Lovers of lists, beginner art history buffs, decorative paraphernalia aficionados and, last but not least, people who don’t have better things to do right now, it pleases me to let you know you that you’ve accidentally come to the right place. I suggest you buckle up, bracelet yourselves and enjoy this next piece of informative badinage, because today we’re going to visually list some of the fantastic things that happened to jewelry making throughout the first decade of the 21st century.
The importance of having the swag
As we all know, ornamentation through jewelry was always an answer to the profound human need to seem better than we actually are. This irresistible impulse to beautify, show off and offer magical protection to our bodies started out around 90.000 years ago, probably because even back then wearing furs and leather wasn’t ostentatious enough. (No, really, we even embedded semiprecious stones in our teeth 2500 years ago.)
Unsurprisingly, these days it’s still common to view jewelry as a separator of social status, gender, age and condition in life, the servant of such human vanities as refinement, political power, wealth and sometimes even superstition. Our modern societies added an extra item to this list of vanities, which was the annexation of contemporary jewelry design to the realm of the fine arts and, subsequently, to contemporary art museums. Though most of us still consider art jewelry more of a craft than part of the Arts, things are changing considerably, particularly in Germany.
I’m sure many of you know this, but for those of you who don’t, during the 60s and 70s the German Government and the commercial jewelry industry decided to heavily support modern jewelry designers, thus creating a new marketplace. At the moment, art jewelry is no longer a niche market and many designers are sold in regular jewelry stores, especially in Munich. (Unfortunately there aren’t any German designers listed below, but there will be a part two to this article, dealing with local designers exclusively.)
The list below is purely subjective and it is meant to pinpoint some of the newer, wilder aspects of contemporary (both artistic and commercial) jewelry making, such as techniques, materials, motivations and marketing. You could interpret this as a simple top 15 most interesting pieces of contemporary jewelry you can stumble upon on the Internet, or divide it, as I did, into a top 5 designers who actually had a good idea to begin with and a top 10 curiosities in contemporary jewelry making. It’s up to you to guess who’s who.
15 Examples of Very Interesting Contemporary Jewelry
Here’s an example of technological innovation in action: this guy, who combines architecture with vanity design, works with 3D Software, CNC routing & milling machines, laser cutting/etching, water jet cutting & rapid prototyping. Now I’m not sure what all of that means, but what it impressive about this guy is that he binds together thin pieces of wood and laser-seals them into intricate organic pieces of jewelry, without using any traditional jeweler’s tool besides his prefrontal cortex. (Photos by Juliet Sheath and Rob Popper)
This Belgian designer creates larger-than-life jewelry for urban space. Her sculptures are really discreet and, in this case, whimsically integrated into the ever-changing cityscape of Amsterdam. She might not be the first who thought of this, but her objects are definitely the prettiest. The pearl earrings made out of concrete balls and the Tiffany & Co. necklace made with chain-linked rope are positively gulliveresque.
Now these pieces are like Faberge eggs for the masses. Just look at how brilliantly these famous landmarks shine in miniature! In my humble opinion, Mr. Tournaire is a veritable, classically-trained jeweler (and fortunately, a recreational landscape artist) who has created his own bourgeois niche in the 21st century. He is currently thriving by doing what all his forefathers have been doing for centuries, the only difference being that, since all of them are dead, he has no competition to deal with.
Just to add some contrast to the flow, here’s a guy who, just like Mr. Tournaire above, is French and famous for the rings he makes. But, unlike Mr. Tournaire, he is not a jeweler, he’s an industrial designer who one day simply woke up to fame – when his diploma work somehow made it online. His experiment brought him a lot of worldwide appreciation, and for good reason, because he made some pretty amazing rings in an even more astonishing manner: using (yikes!) galvanization and various metal powders. His diploma project focused on imitating natural processes to create shapes that exist beyond the means of industrial production, so this is what he chose to impress his teachers with:
5. LeeAnn Herreld/ Individual Icons
If you have survivalist velleities like I do, plus you’re a woman and that makes you generally skeptical about the future, you’ll definitely be wanting a piece of this action. Individual Icons is the definition of jewelry with a purpose, and trust me, that purpose is a really good one. For example, if you ever go trekking in the jungle/desert and you’re vain enough to wear accessories while at it, we all know everyone will be poking fun at you. Well, you can finally wait for something bad to happen during your exploring and show your ‘friends’ how little they know about you. Because you’ll have thermometer earrings in your ears, compass rings on your fingers, a magnifying-glass necklace, measuring-tape bracelets and who knows what else to save their sorry asses with. Now that’s what I call a fabulous first aid kit.
6. Jared Gold
Time to see the blight, everyone, because Jared Gold did something unique and original back in 2006: yes, my impressionable ladies and gentlemen, he glued swarovskis to bugs and sold them for 80 bucks apiece. “We take these cockroaches from breeders who sell them as feed, and give them a life” says he, which translates to “I really needed a good marketing idea to sell all my OTHER stuff which nobody wants to buy, so there you are, bugs on a vertical leash.” I hope their owners didn’t forget to feed them and I also hope those cockroaches shed their shells just to spite their owners – let freedom ring, or in this case, brooch for all bugs!
Oh and by the way, there’s this other fellow, Hubert Duprat, doing something really interesting with another type of bug: caddis fly larvae. I decided not to include him in the count, since he was just curious about stuff – the flies had to do all the actual work – plus this is not jewelry per se, it’s just an experiment.
“Caddis flies live near streams and ponds and produce aquatic larvae that protect their developing bodies by manufacturing sheaths, or cases, spun from silk and incorporating substances and grains of sand, particles of mineral or plant material, bits of fish bone or crustacean shells are readily available in their ecosystem. The larvae are remarkably adaptable: if other suitable materials are introduced into their environment, they will often incorporate those as well.”
In this case, the artist gave them gold spangles, turquoise, opals, lapis lazuli and coral, as well as pearls, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds and, as you can see, something very interesting came out.
Here’s another designer who needed to go viral with something, probably for the same reasons Jared Gold did, though her stuff is pretty interesting so I don’t blame her. Once again the self-promo tactic involves animals, this time some of the furry kind: yes, you guessed it, it’s cats. Cat fur, to be exact. The artist decided she needed memorabilia of her cats hanging on people’s bodies all the time, thus she brushed her precious cats’ furs a couple of times and hey presto, fur balls are now expensive art. Well, this is not something really appalling and I’m sure she’s not the first one who did it either (a random Regretsy search will probably confirm my guess) but would you really wear something even a cat gets rid of? (Photos by Kate Benjamin.)
One of my biggest secret dreams is to be able to cry like an anime girl, and this is as close as science is willing to go to fulfill that dream: make my eyes shed crystal tears. Yes, it is science, or at least a clever bit of engineering, because normally eyes shed real tears if you try to attach strange objects to them. That, in my opinion, is nature’s clearest way to tell us that eyeballs are really not made to be further decorated, since they already are quite pretty. But did that ever stop us? Product stupidity aside, why would you want to look like you’re crying all the time?
Flying to India soon? Do you have 15.000 US dollars to throw out the window to your soul?
Well if you do, you should know that with each purchase of these contacts, a patient suffering from Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a skin disease that can lead to vision loss, will receive free treatment at the clinic. Think about it long and hard – is that and people thinking you’re becoming a werewolf really worth it?
I was wondering, in case you suddenly go bankrupt, can you maybe pawn these? Because we are talking about 18 diamonds which have been studded onto an 180-carat gold plate on a special lens, you know.
Ladies, your dream of wearing your hair on other parts of your body (mostly your chest though) is finally real! I do get the idea behind it (the whole ‘after you cut your hair it instantly becomes disgusting to you and everyone else’) but I disagree with it: many desperate women pay a lot of money for their weaves or wigs, so healthy hair never really gets lost. I do agree with it being disgusting when worn as jewelry – but don’t worry, this was just an experiment, nobody in their right mind would fund such a project. Besides hair-fetishists. And Victorians.
11. Burcu Büyükünal
Admit it, this is the first time ever that you actually think about face distorting jewelry in Western culture. Hopefully the last one too. The three face-pieces Burcu created and is wearing are meant to serve as a comparison between certain plastic surgery procedures and, well, their effects on older women. Bingo? (Photos by Fırat Akarsel)
12. Margaux Lange
Margaux here is a discarded doll executioner and a wonderful recycler. She finds/receives used Barbies and Kens, chops them up and creates art with their tiny, identical, mass-produced body parts. Well, people call it art – I call it not – but I wouldn’t mind owning one of those hand-bracelets. It’s like your cat had a tiny toy cat to play with, that’s how meta this is. (Photos by Margaux Lange)
13. Kathy Ludwig
Ice might be slang for diamonds, but in this case, given the phrase ‘let me just put on some ice and then we can go’, ice actually means ice, applied directly to your sizzling skin. I, for one, think it’s cool. These necklaces are wearable for maybe 2 minutes on hot summer days or for considerably longer if you’re attending a social event in the Arctic tundra. Might even help you with (very slowly) starting a wet t-shirt contest.
14. Jeremy May
Jeremy May of Littlefly makes literary jewels. Literally. He laminates hundreds of pages, applies some gloss and delivers a whole book to your doorstep with your new, unique piece of jewelry inside. A book which you will throw away since it’s useless, nevertheless a nice idea for packaging. I’m not exactly sure why I can’t truly connect with his work – maybe because I find disemboweling books so horrible? But I’m so vain I probably think these things exclusively about other peoples’ book-jewelry – I’m sure that if he were to customize something I wrote, I’d be all excited about it. Like a pamphlet or a spread in a magazine or something.
And last but not least interesting, I give you: plants in tiny pots which you can totally wear, only you won’t because it’s silly. The loose-hanging necklaces of Paula Hayes, the (grass?) brass-knuckles of Hafsteinn Juliusson, the Etsy page dedicated to living jewelry and the millions of others who thought about the same thing one night while very bored – all these somehow involve wearable plants which will soon die, because well, plants, unlike fungi, don’t really live on humans. Plus you know you’re too lazy to water your parsley, so how are you going to deal with these guys? Why not just stick to poppies and other things you can find in the fields and enjoy their lovely temporary nature? Isn’t that what beauty is all about? (Photos by Harpa Hödd, Saga Sigurðardóttir, Sóley Þórisdóttir)
There are, of course, many other topics I didn’t even dare approach today – for example certain types of custom-made jewelry for nerds, (from USB lockets to these necklaces to molecular wear), or all the methods people like to remember their pets by (click and click for cute strangeness). And I know I promised you something, so don’t you worry, the preciousness saga continues. Soon.