Make your statement and enhance your bold style with modern designer jewellery. Our collection includes genuine sterling silver rings, earrings and necklaces adorned with natural gemstones, pearls or cubic zirconia.Continue reading about Handmade Contemporary Jewellery below.
Handmade Contemporary Jewellery
There are a number of other terms used to describe these objects:
- studio jewellery which is designed and fabricated by the same person within a studio or small workshop setting, as unique objects or in a limited production run;
- art or author jewellery are also useful terms in identifying significant aspects of this kind of objects as they suggest the importance of artistic expression.
While much of the described jewellery is a form of studio jewellery, not all of it is. And while the story of modern jewellery’s encounter with fine art is an important part of our history, it isn’t the only story. Although author jewellery as a vehicle for the intentions and artistic concepts of the maker is central, it is also important to maintain an awareness of jewellery’s other functions, such as its value to, and meanings for, the wearer.
Contemporary jewellery is a broad enough term to include all these dimensions, as well as recognise the way such practices have returned at different moments to the heritage of traditional or conventional jewellery.
Modern Jewellery Story
Contemporary jewellery began in the 1950s with adornments made from gold, silver, diamonds and gemstones that privileged artistic expression. Despite its short history, modern jewellery art has demonstrated extraordinarily abundant and diverse features.
With its original identity continuously changing and its edges extending and overlapping with history, society, and cultural arts, jewellery has become a featured art topic. Using adornments as a medium of expression, jewellery artists have delved into constant exploration and practice from various aspects, such as materials, methods, craftsmanship, and concepts.
Some artists even take on more extensive artistic creation of jewellery based on discussions and research of social and cultural phenomena. All of their works centre on design with a focus on interacting with the viewers and the society at large in vivid and various ways. In 1960s jewellery art has become a common topic in the global context.
The modern jewellery movement represents the transformation of European gold-and-silversmithing skills and traditions away from the intrinsic value of precious materials towards forms of creative expression, initially artistic innovation, and then a host of other cultural and social values that enable jewellers to deeply engage with the society in which they live.
Jewellery defines what is valuable in a given society. Symbolic jewellery such as the crown jewels testifies to the kingdom’s expanse by featuring stones from exotic lands. Specialist skills evolve to deal with unique materials, and a national project develops to deal with what is precious to that country and those people. Contemporary jewellery refines this project beyond the literal, allowing engagement with cultures and places that fall outside the possibilities of conventional jewellery. And as jewellery develops throughout the world, it raises the question of whether the value is defined by tradition from elsewhere or emerges as an expression of place.
The 1960s is a decade of liberation in the Western world. Rebellion became the status quo, while existing values were attacked and destroyed. No area of life was left untouched—sexuality, education, race, politics, economics, and the arts. Within jewellery, the countercultural drive became manifest on a number of fronts. In keeping with the period’s antimaterialist bent, a number of jewellers eschewed precious metals and rejected the status as a luxury commodity.
This democratization of materials went hand in hand with a populist approach that sought to remove class barriers through more affordable and accessible works. At the same time, other jewellers tackled the limits of wearability by stretching the scale and scope of their work until it merged with clothing, sculpture, and performance.
Contemporary jewellery in Australia
Australian jewellery was shaped by the social experience of one of the most intensely urbanised societies in the world, in which relationship to land was split between an indigenous viewpoint that unites people, land, community and history and an urban dweller awareness of the vast continental interior that was grounded in large metropolitan concentrations around a few capital cities.
As a result, Australian contemporary jewellery was characterised by a greater sense of mixing and fusion, rather than an encounter with indigenous adornment. Such characteristics reveal a strong pressure of global connections that work both to fetishise and remaining possibility of the “local”, while also tearing local affinities apart in the colliding influences of an inter-mediated, communications- pressured world of late-twentieth-century cultural meltdown.
While the word ‘jewellery’ refers to a Western practice of making wearable items, and thus involves Western values and concepts, the use of the word adornment’ has the advantage of suggesting a particular association with indigenous objects which don’t always fit easily into the category of jewellery. In Australia the land and cultural contact (often cultural conflict) between indigenous and settler populations has been a central force in the development of modern jewellery.
It all begins with the arrival of a group of European goldsmiths and silversmiths in the 1960s and 1970s. This migration is a useful starting point because it marks the moment when the skills and conceptual structures of European contemporary jewellery washed ashore down under. But this is more than a story of ‘cultural catch-up’, where peripheral cultures strive to stag in touch with trends emerging from metropolitan centres. While the Australian concept of modern jewellery is drawn largely from Europe, there is an eventual acknowledgement of the indigenous practices of adornment that preceded colonisation.
Contemporary jewellery designers
Jewellery is the most traceable form of ancient adornment. Originally a powerful talismanic symbol for protection, devotion or dominance, it has nonetheless never drifted far from one of its primary sources of appeal down the ages: beautifying the appearance. Its intrinsic ability to transform looks and personalities without imposing limits of age, gender or body size is what has propelled it to the forefront of today’s ranges of covetable lifestyle accessories.
Whether fine, conceptual, fashion or luxury, jewellery fulfils a plethora of roles: precious armour, status broker, sentimental keepsake, future heirloom, style endorser... Only truly talented, independent, master jewellery designers can so skilfully evoke, as well as provoke, our desire and create unique pieces that are difficult to resist; push the boundaries of creativity, redefine technical possibilities and figure out what sets our fashion-radar. They may not be ‘new’ to their trade, but they maintain a constant relevance in their propensity for reinvention, with groundbreaking vision, infectious passion and a unique take on their craft.
However small or large a piece of jewellery may be, it is a portable object to which its wearer makes an intimate and immediate connection; a self-fulfilling guarantee to look and feel good. The designers impress and inspire with their rare skill in transforming raw materials — gems, metals, textiles, wood, stones, feathers, leather, bones — into wearable works of art that form a new language entirely of their own.
Handcrafted jewellery materials
The question of materials has been central in jewellery art. A visible expression of wealth, jewellery has long been used as a form of wearable currency, just as coins have been worldwide served as adornment. Gold and money are interchangeable—thus the gold standard, as well as the fate of many jewels, today imprisoned in bank vaults awaiting future tender. In reaction, avant-garde jewellers shunned materials with inherent value, demanding instead recognition for extramonetary assets such as ideas, ingenuity, and experiential rewards.
Many people still see dollar signs when they look at jewellery, especially engagement rings, remaining oblivious to qualities of concept or design. Oscar Wilde’s Lord Darlington quipped that a cynic “knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing,” a view that is particularly apt for popular perceptions of jewellery.
While conceptualism has become an essential structure for handcrafted jewellery, materials continue to play an important role in creativity. Materiality helps define most of the contexts in which jewellery has artistic value. The enduring quality of metal contrasts with the impermanence of flesh. The value of craftsmanship is defined by the mastery over materials gained through the acquisition of technical skills. Unlike technologies such as video, the capacity to work with metals requires a specialised dedication.
Conventional jewellery approaches materials in terms of hierarchy, ordering precious metals and stones above all other substances. Contemporary jewellery is defined by a material relativism. Gold and silver can be valued purely by their aesthetic qualities, and this opens up the possibility of using other materials less common in conventional jewellery, such as aluminium and acrylic.
There’s also the potential to invert this hierarchy to include materials that are at the bottom of the value chain, such as those defined as rubbish. This evokes the alchemic quest to turn base metal into gold, which is the ultimate mystery of classical goldsmithing. In a present context, this use of poor materials functions as a political symbolism.
Beyond the hierarchical value of materials, there’s a context for their use as a language of expression. The “truth to materials” modernist credo reads the work in terms of the qualities of the substances used—ductility and colour, for example. The evocative nature of certain materials, such as the relation of stone to nature, can be handled poetically. And materials can be associated with place, as when artists use an indigenous plant or shell as a way of identifying their place in the world.
Thus, in contemporary jewellery, one of the first questions to ask is, “What’s it made of?” This is at odds with conceptual art, where the message overrides the material. Recently, the core value of materiality has also been challenged by relational jewellery, in which objects function primarily to connect people together rather than to stand alone as examples of artistic expression or material investigation.
Whether rare or common, precious or cheap, no materials are neutral—they all carry associations and come with a past. Of late, provenance and supply-chain transparency have become pressing concerns in the jewellery world, where a dark history often lurks behind the shine. We now know that all gold is not created equal; there is good, ethical” gold and bad, “dirty” gold. Likewise, there are “bloody diamonds and “conflict-free” diamonds. Across the board—from individual studio jewellers to multinational companies—we see growing demand for commitment to social and ecological responsibility.
Knowledgeable about the implications of materials, art jewellers can make choices based on ideas and creative need, unhampered by ignorance or taboo. Today, every conceivable substance is marshalled for jewellery making
Buy contemporary jewellery
Buying a jewel is an important decision, so take your time, ask questions and explore all the options available. Building a collection is challenging but does bring a huge amount of pleasure. Do not buy with the intention of making a quick profit: jewellery is not first and foremost about investment, it is about passion. It can be difficult to ignore intrinsic value, but the best collections are the ones that reflect the taste and style of the collector, while the worst are those that have been assembled in the hope that money will be recouped or value increased overtime.
As with any art form, jewellery can fall prey to fashion and style, however it’s better to buy the best you can afford and buy it because you want to wear and treasure it. In terms of unique jewellery, collecting works of art by young talent is always interesting, while being able to commission pieces from and become friends with the artist is a remarkable opportunity. There is something immensely rewarding about discovering a young, talented designer and being able to give support and encourage them by buying their work. So be bold and enjoy the experience. Be careful, though — it can become addictive.
Suzanne Ramljak “Unique by design”, 2014
Joanna Hardy “Collect Contemporary Jewellery”, 2012
Damian Skinner, Kevin Murray “Place and Adornment”, 2014
Liu Xiao, Li Puman “Contemporary Jewelry Design”, 2014
Damian Skinner, “Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective”, 2013
Olivier Dupon, “The New Jewelers”, 2012