These are exciting times for contemporary jewellery. Now more than ever, makers, designers, and collectors are coming together to create imaginative pieces through a mixture of craftsmanship, creativity, and patronage that challenges traditional notions. It is fascinating to watch how this highly portable and visible art form has over time managed to reflect an individual’s artistic temperament and serve as a response to the happenings of the wider society.
Why collect contemporary jewellery
Wearing a work of art that has an emotional meaning, and is at the same time unique in its design, beautifully unites concept and creation.
Collecting jewels of good design, manufacture, and craftsmanship has now entered a new era of vast potential and diversity. Talented goldsmiths and jewellery designers and makers are creating individual pieces that are cherished as artworks far beyond the intrinsic value of the used materials.
Jewellery is both personal and theatrical, and the importance of craftsmanship is paramount for discerning buyers in search of originality that amplifies the powerful emotional resonance of a piece. Designers/makers see their relationship with those who own their work as vital, and pieces rapidly develop personal significance for both the wearer and the creator.
Wearing original designer jewellery can give you a sense of affinity with the creativity of the creators and far more mundane relief that you will never attend a party where someone will wearing the same rings. Plus, in such situations they often act as starters of conversations.
Contemporary jewellery is truly international with designers and makers all around the world stretching the boundaries of the field. With practitioners from the United States to Japan through Germany and the United Kingdom, jewellery is finally assuming its rightful position as an art form, though there still remains a need to help artists and goldsmiths achieve the recognition they deserve and bring their creations to the widest possible audience.
Who can collect designer jewellery
Buying jewellery is one of life’s pleasures, but people often think that you have to be wealthy in order to collect it. This is certainly not the case - you can spend as little or as much as you like.
There are three main things to keep in mind: jewellery should be appreciated for its originality, craftsmanship, and wearability.
Wearing jewellery is a form of self-expression and should make you feel good, so choose a jewel that reflects your personality and whatever style you prefer, and always buy the best you can afford. Don’t be scared to mix styles - antique and vintage pieces can be worn with modern ones, just ensure that the quality of the craftsmanship is consistent. If the jewellery looks fantastic, so will you.
Jewellery comes to life when it’s worn. If you’re just beginning your jewellery collection or buying a single special item, it is a good idea to try on as many different pieces as possible to get a feel for what suits you.
Auction houses and jewellery fairs are a great introduction allowing you to study pieces from the past and present. Jewellery shops and makers will also be delighted for you to try things on - how else will you know if you like them?
Take time to study and handle the jewel - it should feel good to the touch. It should be possible to feel the quality of a piece: rough or smooth, light or heavy… Explore the reverse to see if it is well finished. If a piece looks good from the back, this is usually an indication that it is well made.
Jewellery designers and makers
A lot of people strongly believe in collecting jewellery made by designers who also have an understanding of how to make their pieces. Some of the most sought-after antique jewels today are those from the workshops of master craftsmen who designed their pieces by themselves or worked extremely closely with a designer.
There are many today who only design their jewellery and have it made in other workshops. It is always better to buy from designers who are able to make jewellery too, even if it is only fashioning the prototype before instructing other craftspeople on creating the finished product.
This level of involvement gives crucial understanding of and an insight into the discipline of creating jewels. Technological advances, such as computer-aided design, have changed the way jewellery is created, yet the challenge is still to combine these 21st century possibilities with skills that have existed for generations. The technical knowledge of how to make a piece is vital to creating truly great jewellery.
For some collectors gemstones are very important, and everyone is familiar with the big five: diamond, emerald, ruby, sapphire, and pearl. When buying jewellery that includes some of these stones bear in mind that they can be expensive and there are other varieties of gemstone that can be equally, if not more, exciting.
There are three key values to look out for in a gemstone: beauty, rarity, and durability. In the view of many contemporary jewellery makers the division of stones into precious and semiprecious is arbitrary. If any stone possesses these three qualities, it is automatically precious.
Apart from the mentioned big five contemporary jewellers use a wide variety of other stones: spinels, rubelite, kunzites, peridot, demantoid garnets, pink and yellow sapphires, and many others to incorporate into designs, with diamonds often being used to complement them.
Many contemporary makers also use alternative materials or stones, like Cubic Zirconia, proving that precious metals or gemstones aren’t always necessary to ensure that a piece will endure. Materials such as acrylic, wood, plastic, glass, steel, or rubber are often combined with precious metals, giving an additional dimension to a collection, or are used on their own.
The importance of authentication
As with many other collectibles, fakes and forgeries exist in the world of jewellery too. Similarly to paintings, a signature can help you verify whether a piece is a genuine example of a maker’s work. However, many contemporary jewellery makers do not sign their creations, relying on individuality and technical skill to set their work apart.
It’s also not easy to distinguish imitation or synthetic stones from natural real ones. It is vital that the origin and properties of the stones you’re buying are disclosed and reflected in the price. If you’re investing a large amount in an expensive stone, be it a diamond, ruby, sapphire, emerald, or natural pearl, it is recommended that you buy it with a certificate of authenticity from a reputable gemological laboratory.
Most jewellers expect to be asked to provide a certificate stating whether a stone is natural, synthetic, or enhanced, particularly with large rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, as the difference in price between natural and heat-treated stones is significant.
Discerning the difference between a natural or cultured pearl is a more complicated process, and the only conclusive way is by X-ray, which must be done in a gemological laboratory.
Many jewellery pieces are marked. If a piece is made of gold, silver, or platinum, you should check the assay office hallmarks, which indicate the metal content and guarantee purity and quality. Makers’ marks usually appear together with hallmarks. Should there be no hallmark, maker’s mark, stamp, or engraved signature, it is advisable to ensure that the item is accompanied by the original or a facsimile design, a fitted boxy bearing the maker’s logo, and original receipt, as these all help in authenticating an item.
One of the most rewarding aspects of collecting contemporary jewellery is the opportunity to commission pieces directly from the designers and makers. This gives you the chance to tailor the design to suit your personal style and taste.
Do not be discouraged if you like a certain design style but would like to commit something smaller or bigger! You are the jeweller’s canvas and they will work with you to create something you are comfortable with - your confidence while wearing the jewellery reflects well on the designer.
It also might be tempting to choose ‘celebrity jewellers’, but it is best to trust your taste. Bespoke jewellery is all about creating jewels for the individual, not about wearing a brand.
With jewellery the term ‘ethical’ can be contentious, but it is an area of increasing importance.
Diamond and gold mining industries have often and rightly attracted bad press, but there are numerous groups seeking to ensure that minerals and stones are sourced in a responsible manner. For example, one of the most prominent independent certification symbols for gold and associated precious metals from small-scale to artisanal miners comes from the Fairtrade Foundation, which works in conjunction with the Alliance for Responsible Mining.
The mark guarantees that miners receive fair pay, work in a safe and healthy environment, and no child labour is used. It also promotes care for the environment and social development of the communities.
Many jewellers also actively work with local communities to help them profit from making and selling their work, which both improves their standard of living and gives them the opportunity to maintain traditional jewellery skills that might otherwise decline or disappear.
In collecting contemporary jewellery the relationship with the jeweller is paramount. The reputation and integrity of the jeweller is the most important factor in making you feel comfortable when buying or commissioning a piece.
Many people enjoy combining different styles from a variety of makers, while other collectors are devoted to a single designer and maintain a special relationship with them, developing it over many years. Do whatever suits you, because more than anything else, it is important to wear your jewellery with pride. Jewellery is all about making statements about yourself without having to say a word.