James Cromar Watt

26 Minute Read

This article was originally posted on Userblogs on 7/4/2017.
By Christina HewMore from this author

Editor's Note: This is the full text of a speech, submitted by Florentina Nichols, given by Christine Hew at the Guild of Enamellers 2003 Conference in Great Britain. We thank Florentina for arranging the permission to reprint this article and use of the images.

james cromar watt
Oval Enamel Plaque, c. 1900. Enamel on platinum. 10.7 cm x 7.7 cm. Frame: 15.1 cm x 12.2 cm. Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museum Collections, 2003.

Who Was He?
Dr. James Cromar Watt, described in the Aberdeen Press and Journal's obituary notice as an "eminent Aberdonian [who] distinguished himself as architect and decorative arts craftsmen", died on 23 November 1940, after sustaining head injuries in a road accident. Born in 1862, the only son of Alexander Watt, an advocate's clerk, and Ann Hardy, a school-teacher, he dedicated his life to the promotion of the Arts in Aberdeen, for which he was recognized with an honorary LLD from the University of Aberdeen in 1931.

The man is something of an enigma; he never married and there are no remaining close relatives to shed light on his past. He trained as an architect, yet I have not been able to uncover details of a career in this profession. He had a passionate interest in the arts, forming his own extensive collection of Oriental lacquer, carvings, cloisonné and ceramics combined with a group of Venetian glass, the majority of which he bequeathed to Aberdeen Art Gallery. He was evidently proud of this collection. In both his portraits by the Scottish painter Douglas Strachan in our collection he is seen with Oriental artifacts and Venetian style glass.

Enamel on copper portrait of Watt's mother, using grisaille and foiled enamels, 1898, 9.8 cm x 6.1 cm. Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections, 2003.

There is also evidence that he may have traded in works of art. The National Gallery, London, records that it purchased from Watt in 1895. The Gallery bought a walnut panel, The Head of John the Baptist, attributed to a follower of Leonardo da Vinci. Watt had acquired this panel from a dealer in Modena.

His obituary in the Aberdeen University Review records that other passions were: "hospitality and horticulture. In his greenhouse in his little garden in Dee Street, the friends whom he so generously entertained were shown specimens of exotic plants, rare in this country, which responded as by miracle to his loving and learned care. Some of these he gathered for himself in regions as remote as the Himalayas."

He was also a jeweler and enamelist, and it is this latter passion of his which I wish to concentrate on, and by making some comparisons with his contemporaries illustrate that his was indeed, as described in the Art Journal, an 'individual art'.

Early Training

"Jimmy," as he was known by his relatives and close acquaintances, came from a retail background. His grandfather and two of his uncles ran a prominent clock and watchmaker's business in Aberdeen. However, when Watt left Aberdeen Grammar School in 1878, he chose to enter the profession of architecture. His earliest work was a series of 43 measured drawings and rubbings of Scottish religious buildings, including the stained-glass windows in Dunblane Cathedral and Kings College Chapel, Aberdeen University. An early love of embellishment and ornamentation is evident, which later influenced his own work. His talent for draughtsmanship was acknowledged when the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded him the Medal of Merit for these drawings.

Enamel on copper plaque of the white Parnassus flower, with heart-shaped leaves, a motif that frequently occurs in Watt's work. 21.8 cm x 7.7 cm. 1898. Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections, 2003.

Following this success, he traveled extensively in May and June of 1886 through Belgium and Germany, sketching details of churches and church furniture. This was the first of many European study trips, often traveling with his lifelong friend, the Scottish stained-glass artist, R. Douglas Strachan. Strachan's daughter later commented: "Jimmy Watt never struck one as having a lot of money. They would spend the night in local tavernas and so got the feel of the country." A large volume of his studies from this and a subsequent visit to Italy in 1888 now resides in Aberdeen's collections. Returning to Britain, he was admitted to the Architectural School of the Royal Academy in London, and in 1890 he was awarded the Tite Prize for an original design. He passed the RIBA Institute examination two years later and was made an associate. In 1893, he began work on a collection of drawings from a tour to Athens and other Greek cities; the drawings were published in 1897. This volume, the last reference that I have to his architectural work, continues to demonstrate a deepening love of decorative detail. It seems that like others of the era, he moved away from architecture to an increasing fascination with crafts. He appears now to concentrate on mastering several craft techniques, principally working with metal. We know from exhibition catalogues, and from extant work, that Watt's first enamels were mainly large scale and panels. He seems to have concentrated in later years on jewels, often combining enamel with gold granulation.

I think he was largely self-taught; although there are echoes in the enamels of the Limoges school and Fisher's style, Watt seems to have perfected the skill through trial and practice. The other question is how he could afford to give up his professional career and support himself. It has been suggested to me that he could live from selling his work, as did other artist-designers of his time. It is perhaps my 21st century conditioning that expects evidence of a regular income to support his lifestyle.

First Commissions

First, I would like to look at his early enamels and a selection of smaller enamels. In 1898 Watt contributed to the reconstruction of the Chapel of St Mary of Pity, in the East Parish church of St Nicholas, Aberdeen. He executed four enamel roundels depicting Christian symbols for a pink granite memorial font, and two enamel plaques of the Gordon family arms for the granite altar. The altar is set against stained-glass windows depicting the Mater Dolorosa with Christ by Christopher Whall.

A year later, he designed a magnificent chalice and paten for presentation to the minister of the same church, Dr. James Cooper, who was about to leave for a new charge in Glasgow. Both pieces are fashioned from sterling silver. The cup is set with Scottish freshwater pearls from Aberdeenshire rivers, the Ythan and the Don. Other stones are carbuncles, carnelians and agates, with Watt's enameled discs set on the foot and shaft. Each disc on the foot depicts a symbol pertinent to Cooper's career and ministry - the Lamb of God and St Stephen (his first charge was St Stephen's in Broughty Ferry, near Dundee), the Pelican in her Piety, and finally a depiction of the crucifixion and St Nicholas (Aberdeen). The inspiration for the chalice came from the detailed notes and drawings made by Watt on his previous visits to Italy. The paten was also enameled by Watt. A similar figure appears in Watt's 1899 sketch book, noted as "P.P., Milan" (the Pitti Palace), where he describes a paten having a central disc "say 2-1/2 inches silver" which had been enameled.

Complex necklace of turquoise drops and foiled enamel plaques suspended on gold chain, interspersed with freshwater pearls. This necklace illustrates Watt's fully developed style, c. 1907. Length approx.. 41 cm. Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collection, 2003.

Throughout his life, Watt was fascinated by religious symbolism and he worked on enamel panels for other churches in the Aberdeen area. The Aberdeen Artists Society Annual Exhibition catalogues mention further pieces of art with religious significance, including an enameled panel set in a binding of a Bible (1908) and an enameled panel of St Matthew (1906). In 1919, he exhibited an enameled depiction of a winged angelic figure in pseudo-medieval clothing clutching a sword and large heraldic shield. Worked on gold, the vibrant red and purple enamels represent the embodiment of the virtue 'Fidelity', based on a drawing by Douglas Strachan. The design was executed in stained-glass by Strachan, and can be seen in Holy Trinity, St Andrew, in the 'Women of Charity' window.

Catalogues for the Aberdeen Artists Society exhibitions, held each year in Aberdeen Art Gallery, record that Watt exhibited some 29 enamel plaques between 1900 and 1921. A small, rather eclectic, group of plaques was bequeathed to the Art Gallery's collections, including a portrait of his mother, presumably a memorial plaque, dated 1898, and is possibly his first portrait. The colors of her dress are deep and rich and she wears around her neck a red enameled pendant, undoubtedly Watt's craftsmanship. The slightly asymmetrical heart shape with floral motif is a theme that recurs frequently in his work. It is likely that this portrait is based on a photograph, but not a photo-transfer. The composition of the rose bush suggests that it may have been one of a pair (the other possibly of his father) but I have found no record of second partner portrait.

This and two other female portraits illustrate his use of the grisaille technique of painted enameling, a difficult technique, which could be used to create incredibly realistic, almost photographic, portrait miniatures. A charming study of a girl wearing a white dress is seen against the backdrop of a blue and green garden. Here Watt has achieved a more convincingly realistic visage, executed in grisaille. Although demonstrating a knowledge of the Limoges school in these panels, we can see Watt's own personal style. There is no dark outline for the main part of the profile, he has added flesh tints and note the reflected light under the chin. Also there are paillons - flecks of foil - in her hair to bring depth of color and texture. Interestingly, Watt chose platinum, one of the most challenging - and expensive metals - to work with. Discussions with contemporary metalworkers suggest that platinum was chosen for its luminosity, enhancing the grey tones of the grisaille technique.

Alexander Fisher wrote and lectured widely on the grisaille, and his circle made use of foil and paillons. It is not inconceivable that Watt attended his lectures whilst studying in London, or later read his published articles in The Studio. However I think that Watt's fascination with Renaissance arts, studied in the museums and art galleries of Europe on his many continental trips, had a great influence on him. He is also aware of the Limoges school and 19th century revival work, but I have yet to find a direct reference to a visit to Paris.

The remaining panels in this group of work comprise floral studies. Small flowers in all colors appear regularly in Watt's work, derived from his fascination with plants and shrubs. A daughter of Douglas Strachan recalls: "When I was about 6, and my sister 8, he started taking us to the Botanical Gardens. It was a nightmare. He seemed to examine every flower and tell us not only its name, but its Latin name as well."

These panels also illustrate his passion for the heart motif. Little heart shaped flowers occur repeatedly in his sketchbooks and the heart-shaped leaf occurs in his depiction of a parnassus, which grows wild in Greece. The heart shape found its way into his jewelry designs, appearing either as a true heart, or in looser arrangement, evolving almost into a shield formation.


Watt used his enameling skills to great effect in small delicate pieces of jewelry and extravagant necklaces with festooned chains, enamel plaques and blister pearls. Intensely deep rich colors were used as well as subtle pale shades. He achieved a variety of shades from the palest white and blush pink, through deep ruby reds, to brilliant vibrant sapphires and strong purples.

Tantalizingly, the AAS catalogues record a substantial body of work - for example in 1906 he exhibited 21 pieces - but the descriptions are vague (such as "gold enameled pendant with moonstones"), making it impossible to date or identify precisely extant work. Some pieces have come to light, however, with a provenance: for example, a necklace of an oval pale green opal surrounded with sapphires and surmounted by foiled enamel open butterfly wings, on chains interspersed with seed pearls, collet-set opals and bright cut blue sapphires. The necklace was a gift from Watt to cousin's wife, Bella Philip, on the occasion of her marriage in 1907. The key features of Watt's work are seen here: balance, symmetry, loops and chains with a central suspended pendant.

Heart Shaped Gold Enameled Pendant, c. 1907. Gold, enamel and pearl, 5 x 2.5 cm. Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections, 2003.

By adhering to this structure, Watt was able to exploit the jewel-like qualities of enameling and create lavish effects. A magnificent turquoise and enamel pendant in the Art Gallery's collections illustrates his fully developed style. The elaborate necklace is constructed from festooned chains interspersed with freshwater pearls and the drops - in this instance of turquoise - suspended from foiled enamel plaques. It is technically skilled and controlled, the form expertly balanced. It probably dates to around 1909, and, like the Philip necklace, is presented in a heart-shaped leather fitted case. A paper label, fixed to base, suggests that it was a commission for a local landed family.


Of all the imagery he employed, small flowers are the most frequent. They appear in many colors, often with swaying green foliage, on pendants, necklaces and brooches. The single heart shaped pendant set with central blister pearl flower seen earlier is found in this festooned necklace, set against red enamel.


Watt's other fascination was with flying, winged and reptilian creatures. Most fantastical creatures were inspired by his collection of Chinese art, and also by his visits to museums, where he recorded in both detailed drawings and notes many of the exhibits. AAG holds a fine example of a gold open twist bangle, the sinuous body worked in foiled enamel, and the head set with an opal.

In one pendant, he has set a large freshwater baroque pearl between a pair of sinuously curving snakes or dragons, and set it on a cabochon sapphire surmount. The subtle coloring of the reptilian bodies and the fierce faces bring energy and life to this magnificent pendant. Three pale sapphires are collet-set with drops. I am aware of three other pendants that similarly employ reptilian imagery. This includes a magnificent pendant where the creatures' bodies (worked in bright blue foiled enamel highlighted in crimson) are closely intertwined in a spiral around a central cut sapphire.

Not all designs were based on the imaginary and fantastical - a festooned necklace illustrated in Charlotte Gere & Geoffrey Munn's volume on Artists' Jewellery - shows a complex design of enamel pendants interspersed with collet-set baroque pearls and garnets. The central pendant depicts a bird in flight, with images of butterflies on the smaller plaques graduating in size to the box clasp.

A necklace, almost identical to this, appears in an article on Scottish Arts and Crafts in 1907 edition of The Art Journal. In this case the pearls support wire amphora shaped handles and the central pendant depicts a phoenix in flight, a theme he returned to in a pendant now owned by the National Museums of Scotland. All eleven pieces illustrate the individuality of Watt's style - the three necklaces, each with central pendant plaques are inspired by organic imagery: the phoenix, a peacock with long trailing feathers and intertwined snakes. They are supported by chains set variously with pearls, moonstones and opals, interspersed with enamel plaques and smaller pendants. The single pendants and brooches show further mythological creatures and organic motifs, in addition to medieval imagery, and sub-Iberian qualities.

Arts & Crafts

The medievalism that inspired much of the Arts & Crafts Movement's work was a source to which Watt was sympathetic. Like Ashbee, he favored inspiration from surviving examples of historic and folk jewelry. We have no way of knowing if he had access to Ashbee's 1898 translation of Cellini's Treatises, but we do know that he was well acquainted with Henry Wilson's work (1906), encouraging both him and the Dawsons (1903) to exhibit in Aberdeen. Watt regularly used baroque pearls, a favored stone through the Renaissance period. The portrait of his mother also depicts her wearing historic costume with ruff and richly embroidered sleeves. Similarly, the organic themes, sensitivity to nature and Orientalism which lay behind the Art Nouveau movement, must have provided inspiration for Watt. One can find elements of both movements in his designs.

He was also drawn to the imagery of the peacock. They were drawn and described more than once in his sketch books: for example, a series of bird sketches drawn in Florence in 1899 describes a peacock's tail as "rich turquoise blue and golden green", and elsewhere as "rich iridescent red browns and greens". There is the peacock pendant illustrated in the 1907 Art Journal, however our collections boast only one plaque - and a less well resolved pendant. Set in silver the form is loose and free, with hints of a peacock's tail in the green enamels. There are echoes of the Guild of Handicrafts poor peacock brooches which set green enamel peacock's eyes against an abalone shell ground, though the quality of the enameling is disappointing, and I feel this is more of an experimental piece.

He exhibited with a group of artist jewelers at Montague Fordham's Maddox Street Gallery in 1902, praised by The Art Journal for their "really fine jewellery". This was great praise, as the Journal also lamented that: "the so-called Arts and Crafts movement has unfortunately degenerated into a craze.." The results being that "a number of quite worthy individuals, who have no idea of what art really means, have taken up the crafts and have produced articles of which the workmanship is often very imperfect and the design as dull as that of the ordinary trade productions."

Watt mainly used cabochon set gemstones, although some examples of cut gemstones, particularly sapphires, have come to light. He also had a real passion for quality craftsmanship and technical skill. He enjoyed manipulating color tones and exploiting the rich jewel-like qualities which the medium of enameling achieved.

But whereas most working within Arts & Crafts style shunned expensive metals, Watt's settings were invariably 15ct gold, the traditional material of the mainstream jewelry trade. To date, only five examples of silver-mounted jewelry by Watt have come to light. These include an Egyptian inspired carving of a cat in lapis lazuli and an enameled single pendant.

He also experimented with gold granulation, his experiments recorded rather idiosyncratically on the backs of his calling cards. He combined this technique with enamel: a small pendant complete and finished in itself was displayed in an exhibition as an example of granulation. The circular disc features an intricate interlacing of tiny enameled and granulated leaf motifs, the outer edge with collet-set moonstones, supporting a heart-shaped carbuncle drop. This is balanced by a pronged loop, an attachment characteristic of his work, set with square shaped carbuncle stone. This theme was later developed into a large-scale pendant, now in a private collection. Tiny granules are incorporated into the enameled garland surrounding a central sapphire with gold wirework and filigree setting, influenced by highly ornate medieval and Iberian drawings from his sketchbooks.

Watt rarely signed his work - the pendant mentioned above is one of the few pieces I have come across with his JCW monogram on the back of the pendant attachment.

Scottish Enamelers

Whilst Watt worked within the artistic movements of the time, he was an individualist. He was aware of the work of his contemporaries in Scotland - he exhibited with them several times, including the first exhibition of the Scottish Society of Art Workers in Glasgow, 1899, where The Studio records his "case of fine enamels . . . received much attention". He also showed in the Scottish Section at the Turin International Exhibition in 1902. His metalwork has little similarity to that practiced by the Glasgow Four and their circle. There is no evidence of the elongated and linear forms that characterized the work of Talwin Morris or the beaten metalwork of Marion Wilson and Frances MacDonald.

Glasgow was an exciting place for metalwork at this time, with new training opportunities at the Art School, especially for enterprising women who sought a means of earning their own livelihood. There was a fruitful combination of available studio space, opportunities to exhibit, and exchange ideas and retail outlets, satisfying the demand of the city's nouveau riche who desired handcrafted items for their homes. Glasgow's strength lay in excellent repouseé metalwork frequently embellished by the use of enamel, as in a brass alms dish of 1900 by Margaret Gilmour. The design is Celtic-inspired, with its interlacing tails and circles conspicuously reinforced by blue-green enamels. The linear and rhythmic qualities of Celtic design also inspired one of Glasgow's most talented female artists of the time, Jessie Marion King. Illustrator, designer, bookbinder, she also designed a range of jewelry for Liberty & Co. Included were pendants, buttons, belt buckles and larger items, such as mirrors and brushes. They show imaginative stylized flowers and birds, but with little similarity to Watt's curving single flower buds. King, like Watt, followed her own vision, but unlike him, worked with other artists, and provides the like to a number of the Glasgow designers. She founded the Green Gate Close group of women artists in Kirkcudbright, amongst whose residents were Agnes Bankier Harvey and Mary Thew. Harvey taught at Glasgow School of Art, after studying silversmithing and cloisonné in London, and regularly exhibited jewelry in the Lady Artists Club exhibitions. Thew turned to jewelry in later life, adopting stylized Celtic motifs in her brooches, which generally have a wirework surround. Both incorporated the Glasgow rose motif, portrayed either as a single flower or as standard rose tree with several blooms. This motif was employed by several exponents of Glasgow style. However, both this and Celtic motifs appear infrequently in Watt's work. The only examples of roses I have discovered appear on his portrait of his mother, and these are related more closely to Fisher's work than the stylized Glasgow form. Fisher's panel, entitled 'Rosa Mystica', was illustrated in second part of the series on British Decorative Art in 1899 in the Studio. It was commissioned by Herbert Wildon Carr, Professor of Philosophy at King's College, London, for his wife Geraldine.

One brooch of Watt's shows something of a Celtic inspiration. Triangular in form and set with amethyst carbuncle stones at each point, it has a central pearl set in a garland of blue enamel and granulation. The Celtic feel is reinforced by the setting of stones at each point, a typical Celtic design feature. But elsewhere there is little evidence of the other Celtic design motifs - geometric and linear knots or interlacing.

De Courey Lewthwaite Dewar, who from 1902 onwards taught enameling at Glasgow School of Art, also exhibited in Aberdeen (1912). She had close contacts with Fisher, visiting him in 1903. Like Watt, Dewar's work is characterized by the use of brilliant colors, but with a strong graphic quality.

Portrait heads also appear on a cup and cover dating to 1913, now in Glasgow Museums collections. A further two enamel panels, of foliage, punctuate the applied band with its ropework decoration. The lettering, in Celtic script, reads 'Palmam qui meruit fera' - 'Let him who has won bear the palm' - the motto adopted by Admiral Lord Nelson. Like others of the Glasgow school, I feel there is little to connect Dewar with Watt.

Perhaps then as now, the connections were stronger between the two East coast cities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. By the 1890s, Edinburgh was established as a center for Arts and Crafts practice; however, the skill of enameling did not attract as many practitioners in the Scottish capital as in Glasgow. Most were women - Ottilie Mclaren, Elizabeth Kirkwood, Lady Gibson Carmichael - but the best known and most prolific is Phoebe Anna Traquair.

Watt and Traquair exhibited together, reviewed in the Art Journal of 1907. He also invited her to show work in Aberdeen: in 1902 she exhibited 4 quatrefoil pendants in Aberdeen. The group was commissioned by the Edinburgh architect, Robert Lorimer, for his bride and her bridesmaids. These were among her first commissions; as we know, she learned enameling from her friend Lady Mary Gibson Carmichael, at the Carmichaels' home in Peebles-shire in 1901.

Traquair is known for her narrative and pictorial enamels, often with religious or highly romantic themes. Allegorical themes also appear - the Earth Upholder Cupid is repeated on several jewels and we see the 'Earth Spirit' on a later pendant of 1915, a reworking of a Blakean image. Sir Thomas Carmichael was a passionate collector of decorative arts, both historic and contemporary. He gathered a superb collection of Rhenish enamels and Italian religious painting, the iconography and form of which inspired Traquair. She frequently used the Edinburgh firm of JM Talbot to set her enamels in larger 'display' pieces, as advocated by Fisher. An inkwell - the enamels set by Talbot - has only recently been attributed to Traquair and illustrates a strong Italian inspiration. The enamels are based on 'Ospedale degli Innocenti' by Luca della Robbia, in the Foundling Hospital, Florence.

Like Watt, Traquair was drawn to the intensity of color possible and the challenge of working on a small scale, as she had with embroidery and book illumination.

Traquair made several caskets - including one in the Hunterian Art Gallery's collections. There are 12 plaques on copper illustrating the Biblical parable of the 10 Virgins (5 made ready for the expected bridegroom with their lampstand wicks trimmed, whilst the other five frittered their time away and were searching for oil when the bridegroom arrived). In Traquair's version, the 10 virgins are symbolic of a spiritual journey through life. This is a reworking of some of her most successful imagery employed in an earlier commission during the 1890s - the decoration of the interior of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Mansfield Place, Edinburgh. New Testament Christian imagery is behind these panels - the flight into Egypt - which was never made into a casket, and the slaughter of the innocents.

The Red Cross Knight triptych was first exhibited in 1906. The narrative in this instance is taken from Spenser's 'Faerie Queen'. The stand is again by JM Talbot, to a design by her son, Ramsay. The feeling is of a medieval fairytale, with an established background pattern. The brilliant green foreground scattered with red flowers and a dramatic skyline ranging in tones from ultramarine to an amber sunset or sunrise on the horizon, is an arrangement regularly repeated.

Sadly, other than a few pieces, I have found no examples of Watt's three dimensional enameling. There is written evidence to show that he did make and exhibit such pieces, and it may be that, like Traquair, he received commissions from friends and acquaintances for such work, and they are still in private collections. There is little also in Watt's output to compare with Traquair's narrative mix of religious iconography and medievalism. Both shared a skill for draughtsmanship, but whereas Traquair drew on her own imagination for figural representations, Watt seems to have copied existing photographs or images. He seems more at home with jewelry, and here there is a contrast with Traquair. She favored renaissance style settings and using the necklace or pendant as a vehicle for her enamels, as in a 1906 necklace which she wore herself. The enameled chain of Celtic and floral motifs supports three enamels depicting a mortal in anguish (a recurrent theme), Endymion, and what appears to be a Blakean inspired image. Unlike Traquair, Watt took inspiration from nature for his enamel pendants. Similarity is found in certain devices, including the triple girandole, and of course in the use of metal fragments to add texture, depth and brilliance. However, Watt's mature work is more complex than Traquair's, with looping chains' pearls and numerous pendants.

This is also true of the enamels by Lady Mary Gibson Carmichael, who learned the art of enameling directly from Fisher in the 1890s. As already mentioned, the Carmichaels were enthusiastic supporters and collectors of decorative arts, lending to both the Edinburgh Arts & Crafts Club and to the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901. Despite this wealth of resource material to draw on, Mary Carmichael produced few enamels, but was instrumental in the revival of interest in mediaeval casket settings and the use of pictorial enamels. She used a softer color panel than either Watt or Traquair, and some of the inspiration is exotic.

Elizabeth Kirkwood was a prolific enameler who worked in a painterly style, preferring a narrative, frequently religious idiom. One panel shows St. Michael casting out Satan. Kirkwood was the daughter of Henry Bruce Kirkwood, a partner in R & H B Kirkwood, goldsmiths, jewelers, of Edinburgh. She followed her father into the family business and became a working jeweler and silversmith. She exhibited prolifically with the Scottish Society of Women Artists and the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists. A family friend, recalls 'Betty' as "a striking woman beautifully dressed in jewel colors"; perhaps her taste in clothes influenced her decision to work with enamels.

It is clear that Watt was aware of current trends and practice in Scotland, England and in France. Yet, I think his work, particularly his jewelry designs, are really a personal distillation with ideas and inspiration from many cultures. At a time when enameling was experiencing something of a revival, it is perhaps not surprising that someone like Watt should turn to this medium, which has been described as a "thrilling craft". Like others, he was attracted to the vibrancy of colors, the combination of pictorial imagery and intricate details, and the fact that he could design and develop the work from beginning to end. Watt worked from a wealth of sources as his sketchbooks illustrate. The books are packed with detailed drawings of ancient and medieval jewelry found in Granada, Seville, Toledo, Stuttgart, the Imperial Treasury in Vienna, Florence, Milan, and closer to home, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A review of his work in the Art Journal, 1905, describes his jewelry as: "lightly handled examples of a vein of fantastic design, not always so suitably constrained within limits of appropriate craftsmanship". The commentator also notes that one of his designs is "a bright and delicately constructed adaptation of an old Spanish ornament'. Little of Watt's work is signed or dated, where it is he used the monogram JCW which appeared on his early drawings during his foreign travels.

The 1919 exhibition was his last with AAS; included was a finger ring with enameled leaves and various sizes of granulation was mounted on the velvet cushion by him for display. Afterwards, he virtually ceased to make jewelry. This may be due to failing eyesight, as a guest at his house remembers "he had cropped black hair and wire spectacles which he shoved on top of his head when he was going to examine anything. I think he must have been short-sighted because the object under examination was held close to his face". Or, it may be that he devoted his energies to other interests, such as serving on the Art Gallery Committee and working with Wilson on the completion of Bishop Elphinstone's tomb. In 1931, he was granted the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Aberdeen. Two years later, as a token of his appreciation, he presented an alms dish to King's College Chapel, which is still in use today. The chased copper dish is set with Scottish polished stones and four plaques which he enameled. Each illustrates a facet of the University's life and history, including three towers from the city's coat of arms and flowers to represent the University as a seat of learning.

One distant relative remembers him as "rather eccentric" but "greatly loved". James Cromar Watt was a skilled craftsman, although it is his personal, rather than artistic, qualities that receive prominence in his obituary printed in the Aberdeen University Review. Here he is remembered for "his fine simplicity of character, his whole-hearted devotion to many forms of art, his wide human interests and his fidelity in friendship".

By Christina Hew [Volume 22, Number 4, August, 2003]
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Christina Hew

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