The DAZZLE exhibitions of contemporary jewellery started in 1981 and were conceived by Tony Gordon and Christine Bola who continue to organise and present the events. At that time Tony was running the Portland Gallery in Manchester and Christine was theatre manager at the Royal Exchange.
Their idea was to utilise the front of house area at the recently opened theatre for exhibition and to greatly expand a theme that Tony was already developing in his own gallery.
A third partner at this time was Suzi Arbuthnot, then working as Graham Hughes' assistant at Goldsmiths Hall. Suzi was instrumental in arranging the exhibitions at the Royal National Theatre, London and at the Bede Gallery, Jarrow.
Interestingly, display cases for the first exhibitions were lent by Timothy Clifford, Director of the City Art Gallery, Manchester, and Graham Hughes at Goldsmiths Hall.
Since then, there have been one hundred and sixteen DAZZLEs up to the Glasgow 2009 exhibition in which over one thousand two hundred makers have sold over 400,000 pieces totalling around fifteen million pounds.
It is interesting to look back and note that at the first DAZZLE, the organisers set themselves a target of £1000 for the whole exhibition. This was reached within an hour of opening on the first day!
Buyers of Dazzle jewellers include many famous names such as the Late Princess of Wales, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Wilson, Dame Diana Rigg, Dame Judi Dench, Whoopi Goldberg, Susannah York, Ian Rankin, Phillip Pullman, Salman Rushdie, Mick Jagger, Susan Sarandon, J.K.Rowling, Nicholas Hytner, Graeme Le Saux, Michael Atherton and Robbie Coltrane.
Tony Gordon is also a director of the ARTISAN contemporary craft festival in Edinburgh. He was until recently a National Lottery Assessor in the crafts field and a crafts advisor to South East Arts.
The exhibitions in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh are well established but DAZZLEs have also been held at many other venues countrywide including the Bede Gallery, Jarrow, Wigan Pier, Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, in Bath and at the Royal Festival Hall and Barbican Centre in London.
One of the aims of Tony and Christine is to give young makers recently out of college an opportunity to show their work with the directors admitting to an open ageist bias supporting these young designers when they need it most. New and exciting work, often at modest prices can therefore be seen alongside the work of some of the finest jewellers from this country and abroad. All makers are specifically invited and applications are not encouraged as Tony and Christine view all the degree shows each year and regularly visit galleries throughout the country. The challenge is always to create spaces to exhibit those already on the books and still make room for fresh new talent. Dazzle expects all the exhibitors to be based in UK.
DAZZLE has developed to expand the range of work shown and now includes small usable objects such as boxes and condiment sets crafted in a variety of materials. In 2003, leading Scottish maker Geoff Roberts was commissioned to make sporrans and then in 2004 masks for the National Theatre exhibition wall display. This is a feature specifically of the London exhibition; uniquely Clocks, and wall hung work such as mirrors and sconces can also be found.
Many leading makers have exhibited with DAZZLE over the years, including Jane Adam, Frances Allison, Debra Allman, Alison Baxter, Norman Cherry, Nuala Jamison, Angela O'Kelly, Susan Cross, Kim Elwood, Anna Gordon, Edward de Large, Julia Manheim, Kathie Murphy, Brian Podschies and Tom Saddington.
Although most jewellery is bought for women to wear, there is a growing selection of male jewellery - rings, cufflinks, tiepins and more.
As Dazzle enters beyond its first century of exhibitions, this dazzle website now attracts over 250,000 hits per year, a number which grows fast. Many colleges worldwide regularly point students in this direction. The qualification for showing work on the site is merely having exhibited in a Dazzle. Some of the images go back to the very beginning and others are brand spanking new. We leave it up to the jewellers and metalsmiths to choose what they want you to see. However we are not interested in direct sales via the website. So forgive us if we avoid a payment facility. Our aim is purely to advertise the exhibitions and promote those that exhibit with us.
In particular, Dazzle currently owes a huge debt of gratitude to the National Theatre, Manchester City Council, Glasgow's Merchant Square and the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh for their continued support. Without that, not only would Dazzle probably not exist but quite a number of highly talented designers would find it a great deal more difficult to earn a living and thousands of people out there would struggle extensively to satisfy the need for birthday and Christmas presents.