A land tax in Anglo-Saxon England might not sound the most glamorous starting point for a brand, but it’s where George Easton found the name for his intriguing label Danegeld. Easton’s designs — from twisted Viking armbands to Art Deco brooches — are steeped in history.
The 51-year-old British designer indulges his obsession with history by recreating jewellery from the past. His unusual works have appeared in films from The Hobbit to Beowulf, and in hit TV shows such as The Crown, for which he created replicas of Wallis Simpson’s distinctive brooches and the Duke of Windsor’s pocket watch with sundial and compass — items that can say as much about the people as the era.
“You need to age jewellery for programmes such as The Crown — make it look a bit worn and grimy,” Easton says of some of the technical challenges involved in his screen work. He achieves this authentic patina either chemically or with sandpapering. “Brand-new stands out,” he says. “Think of your favourite jewellery . . . it will have lost its sparkle.”
He also notes that cheaper materials can look as good as the real thing when it comes to props. Before he starts work on a film project, the costume and prop departments will provide him with photographs and dimensions of cast members so that he can create a perfect fit.
Not everyone is a history buff, though, and Easton reveals that “some films will have jewellery around 1,000 years out of date”. He says film directors have their own concerns about the creative process: “It’s not always as simple as it being ‘the director’s vision’. There are other things that come into play, such as how prominent it needs to appear on screen, whether it clashes with a costume, how the lights act with the piece. Being truthful to the time period or having the right people wearing the right things isn’t the main concern. They make movies and TV shows for the general public, not historians and archaeologists.”
Easton did, however, enlist the help of a historian for one particularly high-profile project — the recreation of Richard III’s gold-plated funeral crown when the last Plantagenet king was reinterred in Leicester cathedral in 2015. This followed the unlikely discovery in a Leicester car park in 2012 of the remains of the monarch unfavourably depicted by Shakespeare.
Easton says of the crown, which was enamelled with white roses, and had rubies and sapphires to represent the livery colours of the House of York, “I worked with one of the historians who discovered him and we referenced portraiture of the time.”
Easton, who works from a summer house that doubles as his studio in his large garden in Sussex, developed his historical jewellery niche largely by accident. “I had studied graphic design in the 1980s,” he says. “It wasn’t for me, so I took a few years out and went back to do an evening class in jewellery in a college in east London because my girlfriend at the time fancied trying it. Turns out she didn’t like it but I did.”
From there, he began working at Simon Harrison — a company that makes jewellery for high-street shops and high-end designers and, like Easton, celebrates the past. Then he began making Viking jewellery such as brooches and arm rings for some friends who took part in medieval re-enactments. “It turned out to be more profitable than making modern jewellery.”
When it comes to creating exhibits for museums, Easton regularly accesses the “vast” databases held by these institutions. He says: “I like to make my work for museums highly accurate, so that the children who handle them can get the closest idea of the originals that they can.”
What are the next historical worlds to conquer? “I love the era of ancient Egyptian jewellery generally, as it is just so iconic and it’s so different from European works,” says Easton.
But for now, he remains busy making pieces for Anglo-Saxon fans — his replica of the Alfred Jewel is particularly popular. The original, quite possibly commissioned by Alfred the Great, is a masterpiece. The Saxon king was a well-versed Christian, and many are of the opinion that the jewel was not simply decorative but an aid for reading religious texts — the handle, perhaps, for a pointer stick. Easton’s reproduction can be fashioned for reading too, or formed into a drop pendant. And there aren’t many necklaces that draw you to an unknown man with pitch-black eyes in a forest-green tunic . . .
Follow @financialtimesfashion on Instagram to find out about our latest stories first. Listen to our podcast, Culture Call, where FT editors and special guests discuss life and art in the time of coronavirus. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
Get alerts on Style when a new story is published