Designer Jewellery Art and Design Investigation Essay

My immediate interest in jewellery was established when I created a workbook on jewellery as part of my GCSE Art and Design course. Since then, my interest in this field has developed further, which is why I have chosen to base my dissertation on this particular theme.

However, considering that the general term ‘jewellery’ can be defined as, ‘ornaments containing precious stones worn for personal adornment’, I have decided that to base my dissertation simply on ‘jewellery’ would be covering too wide a scope. Therefore, instead, I have chosen to focus mainly on designer jewellery, which in my opinion, is one of the most original, and compelling kinds of jewellery in existence today.

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In my dissertation I plan to examine the work of a selected number of leading contemporary designer jewellers, as well as explore a range of contemporary jewellery exhibitions, presently being held in prestigious galleries within the UK.

CHAPTER ONE

Before launching into designer jewellery I have decided first of all to examine briefly the history of jewellery, because indeed many of today’s contemporary jewellery designs depict inspirations from the past.

The history of jewellery covers over several thousand years of civilisation, and begins with that of the ancient World. It was during this period, that techniques such as granulation and modelling of tools were first practised by groups such as the Etruscans and the Hellenistic Court Jewellers, who also mastered the art of modelling human figures. Materials used within this period were predominantly gold, as well as the frequent use of enamels of various colours, particularly green and blue among the Hellenistic jewellers.

A trip the Victoria and Albert museum, London, in June 1999 gave me the opportunity of viewing some examples of Ancient World jewellery, including jewels belonging to both the Cypriot and Hellenistic period. Unfortunately, the photographs that I took did not develop very well because of the glassy reflections produced by the protective glass casing surrounding the jewellery displays. Nevertheless, I was quite satisfied with the fact that I had been given the chance of personally viewing the ancient jewellery, as this allowed me to observe, and appreciate more fully all the distinctive elements of ancient jewellery that I had previously learned about through my own personal study of the history of jewellery.

I also found that a lot of exhibitions in the Victoria and Albert museum displayed jewellery belonging to the Middle Ages, the period which follows that of the Ancient World. It wasn’t until this particular movement (800-1500) that precious stones were fully introduced into jewellery production. The most popular of jewels included the ruby, sapphire, emerald, and diamond, and individually they each expressed the ideals of Christianity. Furthermore, later in the period, designs influenced by Gothic architectural styles were said to express a spirit of elegance and grace rather than stateliness and richness.

After the Middle Ages, the Renaissance period was formed. It too made predominant use of jewels, primarily due to the fact that at the time jewels were seen as an essential part of the Royal image. It was also during this period that the gemstone was fully introduced, and designs were mainly derived from classical art, which joined the medieval themes of religion and sentiment.

The eighteenth century that followed was often described as the ‘Golden Age’ of sentimental jewellery. The jewellery of this period was distinctly elegant, much more so than that of the Victorian period (1837-1914) when the whole mood of jewellery changed dramatically. During this period, jewellery was no longer seen simply as ‘an elegant addition to a costume’, but instead as a romantic statement. Mass production of jewellery was used intensely in this period.

This is maybe why the Arts and Crafts movement, formed later in the century, is considered as one which looked back rather than ahead for its inspiration and guided principles, simply because it opposed this idea of mass production, and instead preferred the more ‘romantic, though not rigid, return to earlier, purer aesthetics and techniques’. It’s inspirations came from jewellery designs of the Middle Ages, and figural and floral motifs were quite popular. In general, jewellery of this period was very dull, especially in comparison to that of the Art Nouveau movement when jewellery designs became much more dramatic and flamboyant. During this Art Nouveau period (1875-1919) jewellers experimented with a variety of both precious and non-precious materials, creating jewellery of a much larger scale than that of the earlier centuries. Unfortunately though, despite the fact that jewellery of this period was aesthetically pleasing, with most jewellery designs derived from either nature or the human figure, it was too impractical. Consequently, it eventually disappeared before the outbreak of the First World War.

It was only when the war ended that a new movement -Art Deco (1920-1939) was born. This movement was based neither on tradition nor on nature, and instead focused on contemporary art such as that of Cubism and Abstraction. Simple shapes were the main design theme for a lot of the jewellery produced during this movement, resulting in very flamboyant and ‘chunky-like’ articles of jewellery. These designs not only suited the latest fashions of the time, but also went on to inspire the creations of ‘cocktail jewellery’ during the Post War period (1940-1959).

Early jewellery of the Post War period resembled the abstractness and bulkiness of the Art Deco period, but as time progressed, eventually jewellery began to adapt a much softer and more sinuous style.

The Post War years lead us up to the most recent movement – Contemporary Jewellers (1960-1989). This movement has witnessed influential technological advances as well as the recent recognition of jewellery as an expressive art form. Therefore it is this particular movement, as well as that of the Art Deco and Post War periods, that many jewellery designers today get a lot of their inspiration from.

As I have already mentioned briefly in chapter one, designer jewellery today has been largely influenced by a combination of the Contemporary Art, Post War, and Art Deco movements. This is because it was generally during these three movements that new materials, both precious and non-precious, were experimented with to the greatest extent.

Furthermore, it was during the 1960s, at the beginning of the contemporary movement, that a new generation of jewellers were ‘born’. This was due to the great demand for a new type of jewellery that was less formal, more modern, and which reflected the affluence of the decade. Andrew Grime was one of many jewellers influenced by this sudden change of trend. He had initially started his trade as a traditionalist jeweller, but quickly converted to a more modern approach following this growing revolutionary idea. He began to base his designs on more mundane themes, and managed to capture his ideas using materials which were aesthetically pleasing, rather than expensive looking.

This demand for more modern and less formal jewelry seems to be increasingly evident in society today – It has become obvious that peoples nowadays no longer desire mass-produced jewelry, and instead have established an interest in original jewelry.

A recent trip to London in June 1999 emphasised further this proposition, because in Covent Gardens alone, I came across many jewellery designers at work, each with their very own unique and creative designs.

In addition, in recent years I have noticed that there has been a considerable increase in the number of craft fairs and festivals taking place following this tremendous surge of public interest. I myself attended the Spring Craft Fair in St George’s Market, Belfast on the 15 May 1999, as well as the annual Belfast Crafts Fair in December last year. On both of these occasions, I was presented with the opportunity of viewing a wide selection of designer jewellery belonging to local contemporary jewellers, including work by Karen Shannon and Pauline Moore. The diversity of items on offer, were to me, a reflection of the growth in interest in craft jewellery in recent years.

In my opinion, very often I think that what makes designer jewellery so unique is its emphasis on the materials used in its creation. Unlike jewellery of past decades, such as that of the Ancient World, no single material dominates. Instead, materials range from the least original of metals, to non precious such as those used by the late Louise Slater who made her mark with a range of jewellery created from brown paper, sealing wax and ribbon.

After exploring both the historical and commercial aspects of designer jewellery, I decided to write away to a number of leading contemporary jewellers to see if I could possibly arrange an interview with them. Unfortunately, the number of responses that I received were limited, however I did manage to get a reply from Pauline Moore, a well-known contemporary jeweller from Banbridge, County Down, who was only too willing for me to interview her!

In the interview I was able to ask Pauline many questions based on both her background as a jeweller, as well as the inspirations which lie behind her jewellery designs.

First of all, she told me that after passing both her GCSE and A-level art, she decided to go on to do an art foundation course at the Rupert Stanley College in Belfast. After completing this, she decided to take a year out to adapt her portfolio, and then the following year she applied for a 3-dimensional design course in Birmingham. After three years studying in Birmingham, she eventually gained a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Jewellery and Silversmithing, after which she worked in a jewellery factory for nine months. She then decided that the time was right for her to move on, and so she did an apprenticeship in Nottingham for a year with a man who had set up his own small business, designing and producing fine jewellery. When this business closed down, Pauline was forced to move on yet again, eventually seeking employment in Ernest Jones Jewellers, before deciding that she wanted to move back to Ireland to set up her own business. Unfortunately, Pauline was financially unable to set up, and consequently had to seek funds from THE PRINCES TRUST, as well as LEDU (business start programme).

At present, Pauline works in Banbridge where she has her own workshop and showroom, enabling her to sell directly to the public either from her workshop or at craft fairs or wedding fairs.

Most of Pauline’s work is commissioned by individuals as one off pieces, but she also does repairs, and remakes old or unwanted jewellery. The materials she uses in production include silver, nine and eighteen carat gold, and platinum, each with precious gemstones and diamond insets. Generally, a lot of Pauline’s work is in contemporary styles, but occasionally she uses traditional styles if specified as preferable by the customer.

As regards her inspirations, Pauline admitted quite openly that she was no longer sure where they came from. She did say however, that at University she based her thesis and final year project on contemporary tattoo designs. Perhaps some of her most recent designs have subconsciously derived from that, although the jewellery she makes now is much more refined and conservative than before. This is essentially due to the fact that customers spending money on precious metals and gemstones want high quality and durable pieces that won’t go out of fashion, consequently preventing her designs from being too flamboyant.

Additionally, Pauline said that she likes to look upon her new designs as a progression from previous pieces; she feels that she learns something new with every piece she makes and so this new idea is always infiltrated into her next piece in some way or another. Despite this comment however, she admitted that every now and again she does have a tendency to run out of ideas. On these particular occasions she finds that it is best for her to go out and look around and about for fresh inspirations. She feels that very often architecture holds the key to new ideas, because of the wide variation of magnificent designs and patterns there are to choose from.

Before closing the interview, I decided to ask Pauline on e final question relating to her future aspirations as a professional jeweller. Her response to this specific question was one of uncertainty – she said that without a doubt it was a very difficult question for her to answer, because, like many other professional jewellery designers, she can never really predict where her next inspiration is going to come from!

After successfully interviewing Pauline Moore, I found myself desirous to find out more about other contemporary jewellers. Therefore, I decided to interview Mary J Doran, a designer jeweller whose existence I had previously been unaware of, until I spotted her name on a leaflet entitled ‘An Information Guide To Crafts’, which was recently issued by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in conjunction with Craftworks, Belfast. Coincidentally, Pauline Moore had also mentioned Mary J Doran to me, when she had spoken of her personal desire to open her own business as a designer jeweller. She was full of praise for Mary, who had encouraged her to fulfil her desires, and had helped her through her initial difficulty of getting her business established.

In order to interview Mary J Doran, I decided to pay a visit to her studio workshop, which is located near the village of Dundrum, in County Down. Here I was presented with the opportunity of viewing a wide selection of her jewellery, currently on sale to the public, as well as the Celtic Wedding Rings she designed which featured on the BBC Clothes Show ‘Bride of the Year’ programmes, in 1996. Furthermore, I was also granted permission to view the actual workshop where all of her jewellery is produced, and it was here that Mary herself was able to give me a full workshop demonstration.

When I interviewed her, Mary told me that, similarly to many other designer jewellers, she too had started as an art student, and had attended the University of Ulster Art College in York Street, Belfast. After completing her general degree course in art, she went on to take a specialist postgraduate course in jewellery production, a decision which had been greatly influenced by the fact that she had always loved working with her hands. It was therefore only through taking this particular postgraduate course, that she discovered her true adoration of jewellery, and even today she still believes that it was this immediate passion for jewellery that eventually directed her towards her prestigious position today, as a well-known contemporary designer jeweller.

Interested in the style of jewellery she creates, I decided to ask Mary to tell me more about the origin of her particular jewellery designs. In response to this, she told me that her jewellery is hand-made using traditional skills, and inspiration for her jewellery is derived from original Celtic designs. In addition to this, Mary also said that her jewellery is most commonly created using a combination of gold and silver. She believes that what makes her jewellery different from original Celtic designs is the fact that her styles have been altered to reflect more contemporary themes.

Finally, when I asked Mary about her future aspirations, her proposals were very ambitious. She said that she would definitely like to continue creating jewellery for her workshop, but would additionally love to be given the opportunity to produce further designs for large exhibitions, such as those which she created for the Clothes Show’s ‘Bride of the Year’ competition, in1996.

I think that one point worth dwelling on, as regards designer jewellery, is the fact that in recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of advertisements being publicised in both newspapers and magazines to promote designer jewellery.

I a recent edition of the ‘Sunday Independent Magazine’ alone, I came across two separate advertisements which particularly captured my attention. After closer inspection, I realised that they were both advertisements promoting contemporary jewellery exhibitions in two different and very prestigious galleries in the UK. Upon my discovery of this, I decided to write away to both of these galleries to see if either of them would possibly send me some information on their most recent exhibitions. This decision of mine proved to be a success, because within the next few days I received letters from both galleries outlining their most recent exhibitions, and in one case details about their past exhibitions as well.

ELECTRUM GALLERY

The first gallery I wrote away to was the Electrum Gallery in London. Its advertisement had focused mainly on the work of Noma Copley, an American jeweller whose designs (based mainly on the 60s) were due to have been exhibited between 15 October and 6 November 1999. However, I was soon to realise through studying the information sent to me, that Noma Copley was in fact only one of ninety jewellers represented by the Electrum Gallery. This is primarily due to the fact that the Electrum Gallery is actually a special gallery exclusively devoted to promote the original and unique work by jewellers allover the World. The gallery’s main emphasis is on unusual and innovative jewellery, made from both precious and non-precious materials – completely different from the mass produced reproductions of old styles that one would generally find in the majority of high street jewellery shops.

The gallery’s main belief is that jewellery should be something that demonstrates a person’s individuality, and character. Based on these two principles, the jewellers being represented in this Gallery possess very flexible craftsmanship skills, allowing customers to create their own designs and then have them specially made for them, at an affordable price, by the designer jeweller of their choice.

Consequently, at the Electrum Gallery a great diversity of jewellery designs can be found to suit all tastes and budgets!

FACETS GALLERY

The second gallery which I wrote to was Facets, another specialist craft gallery selling contemporary jewellery, situated in Dartmouth, South Devon.

The gallery was established in 1986 by Norman and Jaqueline Dilley and has been Crafts Council selected since 1988, as well as being frequently described as holding one of the best permanent collections of contemporary British Jewellery in the UK.

The gallery has on show, the work of over 200 designers, many of which have work in the public collections of the Victoria and Albert museum in London. This jewellery has values ranging from �5-�500 and is made from a wide variety of materials, both precious and non-precious.

One of the gallery’s main contemporary jewellers was the late Louise Slater, whom I have already mentioned briefly in chapter 2. I myself first heard about Louise Slater’s jewellery from an article published in the ‘Sunday Independent Magazine’, in memory of her death in May 1999. The article focused mainly on her life as a jeweller, and described her as having stood out for being an ‘inspiring and generous maker amongst the explosion of creativity which marks the last 25 years of contemporary studio jewellery practice in Britain’. Her most popular jewellery included her mid-eighties ‘Spirals’ range, made from ‘Colorcore’, a product for kitchen worktops. However, it was her jewellery range created from brown paper, sealing wax and ribbons, that made her her mark as a designer jeweller, and eventually led her towards gaining a British Design Award in 1988. Unfortunately, Louise Slater’s career as a professional jeweller did not last very long, due to a chronic illness she developed a few years ago, which eventually caused her death on 1 May 1999.

As regards exhibitions at the Facets Gallery, each one has a theme different from previous shows. The most recent exhibition in the gallery to date is the ‘Christmas Exhibition’, featuring work by jewellers such as Lyn Antley, Tracey Birchwood and Ruth Martin. Before this, was the exhibition entitled ‘Colours’, which had been on show from 17 July-10 September 1999. This particular exhibition had focused mainly on the work of eleven artists, each working in a varietyof materials, and demonstrating colour in their work.

In light of the fact that designer jewellery is largely influenced by jewellery designs of past movements, I decided to start of my investigation into designer jewellery by paying a visit to the Ulster Museum in Belfast, to have a look at their jewellery collection. However, when I eventually arrived at the museum, I was tremendously disappointed to find out just how historically confined this collection really was. Fortunately though, after closer inspection, I found that the jewellery on display belonged mostly to the 16th-20th century movements – movements whose jewellery I did not get much of an opportunity to view when I visited the Victoria and Albert museum in June 1999!

Furthermore, at the museum, I was given permission to take photographs of the jewellery, and one of the attendants was able to give me a detailed commentary on the origin of the jewellery.

The attendant told me that most of the jewellery on display was the gift of Mrs Anne Hull Grundy, who, from the late 1970s until her death in 1982 had sent the Ulster Museum each piece of jewellery from her collection. Anne Hull Grundy had actually been an art historian who had specialised in jewellery studies, which is the principal reason why she had started to collect jewellery in the first place. She had collected mostly non-precious jewellery, which was inexpensive at the time, but is now much more valuable due to its popularity.

As I have already mentioned above, the collection includes jewellery ranging from the 16th century onwards, with the most extensive range from the 19th century, including what some people believe as the best existing collection of Irish jewellery. However, my personal favourites included jewellery from the later Arts and Crafts, and Art Nouveau movements. In my opinion, the examples of jewellery on display from these two movements were much more interesting than the jewellery from previous periods, due to the fact that they tended to reflect styles and tastes belonging to the current contemporary movement, the movement in which I am particularly interested in.

CONCLUSION

Having completed all my research, involving a wide range of aspects related to designer jewellery, I feel as if I have more than fulfilled my initial aim, which was to gain a more ‘solid’ knowledge and appreciation of designer jewellery. Throughout the dissertation I became increasingly aware of how contemporary jewellery is undoubtedly linked to jewellery of previous movements, and by examining the work of two contemporary jewelers I feel that I have developed an insight into both their inspirations and individualistic creativity. Furthermore, through exploring various galleries’ exhibitions of contemporary jewellery, I feel that I am now much more aware of the increasing demand for designer jewellery in today’s society.

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