heavily in his work and the little survival knife.
How do you go about making those whistles? What’s the process behind turning something like that into a piece of silver jewellery?
So first of all it’s designed using CAD, that’s computer-aided design. We use a programme to create a CAD image of the item, which is then 3D printed in a soft plastic. From that you make a mould, and from the mould you cast in whatever metal you please. And depending on the complexity of it, you might need more than one mould – the whistles were made in two parts.
After that, you assemble all the different pieces, file them down and polish them.
Considering you’re trying stuff that maybe hasn’t been done before, do you ever have ideas for pieces that just can’t be made?
There’s a lot of trial and error. For example, I wanted to make an onyx-faced sovereign ring with the smiley face engraved on the front but the laser was too hot so it just cracked the onyx.
Normally things don’t go wrong, they just don’t work the first time. For example, a friend of mine’s wife ordered a gold Technics headshell. And we really had to think about that one. That headshell had to be stripped down and taken to bits, and in the end we made four different moulds. You don’t know until you start to really look at something just how much work is involved in it.
People see that and just think it’s a gold plated headshell — but it’s a solid metal piece of jewellery and a lot of hours went into it.
Where do you get the gold or silver from? Do you just buy ingots of it or something?
That’s quite interesting. Normally, when you get things cast you get it done at a caster’s, and you get the gold or silver from them at the same time. However, I’ve just made a collection for a company called Pentatonic who create furniture and fashion out of ocean waste and other recycled materials.
I think I saw that — those recycle logo pendants made from tech waste?
Yeah, that’s them. They were made from gold and silver taken from servers, mobile phones and other E-Waste. Tech waste is an enormous issue, so I’m now looking at potentially using recycled gold and silver for all the jewellery that I make. Gold and silver are very good conductors so they’re used in a lot of circuit boards and other components.
All these old computers aren’t something you’d ever really think of when you think about these precious metals is it?
And catalytic converters in cars use platinum. It’s mad! That’s why they’re always being nicked!
Where do you get your ideas from? Jewellery is a very traditional craft but the stuff you’re doing adds a new twist to it.
With jewellery, the majority of companies are just doing the same stuff. Every other shop is just coating stuff in diamonds like 90s hip-hop jewellery, and I wanted to steer away from all that. I want to make stuff that all those other places aren’t doing. When I make things, I want to make sure it doesn’t already exist — it has to be something that I want myself.
I suppose what I’m trying to do is put a little bit of good old fashioned British humour and ingenuity into something that has gone a bit stale. There’s not a lot of thought in jewellery now, and there are no stories behind things.
What is it about jewellery that people like so much? Do you think there’s a certain feeling people get from wearing this stuff?
This goes back probably 20,000 years… maybe even more. It’s a status symbol, and it’s a way of showing your personality. People dress a certain way and people wear a certain kind of jewellery. It’s a way of communicating to other human beings what kind of person you are. We’re clan based animals, and we dress a certain way to fit in with a certain clan — and I think jewellery plays into that.
There’s very distinct differences in the types of jewellery that different classes wear, and I think that’s fascinating. Humans are funny creatures.
A lot of the stuff I wear is sentimental and has a story behind it. It’s never worn for its value per se — it’s more about the backstory. It’s nice when someone says, “what’s that?” and I can say, “oh, funny you should ask…” and then explain the story. I think it’s nice to have a bit more depth.
Definitely. I suppose we’ve chatted for a while now. To round this off, have you got any wise words?
Be nice to people.