Kayo Saito wins 2024 QEST Award for Excellence

31st May 2024


Award winning jeweller Kayo Saito has been announced as the 12th recipient of the QEST Award for Excellence, highlighting her outstanding contribution to her craft and the sector.

Kayo was recognised at the 2024 RWHA & QEST Annual Luncheon at the Guildhall, awarded a medal made by Thomas Fattorini Ltd and given a £1,000 cash prize.

A 2016 QEST Scholar, Kayo uses her goldsmith skills to create organic forms of great subtlety, forged from 18 carat gold and silver. Her unique sculptural jewellery is a hybrid of Japanese and European aesthetics and techniques.

Upon hearing the news she’d been chosen as the winner of the 2024 QEST Award for Excellence, Kayo said she was overwhelmed.

“I just could not believe it when I found out, especially seeing the amazing people who have won the award before me,” Kayo said.

“It’s an honour and I’m very excited.

“But immediately, I thought ‘what more can I do for the jewellery field?’ I’d like to use my skills and experience to help the next generation.”

Kayo is already making her mark in this way, traveling to India in 2023 to volunteer with the Flowering Desert Project, teaching vulnerable women the techniques to make jewellery including hammering, texturing on the surface and forming shapes with pliers.

“It was eye opening for me – I usually work by myself in my studio but this was a group project in which I had to share concepts and skills with 10 or 20 other people, which I found really rewarding,” she said.

“It also made me think that I don’t need to go as far as India to pass on my skills, perhaps I could do something more local.”

Kayo trained in Japan and the UK and gained an MA from the Royal College of Art in 2001. Her QEST Scholarship in 2016 gave her the opportunity to learn to carve semi-precious stones with QEST Alumni Charlotte De Syllas (2022 QEST Award for Excellence recipient) and Hawsker Lapidary Works in Yorkshire.

Throughout her career, Kayo has received numerous awards including from the Goldsmiths Company; the British Jewellers’ Association; the Bombay Sapphire Martini Glass Competition; and the Crafts Council Development Award. She is represented by numerous galleries in the UK and overseas, including Adrian Sassoon (UK), Galerie Slavik (Austria), Galerie Orfeo (Lux), MIN (Japan) and Tayloe Piggot Gallery (USA).  

In 2020, the first piece Kayo had ever made combining marble and 18ct gold was chosen to feature in the modern collection of the Goldsmiths’ Company.

Image credit: Boekbinder photography

Kayo said branching out in a new direction with her work was a career-changing moment.

“I decided to start adding a new dimension to my work, blending non-precious stones with the sculptural forms of my metal designs. I learned how to carve these stones during my QEST Scholarship, which gave me the skills to mould the stones into lively organic shapes,” she said.

“This led to my work being acquired by the V&A in 2023 while showcasing with QEST at Collect, showing me that this new direction was the right way to go. This approach broadens my expression.”

While Kayo is in the early stages of planning how she’d like to continue passing on her skills to others, she’s got plenty to keep her busy.

Earlier this month, she exhibited at the ‘MAD About Jewelry’ exhibition in New York, showing around 40 of her pieces.

She’s also exhibiting at the Treasure House Fair in June and PAD in October with Adrian Sassoon.

In September, Kayo will be exhibiting at the Goldsmiths Fair. For now, she continues to make her beautiful pieces of jewellery inspired by nature and plants.

“I like the challenge of making my pieces as soft and as light as possible which is the opposite to the character of the metal,” she said.

“I also really care about how gold is sourced, it’s not a very environmentally friendly material so all of the gold I work with is recycled. That is important to me.”

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