Fred Rich is well established as one of Britain’s most dynamic and exciting art enamellers. His distinctive style and technical expertise make him one of the country’s foremost designer-makers, attracting a wide circle of discerning collectors, both at home and abroad.
Fred’s outstanding work, in which technical perfection gives free rein to creativity and artistry has won him many awards , including three times winner of the Jacques Cartier Memorial Award, a Diamonds International Award, and 4 times winner of the Goldsmiths’ company Award.
Whether it is exquisite jewellery or stunning enamelled silverware, Fred’s work is truly breathtaking. Working extensively to private commission, Fred produces extremely personal pieces to be treasured by the client, and generations to come.
Fred Rich produces truly magnificent pieces of enamelled silverware and 18 ct gold jewellery, taking the field of art enamelling to the limits with every new design. Much of the success of Fred’s work is based on the fact that he is a multi-dimensional craftsman; designer, draughtsman, artist, master enameller, carver, engraver, silversmith, and jeweller. Many of Fred’s larger pieces require all of these disciplines, executed to the highest standard. A jeweller at heart, Fred regards his enamelled silverware as jewellery for the home!
Much of Fred’s work today is made to private commission, and examples of his work can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum, in the British Museum, and in the collection of the Goldsmiths’ Company.
Fred studied in London at the Central School of Art, and then at Sir John Cass School of Art in the late 70’s and early 80s. He set up his own workshop after leaving college and honed his skills working for other Goldsmiths. Right from the beginning he started to develop his own enamelling technique – a variation of Cloisonné – areas of coloured enamel divided by wires fired into the enamel.
Fred best describes his style of enamelling as a hybrid of cloisonné, basse taille, and champleve – enamel on an engraved, carved, or etched surface. Each piece results from an incredibly labour intensive process. Fred starts with the form, a vase for example. The enamelled design has to be scribed onto the surface of the vase. 22 carat gold wire is then applied to the vase and soldered on. This “draws” the design onto the vase. However, each piece of gold wire has to be cut and bent to shape before being soldered on. This can mean that hundreds of small pieces of gold wire are used in one design.
Once the design is in place, the metal is then hand carved in relief. This not only removes the firestain from the metal, but gives the enamel added life and brilliance through the use of textures. The use of relief carving, gives the enamel definition and vitality and Fred regards this as ‘the brush strokes in a painting’. The resulting play with light makes a huge difference to the pictorial effect – transparency gives the whole piece life.
The application of the enamel is an extremely painstaking process. Several layers of enamel have to be applied, working in sections at a time. Each layer of enamel has to be fired on at extremely high temperatures – the temperature of the kiln set higher than the melting point of silver! The surface of the enamel is then ground back to reveal the gold wires, and the piece is given one last “flash” firing to leave a brilliantly glossy and smooth surface. This whole process means that larger pieces are fired in the kiln up to 40 times.
Constantly striving to push the limits of his skills, Fred has developed a new technique, resulting in quite a distinct look. Technically extremely difficult, taking the Water Jug for example, and the dragonfly in particular, the dragonfly is cut out from fine silver, and then soldered onto the jug. 22ct gold wires are then soldered to the edges of the dragonfly to create a recess into which enamel is applied. Fine silver wires are applied to the jug to create further depth and movement, and the background hand carved.
Before enamelling, the dragonfly is also hand carved to give it depth and life, and the enamel is then packed on before being fired in the kiln as described earlier.
This style, Fred is calling encrusted enamel. Enamel on fine silver gives a different spectrum of vibrant colours, and as these areas are raised from the body of the piece, it gives the work a wonderful sculptural look and tactile quality. This is an exciting new direction to compliment Fred’s existing work.
Coupled with Fred’s breathtaking enamelling skills is his exceptional design talent. Much of the enamelled silverware and jewellery are made to private commission. Such pieces have included a wide variety of work from small beakers and a harlequin set of 6 goblets, to a pair of elaborate candelabra celebrating the ‘Spirit of Catalonia’, and an elaborate diamond & pearl enamelled necklace with magpies as the inspiration.
With any piece, the client can have complete freedom to choose both the enamelled theme and the colour palette used. The design brief from clients can vary considerably, from wanting a very specific theme such as a vase with native British butterflies – each butterfly having to be anatomically correct – through to wanting Fred to capture a particular theme, but leaving the final design to Fred. These have included hobbies such as golf, sailing, shooting, and skiing, a client’s passion for frogs, the origins of cricket, the British countryside, flowers, and marine themes, to mention just a few.
Fred very much enjoys the interaction with clients, and often this can lead to the most spectacular pieces. Close client interaction also results in very personal pieces. Often Fred adds a secret, humorous reference to the client’s life, passions, or hobbies. He thinks that the relationship between maker, client, and piece is a very important one.
As part of the design process, Fred creates a final paintup of the completed design – whilst a necessity for him to work from whilst enamelling, these are true masterpieces in themselves, and display his skills as a draughtsman. Some examples can be seen along with images of the finished pieces in the separate Jewellery and Enamelled Silverware sections.
In 2000 Fred set up a partnership with Adrian Butcher, and they operate the company under the name of Fred Rich Enamel Design. This partnership required a new hallmark, incorporating the initials of the company – FRED. It can be said that, in every respect, Fred’s name is truly stamped on each piece of work!
Fred lives and works in beautiful East Sussex, in the heart of the South Downs National Park, not far from the stunning chalk cliff coastline of the Seven Sisters. The countryside around him is a constant inspiration throughout every season, and a real encouragement to keep producing these wonderful masterpieces.
Fred is involved in the making of each and every piece. He employs some of the finest outworker silversmiths, spinners, and polishers as the pieces demand, but makes all of the jewellery himself. This means that not only does Fred have complete control over the quality of the workmanship, but particularly with the large enamelled silverware, each piece is quite unique, to be treasured by the client and generations to come.
It could be said that to commission a piece of work from Fred Rich is to own a museum piece of the future.