Theo Fennell shines out as a beacon of originality and superb craftsmanship in a time when the dominance of global conglomerates is squeezing the character and brilliance out of the jewellery and silverware market.
This quintessentially British, design-led business has been inventing and making miniature works of art for nearly 40 years. Above the Fulham Road shop is a genuine atelier and customers can visit it to be inspired by seeing Theo Fennell craftsmen at work.
Theo himself is still the creative director of the company. He was at Eton during the Sixties and was one of their first pupils to go to art college – first to York and then to the Byam Shaw School of Art. He began his career in portraiture but, by chance, was offered a job at the great silversmith Edward Barnard. At the insistence of a great-aunt, he took it and fast discovered a rare talent and a deep passion for silver and jewellery design along with a respect for the craftspeople and their skills.
One morning, a 1920s 18-karat gold champagne flute arrived, engraved with ‘Good Morning Diana’. The romance of it enchanted Theo and came to underpin his own designs. He formed his own company in the late 1970s.
Theo Fennell designs are made for an extraordinarily broad spectrum of loyal clients who want something original, personal and exquisitely made. Having a piece especially designed and created, whether a ring or a trophy, a locket or a set of candlesticks, is a creative and satisfying experience, and this often becomes the only way clients will acquire jewellery and silverware from then on. However, there is also always a host of original ready-to-buy pieces in the store, many of which can have detail added to personalise them. For example, the six-stone pendant that spells out Semper (Latin for always), has a witty, secret tongue that slides out and can be engraved with a message.
Many of Theo Fennell’s pieces, like the opening rings and lockets, hold surprises, but all have personality and emotional heft. ‘Unless jewellery has emotional weight it’s just a gewgaw,’ explains Theo. ‘Even when our jewellery is like Grand Opera it is still well-conceived and exquisitely crafted with wit.’
While never losing sight of its traditional values, the company has been able to adapt to its clients’ different needs and tastes, from classic and minimalist to the most outrageously theatrical, because it has always pioneered the use of new techniques and materials. Theo Fennell’s pieces become suffused by the character of their owners because Theo understands that, being the only art form to be worn, jewellery must suit the wearer and be practical as well as beautiful.
Likewise, great silverware needs to be both functional and handsome, useful while becoming redolent of the family that owns it and part of its heritage. The authenticity and originality that runs through every Theo Fennell piece makes each one a timeless classic to be handed down to the next generation. ‘To capture people’s imaginations, jewellery must have depth and a story,’ says Theo. ‘All great jewellery is necessarily talismanic, a keepsake that transcends generations.’
THEO FENNELL 169 FULHAM ROAD, LONDON SW3 6SP +44 (0)20 7591 5000