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When it comes to exports from the islands, Harris Tweed, gin, salmon and music usually rank higher than silver tableware.

But Cree Mackenzie, an HNC jewellery student at Lews Castle College UHI, seems to have made an unexpected change to that trend with a recent commission for one of his pieces of coursework.

Cree has been attending courses at LCC-UHI for two years, studying first for the National Certificate and then for the HNC in Jewellery, with tutor Christina Mackenzie guiding his studies.

Christina said: “Cree was always creative and he excelled in all the modules, working in brass and copper first and then, later, moving on to silver.”

One of the course projects was to design a piece of tableware, and Cree admits ideas did not come to him straight away.

He said: “I drew a few things out and decided I liked the idea of making a napkin ring, then I went outside and spotted a variegated holly tree, so I thought I would make a Christmas design.

“It was fairly difficult to make. I made some in cardboard, then in copper and then a silver one. Shortly before Christmas I sent some pictures to a friend in Australia and on Boxing Day I got an email ordering four of them.”

The exercise was unusual and difficult to make for Cree, who is also a musician and painter. He usually works organically, letting his ideas develop, but the course set a series of tasks and challenges, with students learning from each other as well as from their tutor.

Cree said: “The course is brilliant, very interactive. We all have slightly different approaches, a very diverse group of people and Christina is a brilliant tutor. It gave me a good flavour of how diverse the skills are that are needed to be a good jewellery designer.”

Among the pieces Cree and his fellow students made were a spoon, a trinket box and a variety of pendants. One of his statement pieces was a cuff which carries an image of the Callanish stones.

But the commission for the silver napkin rings has moved him up a level, with the full set of four now at the Edinburgh Assay to be hallmarked before dispatch to Australia.

Christina said: “Cree’s commission shows what someone can do, starting from scratch and going from no skills in jewellery-making to being a skilled maker in two years.

“That shows what can be achieved by anyone who has the passion to learn.”

By the end of this year, Cree hopes to showcase his newly-acquired skills with an online presence and a distinctive style of design. He said: “I am hoping to have a website by December and to make at least a couple of dozen pieces before I attempt to sell anything online.

“I’m working on a number of designs at the moment, seeking opinions on them and hoping to find my niche, my own particular style, so I can make jewellery-making into something between a hobby and a career.”

NC and HNC courses in jewellery are now open for applications for a September 2021 start.

Find out more here

The pictures show Cree at work on the napkin rings before they go off to be hallmarked, the full commissioned set and some of his other work from the jewellery course.