Joanne Thompson: The Master of Chain Making

Playing with scale, volume and weight, Joanne Thompson creates unique sculptural ornaments experimenting precious metals that can mutate into a sensual tridimensionality that embraces and flows with the body. We are delighted to share our conversation with the Artist explaining her creative process and the joy of making.

EC: Tell us about yourself and what do you do? (What is your background?)

JT: I am a designer and maker of contemporary chain jewellery, living and working from my home studio in Edinburgh, Scotland. I studied jewellery design firstly at Edinburgh College of Art, (1st class honours degree) followed by a Masters at RCA in London. I set up my studio in London in 1995, moving back to Edinburgh in 1999.

EC: You are known as the ‘Master of chain making.’ In 2021 you received the Gold Award (The Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver) ‘Wire Innovation’ held at the Goldsmith Hall in London. How did you come up with the idea of chain maille pattern?

JT: I have always been interested in unit construction and textile techniques in jewellery making.  With chain making it is possible to take solid precious metals and fabricate them into something soft, fluid, and tactual. My chain designs are created through experimentation with ancient chain maille patterns. I play with the scale, weight, form and texture of the chains, making sculptural forms, necklaces, bracelets and earrings which are voluminous yet light, tactile and extremely durable and comfortable to wear.

Joanne Thompson working in her Edinburgh studio

EC: What inspires you and why?

JT: The joy of making is my main inspiration. I learned to knit at an early age and quickly became aware of the calmness and peace I felt while creating, and that has never left me. I am in my element sitting at the bench immersed in my practice. It does feel like a type of meditation. There are many similarities in the construction of the chain fabric to the way that a garment is knitted. I think of each jump link as a ‘stitch’ and there are increases and decreases that form a pattern just as there is in knitting. The intricate unit construction technique is time consuming, however, the magic of watching a piece come to life during its creation is extremely rewarding.

Joanne Thompson chain patterns

EC: How has your practice evolved over time?

 JT: My practice naturally evolves from design to design, one piece informs the next, almost like a series of happy accidents, possibilities reveal themselves as I experiment.

EC: Your jewellery has a spectacular voluminosity, however there is a surprising visual and physical lightness, could you explain how you achieve this result and is there anything that you would like to express through your work?

JT: Yes, people are always so surprised when they handle the work. There is an expectation of rigidity and weight and yet the jewellery is very fluid and light and has a little bit of magic in the way it contracts and expands in the hand. Someone once described this as the jewellery breathing. If there is anything I’m trying to express through the work it is perhaps that element of playfulness and tactility. I want the wearer to have a real sensory connection to the piece, in the hand and when worn on the body.

Joanne Thompson, Lusk (2023), oxidised silver necklace, unique

Joanne Thompson, Aird (2021), oxidised silver necklace, unique

EC: Your pieces are extraordinarily three-dimensional, could you explain if the design comes from a sketch on paper or your vision is an natural instinct?

JT: Definitely an instinct that has developed from decades of practice. This eventually leads to an understanding of what is required to make certain forms, and what the limitations are. However, I still have so much to discover and learn. When designing I work directly with the metal. If a sketch is used it will be a simple line drawing of a shape and then I record the ‘pattern’ of the piece once it is completed. This involves listing the gauge of the wire used, the size of the jump links, the number of links in each row etc.

Detail of Joanne Thompson, Lusk (2023) oxidised silver necklace

EC: In 2021 you won the Best New Design Award at the Goldsmith Fair, what is memorable about this experience?

JT: This was such a wonderful surprise and even more special as the Goldsmiths’ Company Prime Warden Dame Lynne Brindley purchased the necklace that received the award.

EC: Could you tell us where the title of your works come from and what they mean?

 JT: There is one particular design that a best friend kept purchasing for her family members, her surname is Moncrieff so for fun I called it the Moncrieff necklace and it stuck, I then went on to give each design its own Scottish surname.

EC: Your main medium is silver that you often oxidise, in some works combined with 14kt rolled gold. From your perspective, how does this material affect the shape and colour shade?

JT: The oxidised silver gives the jewellery a boldness and is a nod to the chain maille armour it references. Adding in the 14kt gold gives the jewellery a warmth and softness and a touch of luxury.

Joanne Thompson, Braid (2023), 14kt rolled god and blackened silver necklace, unique

EC: What are you working on now?

 JT: A statement necklace consisting of 3 large pods, each joined to the next with a slim chain tube. Oxidised silver with one of the pods in gold.

EC: What do you like about your collaboration with Elisabetta?

JT: I love that there are no limitations with the scale of the pieces that I create for Elisabetta. In fact the bigger the better ! Elisabetta’s passion for wearable art jewellery allows me to bring to life my most experimental work.

Detail of Joanne Thompson, Hopper (2022), oxidised silver necklace, unique


Joanne Thompson creative process and journey through volumes, weights and fluidity, starts with a circle, universal symbol of eternity, wholeness and love that give life to tridimensional, tactile and elegant wearable art works. Inspired by ancient chain maille and knitting, Joanne creates, with a combination of blackened silver and rolled gold, unique, durable and versatile wearable pieces that can be worn both for special occasion or everyday. Written by Federica Zaffiri

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.