NI jewellery designer believes there’s no place like home

At the age of 21 Ruth McEwan-Lyon went off to travel the world. It was to be a 16-year adventure that made her realise that home is where the heart is.

By Graeme Cousins
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 9:00 am
Harland and Wolff crane necklace by Ruth McEwan-Lyon
Harland and Wolff crane necklace by Ruth McEwan-Lyon

In 2012 she returned to Northern Ireland with her husband Steve, who is from London, and her daughter Sophie (now 10), who was born in Malaysia, and set up a business making bespoke jewellery based on some of the Province’s most iconic landmarks as well as people’s own treasured places.

Ruth, who lives in Holywood, explained the ethos behind NI Silver: “When we were in Malaysia our daughter was born. I was stuck in an apartment by myself while everybody else was out at work. We’d no friends or family there. I thought I might as well do something to make me feel human again.

“I started jewellery classes out there. It was more for fun at the start and then when we decided we were going to come back here, I decided to make a go of it, making some jewellery that was a little bit different.

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Goldsmith Ruth McEwan-Lyon

“We came back in 2012. Titanic Belfast was just opening – I loved the facade of it. That was the first thing I made.”

Next came the famous yellow cranes at Harland and Wollf shipyard: “When I fly in and out of Belfast Harbour Airport the first thing I see when I come home are the cranes. It’s so emotional when you see them, you know you’re home.”

She said the original target market for her handmade jewellery was people from NI and ex-pats: “This was before the tourism boom. Initially I was making them for people from here so they’ve got a wee piece of Northern Ireland wherever they are in the world.

“When I was in Penang (in Malaysia) I always wanted to give people something from back home, but at that time it was only tea towels or a mug with something silly on it.”

Dark Hedges necklace and ring inspired by Co Antrim and Game of Thrones, modelled by Petra Wolsey

Ruth got a taste for world travel with she worked at Camp America in Michigan, teaching horseriding: “After that I left here when I was 21 and went to live in Australia. When I was in Asia we travelled to Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Singapore, China.

“This is us home now. We came home temporarily when Sophie was born, we got somewhere in Holywood and fell in love with the place.

“I’d forgotten how fresh our air is. Even after eight years back home I’m still madly in love with Northern Ireland.”

Ruth said she particularly enjoying doing commissioned jewellery: “Somebody wanted me to make the Doagh Standing Stone, I’d never heard of it. It was somewhere that him and her met, they put their hands through the hole. That’s what made the memory for them.

The Doagh Standing Stone was a specially commissioned piece

“I make Scrabo Towers, people will say to me that’s where I was proposed to.

“My whole business ethos is all about memories of here and what makes something important to people.”

Ruth grew up on the Ballygowan Road in Belfast surrounded by farmland and often helped out with milking duties on her aunts’ and uncles’ farms.

She shared a fond memory: “There was a farmer used to the farm the fields behind us. Every summer when he was doing the silage we’d be hanging onto the back of his trailer like wee monkeys. The machine would be firing the grass into the trailer and we’d be getting it in our faces. Every time I smell grass I think of that.”

Ruth’s sister married into a farming family from Ballygowan, allowing her to return to her roots: “Being able to visit the farm every Sunday, it’s so priceless – you can’t get it just anywhere.”

• To view a selection of Ruth’s pieces go to the NI Silver website