Tag Archives: definitions




What does Contemporary Jewellery mean? 

Not very much, to anyone outside the profession; but the question is a helpful reminder that:

1/ in most countries, the debate will never find an audience outside the actual community that launched it;

2/ this is a simplistic label, falling short of the profession’s complex heritage and range of interests.

But it’s a tricky one, and I tried to list some of the ways one could answer it:

Contemporary Jewellery is a type of practice – understood as the contemporary offspring of a craft-based design activity that finds its origin in medieval workshops. Such a definition stresses contemporary jewellery’s historical past, and finds antecedents in the British and American Arts & Crafts movements, the renewed late XIXth century interest in manual skills (as a last stand against industrialisation), and the emergence of radical jewellery movements in the 60s: it underlines the notions of individuality, craftsmanship, and its troubled relationship to the production mainstream;

or a type of object: poised between high-street jewellery and art (the former’s glorified other, the latter’s poor relative), we know what it’s not (‘just’ manufactured artefacts for wearing), and what it wants to be (the expression of individual talent that reflects on, and sometimes influences, contemporary culture), much less what it is. 
A few distinctive characteristics, however, seem to be beyond debate: the human body as a general working area; an open attitude to methods and material that echoes art’s own agenda, complicated by the notion of wearability; the distinctiveness we associate with individual expression; and an emancipation from consumer goods’ vocation to ‘just’ satisfy consumer desires.

It could also be defined as a market (I follow here the argument that cultural artefacts are defined less by methods of production than by distribution, accessibility and ultimately, potential impact on a larger consumer base). In most countries, a limited number of galleries take care of both distribution and promotion – while the designer-maker is expected (if (s)he wants to make a living) to be represented by at least five galleries, and complement consignment sales by direct, off-the-anvil transactions. From my point of view, the Contemporary Jewellery market works in ways similar to the art market, but on a scale so small, that its lack of visibility questions its existence.

So then: most jewellers would agree that Contemporary Jewellery is a fast-evolving profession at a crossroad between craft, design, and art, currently ridged by identity concerns. However, I think that the problem, rather than one of identity, is one of image. Although the lack of an established definition has contributed to an extremely rich range of output -personal answers to a collective question- it seems that diversity stands in the way of a more cohesive front, one that would focus on explaining to people that there is a life after Cartier, Pomellato and Tiffany’s. And the unsuspecting public still lumps the practice together with its craft-based past, judges its production on a par with high-end (or any other) jewellery, and considers artistic ambition rather like a presumptuous fancy (unless one equates ‘artistic’ with ‘skilled’, ‘meaningful’ or ‘committed to self-expression’).

This happens at least for two reasons:

Firstly, there are not enough of us to rally a larger population to Contemporary Jewellery’s standards: exposure is limited by the output (there are comparatively few jewellery design programs, fewer graduates that stick to the trade, and not many pieces produced per year per jeweller). This scarcity of active jewellery makers is further complicated by our cultural antagonism with serial reproduction -and therefore, bigger distribution (1). A cynical bystander would add: this is a micro-profession, which means little appeal to the press, anaemic cultural budgets, no specific courses in the history of Contemporary Jewellery (to my knowledge), and therefore, no history. As a result, Contemporary Jewellery is always deemed a subsidiary activity, on the margin of mainstream jewellery creation. 
Secondly, designer-makers are by nature a/o trade, uncommunicative, or certainly not prone to enthusiastic pamphlet scribbling. Who’s ever heard of Contemporary Jewellery, outside its confidential network of galleries and specialised clientèle?

The situation, and this is my point, demands more than just communication: instead of shunning assertive promotion/information strategies (for fear of contamination?), we must resist inertia from within and without that confine Contemporary Jewellery to its ill-defined (but restricting) marginal position, and explore new means of proliferation.

So we should communicate more. And explain our intentions. But in the end, let us not be too intent on defining our practice as one thing only: if anything, I would even drop the ‘Contemporary’ or ‘Studio’ used to qualify this jewellery: whatever specific meaning it may have had is now superseded by a vague sense of institutionalised ‘otherness’.

Let’s be proud, and call it jewelry.


The link above happens to be the biggest golden nugget of a find to date. Ok I didn’t find it, it was sent to me by a new colleague and hopefully a future partner in crime. The link will take you to  the thesis of Marina Elenskaya (founder of Current Obsession), who graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam last year. She and I have been in contact for a few weeks now, scheming away in hopes for bigger and better dialog and action within our field. If you haven’t yet checked out C-O, please do! There you will find interviews with Manfred Bischoff, work of rising super-start Adam Grinovich and other talented artists, as well as the full interview with Volker Atrops that I previously posted a bit of.

Marina too is a maker, yet her research on the state of the contemporary jewelry world is unlike most of what is out there… there really ain’t a whole lot. She talks about this in the thesis, and like me, she is very much invested in a clearer definition of the field while also questioning that very notion; part of jewelry’s incapability to be defined ultimately is one of it’s most unique qualifiers.

To get you excited, I have pulled out some tidbits! Here is the beginning of her first chapter, IDENTITY:

“Hello, what do you do?”

Status-anxiety is an ongoing issue within the field of applied arts. These tendencies of identity crisis are undoubtedly influencing the discourses in the field of Contemporary Jewellery as well. There is a certain strive for acknowledgment by the art world. But the precise hierarchy of the art world predicts us an unfortunate role of the inferior discipline. The position of an in-betweener is also not comfortable for many. People are trying to define themselves as artists, but it almost feels immodest to say it out loud. Definition has a lot to do with function and destination of the work. It has also to do with function and destination of the work. It has also to do with production, presentation, distribution and, most importantly– pricing. Jewellery wants to be priced as art, and not as craft. It means that the final product is judged upon its conceptual value and innovative thinking, rather than its material value and its quality. 

above is a mind map of Marina’s conceptions in the thesis (YOU KNOW HOW I LOVE A GOOD DIAGRAM).

The following is an excerpt from an interview given by Marina Elenskaya of Current Obsession and artist Volker Atrops.

Here is the manifesto of CO:

Jewellery is what you make of it 

We are searching for new ways of presenting jewellery

We are collaborating freely

We are not attached to any place

We are creating a new world web for contemporary jewellery 
free of restrictions

We are attracting new audiences by taking over existing venues 
and creating crossed-media exhibitions 

We promote, show and teach jewellery

Join and contribute

the interview:


Current Obsession: Can you tell something about what this represents?

Volker Atrops: Yes, ok. I made this photo for this workshop, but before it was hanging like this in my workshop. But without the darts, just the board with the chain. I added darts to the sides later, just to make it clear that there is a center and the board symbolizes jewellery field, and the chain that hangs in the middle makes it clear that its about jewellery.

C.O.: Did you make the chain?
V.A.: No, I found it on a flea market, its clearly just a chain and nothing else, its a decoration piece for the body, jewellery piece, simple, no precious stones, no gold … Then there are three darts, I purposely put them on the periphery area of the board. And what I wanted to say with this, is that there is a whole field of jewellery and a center, which is maybe a simple wedding ring or a pearl necklace that has history, suitable to the body and has a lot of meaning and its so strong that no matter where you go, to everyone it is clear that this is a jewellery piece. And the fact that it fits very well to the body and very well developed over thousands of years makes it the center somehow. And then to see where the field ends, maybe some people explore boundaries because they are kind of bored, or maybe because what you can develop is already developed they are looking for new areas, for new fields, they want to put some things from outside ( that case from art) in. Then you have the periphery I name each darts after Rudt Peters, or Otto Kunzli or Peter Skubitc or other people that in the nineties or the eighies were busy with working in the periphery, trying to look for the boundary, or to overstep the edge of the boundary, they tried to do it. In general they didn’t get the point…

C.O.: Yes, because when you go on exploring, its nice to get out there, but you get further away from the center…
V.A.: You are getting out or want to open a kind of door somewhere, let something new in, its quite important, but most things are already defined.

C.O.: In contemporary jewellery? 
V.A.: not in contemporary jewellery, but in jewellery. It is a basic thing, like food for plants, for animals, jewellery is important for human beings, it existed for very long, and its still alive and it does not matter how the culture is changing…

C.O.: So the concept of “contemporary” does not concern you, it s just jewellery then?
V.A.: Well, there are differences… contemporary jewellery is also nice, because it means its “nowadays”, and then there is this artistic jewellery, or jewellery art, it is also something different, so you can find a lot of names, but is the end its about jewellery and what you are doing with it. This is precisely the point, the center is very important and if you are studying, don’t loose the center. Because, in the process you can turn to the periphery and explore, but you always have to come to the central point. Especially in art schools they’ve developed in a way, that it is expected to find a place in the periphery of the field. Because there is sort of a scene for those margins, and you make a good work, marking the territory in a way, and the work stays there somehow. But it is a very difficult position, because in former times jewellery field wanted to be perceived as art, but it didn’t really work out, because it was not accepted by the art scene. The critics didn’t really care, and fine art gallerists didn’t really care… I mean sometimes it works out, but more as an exception, its not enough. So it stays in this strange position, like between the two spheres. And thats why its a pity that all the talents at art schools don’t work around or try to manipulate the center. So they leave it to the main stream. And its a pity because the center connects us to the daily culture. To our culture. Like ethnic jewellery of Africa: to our eyes its exotic because of its strange forms or colors, material combinations, but it fits in their culture, it reflects their daily life. The kind of nature they live in, their conditions, rituals, the whole life span… But works made on these margins of the field, its more like a dead-born child. Some things worked out, but it didn’t really become a part of our culture, remaining a the small insider club of nerds.

To read the full interview, click here

for more info about volker atrops, visit these pages:



I have added a new page to the blog! HOORAY  ———————————–CLICK ON IT!

I recently gave a short presentation about my progress at our Fulbright midterm, and some had asked me if I was going to post a version here. Yes, indeed I am. You will now be able to find a newly edited version of the diagram that I posted in a previous entry, broken down so it’s easier to read and hopefully to understand. I’m not quite finished, stay tuned for more bits and pieces. You will find the page above, indicated by the word:



Please don’t be shy and tell me if you find an error, think I should add someone, or have something to say about the definitions. I want to know what others think and feel and believe ! “Outsider” perspectives are extremely valuable also– those that may think they don’t know anything or feel they ain’t qualified to have an opinion often have the most insightful things to say.