Marion Miller is a jeweller based on the small Orkney Island of Stronsay, off the north coast of Scotland, who creates pieces in silver and enamel inspired by the sea and shore. All her pieces are made by hand in her studio on the family farm, overlooking the North Sea. Here Marion talks to fellow Folksy maker and jeweller Alix Leeds from The Little Red Hen Jewellery about enamelling, her creative process, beachcombing and the treasures on her doorstep.
To celebrate being our featured maker, Marion Miller is offering 10% off all her jewellery with code ‘FEATURED22’ until 16 January 2022.
Since moving to Orkney I have been able to take my inspiration by sea and shore to a whole new level, as it is all there right on my doorstep… but living on a remote island obviously comes with its challenges too.Marion Miller
Hi Marion, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and introduce your work?
I was born in Sweden but have lived in the UK for many years now. I studied jewellery at the well known Sir John Cass Faculty of Arts in London and graduated in 1997. Whilst living in London I also spent some time working in the jewellery and watch-making quarter of Clerkenwell. These days I live in the Orkney Islands and re-started my jewellery business in 2012 after having a longer break concentrating on family and exploring other work. I have two sons and my husband is a beef cattle farmer, and I help out on the farm whenever I am needed.
My jewellery has always been inspired by the sea and shore, even when I lived in the middle of London. So Orkney is the absolute perfect place for me now, as I can just step outside my door and draw on endless inspiration. Storytelling is also at the core of my inspiration and I am fascinated by beachcombing and finding shells and other treasures on the shore that have a story to tell and which inspire my jewellery and its processes. 2022 is the Scotland Year of Stories so I am hoping to incorporate that in my jewellery this year.
I mainly work in silver and love using semi-precious gemstones but I also work with enamel, which I find it inspiring and rewarding.
What inspired you to become a jeweller? What was it about jewellery making that appealed to you?
I lived in Ireland for a while and had a close friend there who was a jeweller. I started learning with him, did some evening classes and felt I really wanted to give it a proper go and make it my profession. I have always loved doing things with my hands and a career in something more practical was what I wanted to do. I also loved painting and drawing but jewellery just appealed more to me.
How has living on Stronsay in the Orkney Islands influenced your work?
I have been able to take my inspiration by sea and shore to a whole new level as it is all there right on my doorstep. In the beginning of 2021 I was finding that I wanted to re-evaluate my business and where it was going. It was then that I started making my ‘Seashells’ range. So many people (including myself) cast shells in silver or gold and the results are really brilliant but I wanted to do something different.
I started picking out certain shells that I particularly liked and reproducing them in silver from scratch, usually using recycled silver from offcuts, and adding my own artistic license. It began as a weekly challenge where I would set aside one day a week to create something spontaneous and new, using direct inspiration. The response to my new one-off pieces was great and things have really gone from strength to strength from there.
Living on a remote island obviously comes with its challenges too. I can’t easily travel to fairs or shows without a huge amount of planning and cost, involving ferry and plane journeys. Finding the Folksy community was absolutely fantastic for me and has helped me feel less isolated and get lots of online sales.
I know you love beachcombing. Do you have a favourite beach find and why?
Yes, I really do. Beachcombing is one of my absolute passions and I would do it every day if I had the time. I don’t really have one favourite beach find but I do like to find particular shells. On my favourite beach it’s possible, on rare occasions, to find unusual shells that are pretty much unique to that beach. The Canoe Shell is one like that and it features in my ‘Seashell’ collection.
Beachcombing is one of my absolute passions and I would do it every day if I had the time.Marion Miller
Can you share what a typical day looks like? Do you have a regular routine or is every day different?
I always like getting outside a little before I get to work. I have spaniel who makes sure this happens and also two ponies that need to be fed and seen to. My work does often get interrupted by farm work. I do like a routine but it’s not always easy with family and farming in the picture too.
Which of your designs are you most proud of?
Can I say two? Firstly my ‘Wave’ rings. I started making these whilst at university in the 1990s. I have developed them a fair bit since then, but the basic design is still the same. They are very popular and I love making them too. They have become somewhat of my trademark.
From my more recent designs I would choose my one-of-a-kind seashell pendants. I feel they are very unique to me and represent so much of my inspiration. I also absolutely love making these as well.
I love your vibrant enamel jewellery. Can you explain a little about the process?
Enamelling is something I did as part of my jewellery training and really loved but I didn’t pick it up again until two years ago, when I got some funding for one-to-one training.
It’s an ancient technique that basically involves painting with powdered glass and then firing it to around 800 degrees celsius in a specialist kiln. For me, enamelling is an outlet for the inspiration I get from the colours around me – shades of blue and green feature a lot in my enamelled work. My favourite enamelling technique is called ‘Cloisonne’, which uses wires in fine silver or gold.
I like listening to podcasts and audiobooks when I’m making. Do you have a favourite audiobook or podcast you can recommend?
I have listened to so many while making but they can’t be too complex – and they have to grab me from the start. There are some pieces of jewellery that I actually associate with certain audio books! The audiobooks I listen to are all fiction and I do love historical novels with a bit of drama thrown in, but they need to have a really good story. There are some fantastic storytellers out there.
Finally, what does craft mean to you?
For me, craft is a way of life. Being creative is very important and I rarely take time off from doing something creative with my time.
Shop Marion Miller Jewellery on Folksy
Featured image: Enamel Jewellery by Marion Miller photographed by Colin Keldie
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this time is Alix Leeds from The Little Red Hen Jewellery. You can read more about Alix in her Meet the Maker interview here – Meet Alix Leeds from The Little Red Hen Jewellery