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Nigerian minister mulls death penalty for gold smuggling – report

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Gemfields back to black

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17 september 2021

Debmarine Namibia's new diamond recovery vessel to arrive in SA next week

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17 september 2021

Golden Globes

24 june 2009

Contemporary jewelry is more about ideas than the flaunting of wealth. Through the centuries, people have worn jewelry to depict status, wealth and identity. Now there is another reason. Contemporary jewelry, the kind that is fought over by passionate collectors, focuses as much on intellectual inquiry and the telling of stories as it does on the exploration of materials and techniques, says The Economist Weekly.

To the cognoscenti, contemporary jewelry is wearable sculpture, and the wearability of a piece and the way it moves on the body are of critical importance to the artists who create it. This work is a product of head, heart and hand, with the head element uppermost. Pieces can be made of anything: found objects, recycled junk, textiles, plastic — even paper. If they include precious metals and gemstones, these rarely appear in conventional forms. Collectors are mainly professionals. A significant proportion are architects and many are men.

Humor and subversion are an intrinsic element of this kind of jewelry, which may explain why one European country, the Netherlands, has become a beacon for collectors. As Marjan Unger, a Dutch art historian and jewelry curator, explains it, the Dutch "like to turn things upside down." They possess a fierce merchant mentality, but do not like to display their wealth, preferring instead to show off their intellectual power. Dutch baby-boomers have, until recently, enjoyed ever-higher incomes, while retaining their taste for protesting and being experimental.

The Netherlands boasts some fine jewelry schools, but, other than diamond-cutting, there is little historical tradition in jewelry making there. Dutch designers have not had to fight entrenched conventions, and as a result they have been remarkably free to experiment.

"Collect," an international fair for contemporary objects, which opens in London later this month, will show a number of artists who explore concepts of preciousness, value and beauty by subverting traditional materials and techniques. Some are German, Swiss and British, as well as Dutch. Otto Künzli famously made a rubber bracelet concealing a gold ball inside. Karl Fritsch ground gemstones into powder and reassembled them with glue. He is now experimenting with drilling holes in the gems and knotting them together in varying configurations. Gijs Bakker, cofounder of Droog, a design company, combines gemstones with costume pieces. Ulrich Reithofer combines gold and glass shards in a necklace.

Using unconventional materials is another way of questioning "value." Dorothea Prühl uses wood to create huge neckpieces. Christoph Zellweger covers animal bones with flesh-coloured flock. Lisa Walker assembles three-dimensional collages using found plastic pieces and turns them into wearable sculpture. Sebastian Buescher pins together eclectic combinations of materials that he gathers outdoors.

Storytelling is another key element. The narratives vary from the personal to the collective, but individual memories are often used to tap into universal themes. The domestic is a favorite. Gesine Hackenberg drills out circles from discarded plates, configuring them into necklaces which she presents on the original, now disfigured, platters. Iris Eichenberg examines the psychological effect of transition to a new culture by assembling materials from different elements of an interior, such as flooring, wall coverings and furniture, into brooches and neck pieces. Francis Willemstijn even uses old car parts to allude to her childhood spent in her father's garage; contrary to expectation, they make exquisite jewelry.

This is jewelry offering a very different expression of identity. The wearer of such pieces challenges preconceived notions. It can include a whiff of intellectual snobbery, as the wearer can be seen as "buying a bit of the artist's brain."

The Netherlands boasts the largest concentration of serious contemporary-jewelry galleries in the world. Many of those that set the standard, including Ra, Marzee, Louise Smit and Rob Koudijs, will show at "Collect." Marzee, in Nijmegen, an hour outside Amsterdam, is a four-story converted grain warehouse with a double-height glass atrium that would be the envy of any fine-art gallery. Indeed, Marzee sees its jewelry as art that can be worn. Solo shows are accompanied by catalogues and supported by displays from other artists. It is like a small museum, with the owner's 1,000-piece personal collection on display. The gallery owners see their role as educational as well as commercial. When they started, contemporary jewelry was an unknown field and they had a missionary zeal to educate their clients. As Paul Derrez, founder of Ra, says, "Our clients don't come to find what they already know, they come to be excited about things they don't know."