Roman Glass, the Making of Bacchus, Clare Valley and Carcassonne

Roman Glass, the Making of Bacchus, Clare Valley and Carcassonne

 Our recent trip to the Clare Valley in South Australia reminded me of one of my favourite pieces – Bacchus.


 Bacchus necklace.  Roman glass, sterling silver, copper and brass

 My connections to the wine regions of South Australia (and indeed all over Australia where wine in produced) go back to my grandparents who came from McLaren Vale.  My mother was born there, but the family moved to Adelaide shortly after. My grandmother told of taking the horse and trap and driving in to Adelaide for piano lessons.

Throughout my late teens and early twenties I hung around with a bunch of young people, mainly from winemaking families, so the links continued to grow. At one point in my early 30’sI was working part time for a large Adelaide wine company, doing merchandising, and finally cellar door sales. 

Like I said, my interest in wine goes way back. But I’d never harvested grapes until a couple of  years ago when we were staying with a friend in the wine-making district of the Minerve, near Carcassonne.  We’d said we were interested in photographing the grape harvest, so our host set it up – just a kilometre from where we were staying. I really hadn’t planned on doing any harvesting myself, but they insisted I try.  I was issued with a wickedly sharp pair of secateurs and told where to begin.  I soon fell hopelessly behind my partner on the other side of the row, but it was a fun morning. Everyone pitched in to help (even the dog).

 Suzette Watkins picking grapes near Carcassonne

Grape harvest in vineyard near Carcassonne

I’d first made the Bacchus necklace several years before, when I managed to get my hands on some 2,000-year-old (approx.) Roman glass, made into rough beads.  I was entranced.  Now the Roman Empire was enormous and spread all around the Mediterranean Sea. I was told that the glass I had most likely came from somewhere near Alexandria. The idea that bits of this glass had remained hidden in the hot sand of northern Africa until someone discovered 2,000 years later was the kicker for a new bit of jewellery.

Tendril pendant made by Suzette Watkins.  Sterling silver and freshwater pearlTendril necklace, 2007

I had recently made some jewellery about vine leaves and tendrils.  Bacchus was the Roman god of wine, among other things. It seemed to me that there was a link here I could make, and the Bacchus necklace was the result.

Quite early in my jewellery-making career I’d made a series of three necklaces celebrating the vineyard in three seasons – Bud Burst, Summer and Autumn.  I think Summer is the only one I still have the stones for now.  It was all premised upon the long straight rows of green of the vineyard.

Summer Vineyard necklace.  Sterling silver, jasper

 Many years later, in 2020, we went to the Clare Valley and further links between wine and jewellery were formed when I developed the Winter Vineyard series.  I wanted something that showed the dormant vines in the winter time.  I think in my head I was still trying to finish that series from a few years ago.

  Winter Vineyard in the Clare Valley, made by Suzette Watkins. Sterling silver  winter vineyard, Clare Valley