Shells and pebbles from Filey Bay are the inspiration for the latest works by York jeweller Karen Thomas.

LONG walks along the North Yorkshire coast with Collie-cross J unearthed genuine treasures for York jeweller Karen Thomas.

For it was during excursions to Filey Bay that she would turn over pebbles and discover shells that would inspire her silver jewellery making back in her tiny garden studio in the city.

And it is here, in a bricked garden shed, no more than three-metres square, where you’ll find Karen hard at work, making moulds, soldering silver and turning her designs into beautiful, wearable pieces that are now sold across the UK and in Europe.

January has been a particularly busy month for Karen. She has been chosen as the “Allure jeweller of the month” at York’s Pyramid Gallery on Stonegate, and has been burning the midnight oil to get extra pieces ready for the show.

The honour is even more special because the gallery has just opened a new exhibition, Thirty-30, featuring 30 British jewellers to mark its 30th anniversary in the city.

Karen says she remembers going to the gallery in her student days when it was on Gillygate.

Karen, originally from Dudley, came to York in 1993 to study craft and design at York’s FE college. “As a student, the Pyramid Gallery was somewhere I went to for inspiration.

“I never expected my work would ever be in the gallery so it is nice that I have done it and am jeweller of the month.”

Visitors to the gallery will see how delicate seashells found on a North Yorkshire beach have been transformed into beautiful earrings, pendants and necklaces.

Her showpiece is a stunning 45-inch venus and pearl necklace, made from silver venus clam shells and off-white pearls.

There are bolder pieces too; featuring large polished “pebbles” of vibrant turquoise, lilac amethyst and deep purple “imperial” jasper, set in chunky silver claws and made into rings, earrings and pendants.

This collection developed from an earlier range featuring pebbles.

“Living in North Yorkshire, I take inspiration from the landscape and its colours. I am particularly drawn to the natural forms of the dramatic north-east coastline,” said Karen.

After a spell at college in York, Karen took a degree in jewellery and silversmithing in Birmingham. A job offer to teach in York brought her back north; she began working with another jeweller and later set up on her own.

From a child, Karen was destined to work with her hands. “I always made things,” she said. “I never played with dolls, but always Lego and Plasticine and bits of cardboard.”

Originally she thought about becoming a blacksmith. “But this is better,” she said with a chuckle. “I get to work inside.”

Karen likes a challenge, and sets out to make many of her pieces as versatile as possible. Hence she has a “swivel” range, where pieces on rings and pendants can literally swivel round to reveal a second design.

Karen carries this idea through to necklaces too. She puts extra holes on chains to give the wearer more choice in where it should be fastened. This means a favourite piece can be worn with a variety of necklines.

Then there are her adjustable necklaces and pendants. These feature two pendants, one large, one small, at opposite ends of the chain. They can be worn so either pendant is at the front.

“I don’t want to make something that somebody will just wear once then put in a box,” said Karen. “I want to know people are wearing it.

“I like to know that they can wear a piece somewhere special and feel a bit glam, but also that they can wear it everyday and just liven up an outfit.”

• Find out more at

• To mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in March, Karen is working on a new collection, and 25 per cent from each sale will go to the Ovarian Cancer Research. Details will be on her website soon.

• Karen has also made the shortlist for the annual Craft & Design awards; people can vote for her through her website.