Ola Gorie - The Scottish Jeweller
Ola Gorie is one of Britain’s most important jewellery designers of recent times. A pioneer in the 1960s, she explored her Celtic and Norse heritage to find inspiration for stylish, wearable, modern jewellery. Her designs have continued to break new ground, and influence a generation of designers.
Ola returned to Orkney from art college in 1960 with a dream of doing something new: drawing on her native islands for inspiration in the field of jewellery design. Her early pieces quickly gained approval at home and abroad, and her name became synonymous with stylish, finely crafted jewellery. She was awarded an MBE in 1999 in recognition of her work both as a designer and as a founder of the modern jewellery industry. This honour was welcomed by the many loyal customers and collectors of Ola Gorie’s jewellery around the world, as fitting recognition for the long-standing quality of her designs.
Ola Gorie frequently appeared in judges’ lists for prestigious awards such as the Scottish Gift of the Year and the Kayman Award. In 2001 we were invited by the World Gold Council to participate in a global touring exhibition, ‘Evocative Gold: A New Renaissance’. One of our brooches was selected by the Goldsmiths Company for inclusion in the prestigious ’Celebration in Gold and Silver’ exhibition for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2002.
In 2010 the Orkney Museum held a retrospective exhibition called ‘Celebrating 50 Years of Ola Gorie,’ which brought together many of Ola’s original drawings and designs, as well as their ancient inspirations from the museum’s archives, and much fascinating memorabilia. In 2012 Ola was awarded an Honorary Degree by Robert Gordon University, the first Scottish jeweller to be so recognised.
Ola Gorie is based in the medieval heart of Kirkwall, the Orkney Islands’ capital (pop. 9,000.) The sea is a few hundred yards away, and its sound and salty tang are with us every day, even in the centre of this bustling market town. Our family business is located on the town’s main street, in the shadow of the magnificent sandstone St Magnus Cathedral, built from 1137 by Orkney’s Norse rulers. We haven’t been here quite as long as that – ‘only’ since 1859! For much of that time the family operated as a grocer’s and wine merchant (which latter trade we still carry on to this day as Kirkness & Gorie) but since 1960 there has also been superlative jewellery.
Now, of course, Orkney is part of Scotland – part of Europe – and we are inspired by design and fashion trends from far beyond our shores. We continue to draw inspiration from the rich mix of Norse and Celtic history and culture that surrounds us. But we also feel that our island traditions of international trade and travel make us uniquely placed to blend the most exciting fashion developments from around the world with our solid base in craftsmanship and British-made quality.
Quite often we have to explain to customers or to fans of Ola Gorie that the Celtic arts and crafts products, which we now see around us in so many different guises, were not always there. We pass on what Ola (and other pioneers of modern Scottish craft) have often said: as recently as the mid- sixties, there was very little quality craft being produced in Scotland, on anything but the smallest, most locally-available scale.
The Present and the Future
At Ola Gorie, we are used to taking the long view: we live and work amongst houses, monuments and standing stones dating back to Neolithic times, 5000 years ago. And, on a slightly shorter time scale, Ola’s family has been in business (of one kind or another) on exactly the same spot in Kirkwall since the 1850s. We have a reputation to live up to, both at home and abroad. So all our jewellery is designed to look fresh and stylish for the long run, not just for a few minutes of fashion.
And all our jewellery is made to the highest standards, mostly by one of the island’ finest craftspeople, Karen Duncan, who has been making Ola Gorie jewellery for twenty-five years. From a long line of Orkney boat-builders, Karen is based in her home workshop in the tiny island of Burray, a few miles south of Kirkwall over the famous Churchill Barriers. Nothing leaves her hands till it has been finished to perfection. At which point we check it one more time just to be on the safe side!
Our range is strengthened from time to time by launches of fresh new collections, as well as the continued production of proven ‘classics’ from our extensive back catalogue. Ola herself retired in 1997, and Ola’s daughter, Ingrid, herself an internationally recognised designer, runs the business
In spring 2007 we decided to stop selling via other retail shops across the country (with very few, limited exceptions.) Now, we sell our jewellery exclusively through our own shop in Kirkwall, The Longship, through our mail order catalogue (email for a copy if you want one) and of course via this website.
All in all, we are proud to be a design-led company, still family-owned and managed, in an increasingly impersonal, mass-market world. And we are delighted to be taking forward Ola’s vision, by ‘opening our eyes and looking around us’, at all the wonderful inspiration that our rich island heritage provides.