Is it a shop? Is it a gallery?
Its a shop – Steensons – widely recognised as Belfast’s leading contemporary jewellery retailer. Located at Bedford House, Bedford Street, it may look like an art gallery with its carefully placed glass cases. But this is a friendly, relaxing shop with browsers absolutely welcome.
Steensons is a designer-retailer, and many of the pieces on display are made in-house at a workshop in County Antrim. But the range of designs available is both judicious and eclectic. Northern Irish designers represented include Jill Graham of County Tyrone, and Nora Watson of Portaferry, County Tyrone. Pieces by all Northern Irish designers are moderately priced (starting at just £100+), and look really striking.
Designers from the rest of the UK include Andrew Geoghan and Jane Adam. There is also a rather noticeable contingent of German designs available, which is a little unusual for a UK shop.
A fall-back option for the contemporary jewellery hunter in Belfast is the gift shop at the Ulster Musuem. Far less quiet and reverential than Steenson’s, the gift shop is busy and buzzy. There’s a wall-mounted display of costume jewellery and a three-tier stand-alone display case of Northern Irish-designed pendants, earrings and necklaces. In the costume jewellery section, keep your eyes open for items from Ghost and Bonesetter. Its a young company based in Belfast with a distinctive range of brass and hammered metal items. In the designer display, Jill Graham features again, alongside other Northern Irish designers Fiona Kerr and Garrett Mallon (pictured below). Again, everything is affordable, with very little exceeding the £200 mark.
So I think its fair to say that the Northern Irish contemporary jewellery scene is small, but perfectly formed. I like the look of the local designers, the styles occupy a sweet spot that could either be distinctive work jewellery, or subtle party pieces.
Nevertheless, I found it easy to walk away from both shops empty handed. No buying for me in Belfast. But nice to look.