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Pulling Power

By Sue Jackson

"Come up and see my jewellery," he said, at our first meeting. "You can choose some earrings if you like." Well, it's different from etchings, I thought, and that was my first introduction to the range of Cornish tin jewellery and also, it turned out, my husband.

Fritillary heart pendant.

Mining has been taking place in Cornwall for over two thousand years. At one time the county was the world centre of the hard rock mining industry, but the development of mining in many other parts of the world resulted in a decline of the Cornish industry. Cornish miners were then forced to travel to new mining areas of the world in Australia, South Africa, South America, Canada and the USA, setting up Cornish communities wherever they settled, many of which are still thriving today.

Twelve years ago, my husband and his brother came up with an idea for a jewellery project. They had been given a sample of tin, which they melted and cast a trial tin ring, using a wooden mould. They then set about researching possible ways of mechanically casting tin and produced a portfolio of possible designs which they took to the managing director of South Crofty tin mine in Cornwall.


The mine then employed 200 men and worked to a depth of 3000 feet, with a tunnelling system totalling approximately 90 miles. The managing director was enthusiastic about the idea of starting a joint project and agreed to produce tin metal ingots if the Jackson brothers could develop a viable casting process.

Tin had not been smelted in Cornwall since the 1930s and after the smelting works closed in Wales, South Crofty sent their concentrate (which is like heavy sand) to be smelted in Indonesia. The mine was able to produce small quantities (about 20kg per day) in a small laboratory furnace at South Crofty. For their part, the Jacksons found tin extremely difficult to cast, but after four long months they finally succeeded. "We must celebrate!" said my husband, not realising that it was three o'clock in the morning and all the pubs were shut.

South Crofty Collection Web site:

Tin is one of the oldest and most valued metals known to man. It is environmentally friendly, inert, non-toxic and does not tarnish like silver. All jewellery designs are exclusive to the South Crofty collection and have a link with either Cornwall or its mining heritage. A Certificate of Authenticity accompanies every piece. The collection encompasses over a hundred pieces, and last year there were two Royal commissions - a potpourri bowl for the Queen and a presentation piece for the Duke of Edinburgh. In addition, the project has had requests for commissions from many colleges, government authorities, hotels and private businesses.

Tall ship brooch from the South Crofty Collection.

Due to recent changing world economics, South Crofty, the only primary tin mine in Europe, closed in March 1988 causing the loss of hundreds of jobs in an area already suffering from high unemployment. Its closure signified an end to one of the oldest forms of employment in Cornwall.

At this time, jewellery sales soared: everyone was keen to grab a small piece of mining history. Thankfully, the mine selected enough tin to keep the jewellery project going, and a rescue medallion was launched, with the idea of selling enough to get the mine going again. South Crofty was front-page news. But the medallions were not enough. A prospective buyer stepped forward, keen to resurrect the famous mine, but his efforts fell through. He couldn't raise the capital required.

On Monday 24th September 2001, South Crofty opened once more. Baseresult Holdings Ltd acquired the mine and hopes to be producing tin in a matter of months. At the moment, thirteen people are employed at the mine and that figure should treble by Christmas. To date, three hundred job applications have been received from all over the world.

Cardinham Cross Head.

Four years after South Crofty's closure, the collection is sold throughout the United Kingdom, and visitors from all over the world have started buying these keepsakes to take home. The jewellery makes ideal wedding or anniversary presents - tin is the symbol for ten years of marriage - as well as birthday and Christmas presents. But for me, the Cardinham Cross and the Huer's Trumpet designs are the most treasured. They are the earrings he gave me at our first meeting.

© Sue Jackson 2001


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