They keep on coming, the competitions. Baking, pottery, sewing, interior design, hairdressing, dog grooming – and on and on, until (endgame!) the entire population of Britain has got a talent, and the whole world looks wonky and handmade and lightly dusted with icing sugar. But while it’s not much of a surprise that the BBC’s new show, All That Glitters (20 April, 8pm), seeks to find Britain’s next jewellery star – it was bound to happen eventually – the producers’ choice of presenter and judges is, I’m afraid, truly astonishing. Where on earth did they find them? Why do they have so little that is useful or interesting to say? I’m already praying that Gerald “total crap” Ratner will at some point guest star and pep things up. Oh, but to hear his thoughts on Hugo’s spiral goddess pendant, designed to symbolise its owner’s journey through life on a pair of silver fairy wings.
The success of these series depends entirely on chemistry, and there was never going to be any of that emanating from Katherine Ryan (a Canadian comedian, in case you’re wondering). She is so miscast here, her glazed, chilly vibe giving her every appearance of being utterly bored (this may be one reason it wasn’t the tiniest bit funny when, in the first show, she pretended to do her nails with a huge metal file) – though, to be fair, she has her work cut out. The judges! Shaun Leane, best known for his collaborations with Alexander McQueen, is the real deal in jewellery terms: beneath his catwalk exterior beats the heart of a true goldsmith (he trained in Hatton Garden). But he’s not exactly brimful of charisma. Ryan tries her best with her “eight inch” jokes (the circumference of the bracelets contestants had to make). Leane, though, is as resistant to euphemism as he is – I’m guessing – to cubic zirconia.
Still, beside Solange Azagury-Partridge, a self-taught jeweller whose rings, long beloved of Notting Hill types, look to me like they’ve fallen out of a Christmas cracker, he’s practically Barack Obama. Azagury -Partridge has one of those tediously uninflected fashion voices; it would not rise to exclamation even if someone walked in with the Koh-i-Noor bobbing above their cleavage (“Wow, that diamond is quite big,” she’d doubtless say, feigning a yawn). Leane knows his way around a soldering iron; when he sticks a loop in his eye (“Oh, a monocle!” said Ryan, the first time he did this, with utmost vacuity), you’d better tremble. Azagury-Partridge, on the other hand, is more apt to comment on the propensity of, say, bangles to jangle, vibrations she regards as “spiritual”. If I sound disapproving, all I can tell you is that my grandpa was a gem-setter in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, where the series is filmed. I have strong views about such things as opals (not as fragile as you think) and aquamarines (always choose an emerald cut).
What about the contestants? Most are working as jewellers already, and they come with practical skills as well as unbounded enthusiasm. Dan from Somerset is a strong contender to win: in the first show, it was his bespoke pendant that was chosen by the “client” for his mum to wear when she picked up her MBE. But I have a soft spot for 23-year-old Sonny, a former Spurs youth player who cannot stop smiling. Their taste, at the moment, is a touch too craft fair for me (“This one is inspired by oak leaves!”) and it’s hard to see, given BBC budgets, how they’ll ever shrug this off. No one’s going to shower them with rubies the size of thrush’s eggs, or even garnets; we’re talking brass, not silver. Even so, it’s happy- making, watching them work: a balm even the tiredest format cannot quite ruin.
Jewellery is so intimate, and so meaningful. We measure our lives in rings and lockets, treasures that allow love and loss to pass from generation to generation, unforgotten: a pricelessness that has nothing to do with value. Given all that we’ve been through in the past year, All That Glitters has the potential to be a show for our time – if only Ryan would stop with her single mom jokes, and Azagury-Partridge would show some small flicker of human emotion.
All That Glitters
This article appears in the 14 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Careless people