The 357 files in this series document a wide range of silver jewellery produced by the KDW precious metals department over the period of 1967 to 1983. The documentation is in the form of slides, photographs, negatives and a small selection of technical drawings. The items depicted in this collection include: rings, earrings, pendants, necklaces, chokers, bangles, bracelets, brooches, tie pins and cufflinks. Other items that feature sporadically in this collection are examples of trophies, medallions and rosary beads. A very small number of the original record sheets name individual clients who commissioned designs. This suggests that the majority of the silver jewellery produced by the KDW was for sale in the Kilkenny shops, which was indicated on the reverse of many photographs within the series.
The KDW silver jewellery depicted in this series was created by what was originally known as the silversmithing workshop in the early 1960s, and therefore shares a similar administrative history to the Gold Jewellery and Silver Holloware series levels.
The silversmithing workshop was the first workshop to be opened by the KDW in 1963, set up by the first employee, Michael Hilliar, who studied his craft in Belfast College of Art and the Central School of Art, London. Hilliar was recorded as the principal designer of the metal articles shown at the first ever KDW exhibition in 1965, with some other pieces designed by Bertel Gardberg, David Reeves and Oisin Kelly. Extensive metal production did not officially begin until 1966, when the Berlin born designer Rudolf Heltzel was invited by CTT (Coras Tractala) to manage the workshop alongside the Finnish designer Bertel Gardberg. Gardberg was credited with laying the foundations of the Finnish silversmithing industry, and was a prolific designer in the KDW undertaking work in wood, wrought iron and ceramics as well as silver. Heltzel is credited with initiating an apprenticeship scheme within the department and establishing proper training facilities for apprentices. Heltzel is one of the most documented jewellers associated with the KDW in the national press though he only stayed with the KDW for two years. Although this series features only ten examples of his silver jewellery designs, his role in initiating the apprenticeship scheme was crucial to the success of jewellery making and training in Ireland thereafter. Heltzel devised a silversmithing and jewellery course under the aegis of the Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee in association with the jewellery manufacturing firm Rionore of Kilkenny Ltd. As part of this course, apprentices spent four days per week in the workshop and one day at a vocational school learning technical drawing and mathematics for alloying precious metals. The KDW essentially became a national facility for apprenticeships in precious metals and examination procedures were officially recognised by the Department of Education. This secured the precious metal department as one of the longest running production facilities in the KDW over the history of the workshops. As a result, the standard of apprentices were very high, and many went on to win the national apprenticeship competition. Some of these winners went further and took part at international apprenticeship level. When they first entered the international competition in 1968, the Irish competitor came last. However in 1969 the Irish competitor came twelfth out of 18 and in 1970 they came fifth, indicating the KDW's dedication to training was successful.
Heltzel was responsible for hiring the established London silversmith Peter Donovan, who remained in Kilkenny and became one of Ireland's most successful silversmiths specialising in silver holloware. Both Donovan and Heltzel left the KDW to establish their own workshops in Kilkenny yet maintained their connection to the KDW by hiring young designers who completed their training there and by continuing to manufacture designs created in the precious metals department. Heltzel moved to Rothe House, Kilkenny where he often held exhibitions of other KDW designers work alongside his own jewellery in the retail part of his workshop. Donovan left the KDW after four years to establish his own practice in Kilkenny and trained many successful apprentices, such as local Kilkenny man Michael Rafter.
Similar to the Gold Jewellery series, two of the most prolific designers documented in this series are Markus Huber and Max Andersen. Samples of Huber's designs in this series represents the period from 1967 to 1971 and encompasses a wide variety of styles and finishes. In the late 1960s Huber used silver as the sole primary material for rings and bracelets with occasional adornment. These designs varied from soft organic free-formed cast rings, to hard-edged square designs. Some of his linked bracelets, one particular design named 'Lobster', used individually cast pieces linked through the ball and socket technique. In 1970, Huber's silver designs developed to incorporate a variety of semi-precious stones such as; deep blue lapiz lazuli stones, fossit stones, amethysts, tigers eye, turquoise and smoky quartz. Max Andersen's designs in this series represents the period from 1971 to 1972. Similar to his gold jewellery designs, Andersen's ring designs are predominantly large and chunky, many with cabochon cut stone settings with; quartz, rock crystal, opal amethyst, tourmaline, aquamarine and tigers eye. A series of Andersen's silver pendants and earrings feature hanging fringe detailing.
Other designers whose work is documented in this series include Franz Bette, Irene Spillman and Gunter Hartmann. Bette's designs include pendants and earrings which incorporate delicate fringes of fine wires, and a ring comprised of layers of thin rectangles of silver compacted into a solid rectangle. Technical drawings illustrate individual components of some of his elaborate linked bracelets. Also in this series, a medallion designed by Bette for the Central Remedial Clinic in Dublin, was presented to Jimmy Saville OBE by An Taoiseach on 28 April 1981. Designer Irene Spillman included technical drawings and sketches of her elongated drop earrings, executed in a delicate style. Gunter Hartmann's ring designs are intricate and in many cases, asymmetric, using overlapping shapes and layers. Some of his striking designs include tapered silver bands set with stones such as spectrolite, chrlormelant or opals.
Des Byrne joined the workshops in 1968 as a qualified silversmith from a commercial company in Dublin. He remained one of the longest standing members of staff in the precious metal department, and this series showcases his work from 1971 to 1982. Much of Byrne's work in silver was commissioned by corporate bodies or individual clients, such as cufflinks for Cork Chamber of Commerce, a set of pendants incorporating an anchor motif, a set of prayer beads, and a pectoral cross on a chain for Bishop Walsh. Other jewellery designs are varied in style and technique, using stones such as spectrolite, smokey quartz, rose agate and moonstones. In 1981 Byrne produced a series of rings made from clear acrylic, some featured tiny drilled holes which were sometimes filled with silver. The use of acrylic as a material may have been influenced by the steep rise in silver and gold prices in the early 1980s, which caused the KDW to diversify their range of materials within the precious metals department.
A succession of female designers who were part of the precious metals department over the 1970s worked primarily in silver only. Mary McCarthy worked in the KDW in 1971 and her work indicates a particular preference for circular motifs. Many of her pendants, earrings and chains consist of irregular patterns of miniature silver cylinders fused together within larger cylinders and circles. Another designer Thelma Robertson who worked in the KDW during 1972 worked in free-forming organic shapes and layers which interlocked and overlapped each other. Another set of Robertson's work consists of flower and tree shapes finely cut out of thin sheets of silver. Olivia Hayes, whose work in this series covers the period from 1972 to 1976, used a variety of techniques and finishes. Hayes created a series of items using bird motifs, some pendants feature two kissing birds, and some necklaces consist of three flying birds.
Una de Blacam was commissioned to design a collection of silver jewellery for an exhibition in the Kilkenny Shop which ran from December 12 1979 to January 19 1980. De Blacam was educated at NCAD, Dublin (National College of Art and Design) and in Oslo. She was renowned for specialising in gold jewellery which used chasing and repousse techniques, however for this silver collection de Blacam incorporated silver with delicate blue amorganite beads, brown agate beads and delicate shells, as well as plain twisted silver bracelets and simple necklaces. This series includes many contact sheets showing publicity shots of the jewellery on a model.
Other work documented in this series include Oísin Kelly's designs for a child's pendant which was awarded at the Child of the Year Awards. The 1979 designs are inspired by Irish myths and legends. Designer Jim Kelly produced an elegant silver pendant consisting of three overlapping silver strands which went on sale in the Kilkenny Shops for £91.25 in 1977. James Meyler's 1983 apprenticeship exam piece – a simple choker featuring an oval topaz – is included in the series. Finally the series contains some jewellery by makers who remain unidentified. One example is modelled on Irish Iron Age jewellery referred to as Lough Gur, possibly an artefact that was located here. This pendant replicates the repoussee technique of concentric circles, possibly designed for a private collection or client. Another pendant was designed for the National Film Studios of Ireland using their spiral motif which was designed by the graphic design department of the KDW. A booklet produced by the KDW on their silver holloware collections from 1966-1976, showcases a medallion in the same style as the pendant above, commissioned by the National Film Studios of Ireland which was awarded for outstanding contribution in the Irish Film Industry. This first award was made in June 1976 to Mr. Tom Copper of Killarney who produced The Dawn in Kerry, in 1936.