jeweller, operated a successful jewellery business in Sydney from 1916 until her retirement in 1946. During this time she made over 12,000 items, each drawn, dated and numbered in sketchbooks. Her work is characterised by the use of semi-precious stones set in foliage decoration hand-wrought in silver or, less frequently, platinum, palladium or white gold. Many pieces were made for specific clients who built up treasured collections over the years; others were made for stock or for exhibition. Regardless of its destination, each piece exemplified her technical expertise and design integrity.
Wager was born in London on 10 March 1875. She studied at the Art School in Bristol, the Glasgow School of Art (1897-1903) and at Bernard Cuzner’s School of Metalwork at Bourneville. This training provided her with principles fundamental to metalwork and jewellery derived from the Arts and Crafts movement: dedication, respect for materials and the importance of design. Her first jewellery pieces date from her time with Cuzner (who, with Jessie M. King and Rex Silver, designed the first range of Cymric jewellery for Liberty’s of London in 1899). She set up her first workshop in Glasgow after finishing her training, also taking private students for jewellery tuition.
In 1913 she moved to her brother’s sugar plantation in Fiji and set up a workshop. It captivated her niece, Dorothy M. Wager (later Judge; b.1912), who was to carry on the Wager jewellery tradition. Interviewed in 1924, Rhoda Wager said she was 'not an Australian, and her residence [in Sydney] is an accident of the late war’; she was visiting her brother and couldn’t get home.
She joined the NSW Society of Arts and Crafts, showed her work in their 1914 exhibition, and it immediately caught on. She settled permanently in Sydney in 1916, opened her first trading premises in Rowe Street in 1917 and remained in the central business district for twenty-eight years, surviving the Depression by a move to smaller premises. In 1920 she married Percival George (Percy) Ashton, the sea captain son of Julian Ashton.
Wager employed assistants during her years in business, including Violet Dupré and Victoria Blashke. In 1925 Dora Sweetapple , who had trained privately with Wager, joined the firm. Niece Dorothy became an assistant in 1928 and remained with Rhoda until opening her own studio in 1939. Walter Clapham, whom she employed in 1919, remained with her until she retired in 1946.
Wager promoted her work through journals such as Art in Australia and Home and displayed it at various Arts and Crafts Society and Society of Artists’ exhibitions. She was a member of the NSW Arts and Crafts Society in 1913-51 and subsequently joined the Victorian and Queensland groups. Wager built up her business on artistic integrity, good customer relations and sound business practices. She cultivated a market, then was able to supply it with hand-wrought jewellery items that maintained a high standard of design and execution for more than thirty years.