Cormac Cuffe: It’s jewellery making, Jim, but not as we know it!

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This month I’m talking to Irish craft jeweller Cormac Cuffe.  Jewellery is so often associated with luxury and extravagance, but former estate agent Cormac has a different slant on the craft of silver jewellery making. 

He splits his time between his two studios, the first near Dublin and the second in the beautiful Languedoc village of Lagrasse. He also splits his work between producing unusual and beautiful jewellery and teaching others.

Cormac is largely self-taught. He began working with silver in the late seventies to distract himself from the dire state of the Irish housing market. He completed evening classes and then a couple of short residential courses and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Everything old is new again

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Perhaps because Cormac didn’t take the traditional route into the craft, he has developed his own style and philosophy. He has long been a believer in recycling and says, “I don’t see why ordinary things can’t be combined with silver. I’ve used roofing slates and glass from the solar panels in parking meters. It’s a design challenge!” 

He takes a green approach to jewellery making. Typical workshops use dirty, dangerous chemicals, including warm sulphuric acid and ammonia. Cormac, on the other hand, has used eco-friendly materials like soap and water, walnut shells and wooden pegs for cleaning, polishing and shaping.

He also uses precious metal clay – like plasticine, but more pliable – in his pieces. You can paint it onto a leaf in successive layers and fire it with a blowtorch, and the result is a pure silver leaf with all nature’s lines and marks.

Best of all, if you’re not happy with the result you can reshape it before firing. It’s so pure that it can be combined with sterling silver and hallmarked. 

A French love affair

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Cormac fell in love with France, its people and natural beauty on family camping holidays in Brittany and the Dordogne. Later, when he and his wife had saved enough to buy their own little piece of the country they loved, they drew up a list and headed South. They discovered Lagrasse by accident and it was love at first sight. 

Lagrasse is one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. It’s small and friendly with narrow, cobbled streets, Roman bridges and natural swimming in glacial rock pools. Unlike many small French villages, Lagrasse has restaurants, supermarkets, wine ‘caves’ and a thriving artistic and craft community.

Made in Lagrasse

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Cormac has had many students over the years, and many are now close friends. Some learn for fun, but others have gone on to create their own craft jewellery businesses. One was even commissioned by the Irish government to create a piece for Sonia Gandhi. 

He hopes that his students in France will be as inspired by the landscape as he is: “I want to have students design and make pieces that reflect the wonderful flowers and history of Lagrasse and take home jewellery that’s been ‘made in Lagrasse’, complete with a piece of the local stone – and maybe some of their old gold jewellery recycled into something new.”

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Cormac says that “jewellery can give confidence like clothes. Well-designed jewellery can make you look taller, your hands can look longer and thinner, or it can be used to distract from your less-than-best feature!”

Image credits:
All images courtesy of Cormac Cuffe

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Wendy Wise

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