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New View on Jewellery

The future of art jewellery lies in broadening its appeal and adapting to the changing markets. Find out more as Dutch and European jewellery experts gathered in a meeting in Amsterdam to discuss the state of one of design's least publicized professions. 

By Jeanne Tan /asdf 10-03-2011

Last month, international jewellery experts, who were visiting the Netherlands as part of Premsela’s International Visitors’ Programme partook in a discussion with their Dutch counterparts to discuss the state of art jewellery. So what happens when 15 jewellery experts get together in one room?

In recent years in the product/furniture design circles – happening internationally but heavily centred on the Netherlands - a new market had emerged that involved collectors: contemporary design entered the realm of art. (Vintage design was already quite established in collectors’ circles). This type of collectors’ design comprised more experimental pieces that are made in limited editions or one-offs and has a strong artistic and craftsmanship basis with little concern for functionality: it’s about self expression – and it’s high end. It’s often called ‘autonomous’ (as opposed to industrial) design otherwise also known as limited edition design or design art. It’s a completely different type of design that is removed from industrially designed and manufactured furniture as we know it. Instead it is often self-produced by the designer in small quantities and sold in galleries and art-based fairs. With this expansion into a new market, design reached new audiences (and raised many eyebrows along the way) and fostered a new breed of designers. What’s interesting to note is that the experimental work of these designers acts as a laboratory that feeds into the commercial work that they might undertake for a big furniture label. These two parts of the studio complement each other. Think of the relationship in fashion between haute couture and prêt a porter.

When we take a look at contemporary art jewellery, it seems that the opposite is happening. Art (or avant garde) jewellery has existed mostly in a field of its own in the gallery and collector’s context – though interestingly quite removed from fine art circles. The works are often experimental, autonomous, crafted in small quantities, high-end and wearability is not always a concern. Today, however, the market for this type of jewellery seems to be diminishing and art jewellery stands at a crossroad. One junction takes art jewellery down the fashion – and to a certain extent design - road that leads beneficially to new and larger audiences but inevitably that also implies a consumer and industrial element and perhaps more…wearability?

The meeting, held in the Amsterdam offices of Premsela Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion, brought together four international jewellery experts and Dutch jewellery experts including museum curators, educators and jewellery designers, critics and industry professionals. The aim of the afternoon was to compare the state of art jewellery in the Netherlands with what was happening abroad, focusing on the change in the jewellery markets, and the role of museums and education in relation to the jewellery field. In the discussion, an interesting difference in opinion surfaced with regards to the relationship between art jewellery and industry.

Currently, the Netherlands has an established and internationally renowned art jewellery scene with five dedicated galleries, which is unique considering many international design capitals don’t have any, and major museums that own significant contemporary jewellery collections. At art academies like Rietveld and ABK Maastricht, a strong history of art jewellery education exists. So why the need to talk about art jewellery now? Because the market is dwindling for several reasons – namely an ageing collector’s market, limited room for growth in the gallery system and little recognition of the profession and the work itself. The financial crisis hasn’t helped the situation either.

It was unanimously agreed by all in the discussion, that the aim now for art jewellery is to reach a much broader - and younger - audience. Several possibilities were discussed, one of the ways suggested by one of the international guests Alba Cappellieri from Politecnico di Milano, was for art jewellery to be more connected with fashion. It makes sense because jewellery is already a part of the wider fashion world. The Italian professor of jewellery mentioned that high profile companies like Gucci who already have their own jewellery lines could have the power to influence the market. The high cost didn’t seem to be a problem as these companies obviously had clients who were willing to pay for the jewellery. She also mentioned that as part of their studies, students at the Politecnico must do internships at jewellery companies to gain professional education. It was interesting to note that jewellery in Italy is taught in technical institutions while in the Netherlands, it’s at art academies, which is where the main difference lies. The Dutch/Northern European opinion seemed reluctant to remove art jewellery out of the sphere of art, that as works of art, the jewellery had to be made for a market in the first place, and to encourage jewellery students to seek ties with industry. Also in the Netherlands, the relationship between design and industry isn’t as strong as in countries like Italy that have a long tradition of manufacturing. On the other hand it is understandable that educational institutions need to retain some distance from industry to give their students complete freedom to develop their artistic skills.

But what if art jewellery today could develop along another path, to have a prêt a porter aspect, aimed at larger audiences that works alongside its current, more haute couture nature? The two don’t necessarily need to clash, in fact they could be complementary as is often seen with product design. This opens up new possibilities for forms of art jewellery where non-precious materials could be used or techniques like 3D-printing à la Ted Noten that help bring costs down, making it more appealing to a younger audience. Interestingly, Alba Cappellieri mentioned that she was asked to curate a selection of jewellery to be sold on Yoox (one of the major online design stores) that would cost no more €200 a piece. She didn’t succeed, which shows there is a gap in the market for affordable art jewellery.

There are some changes happening in the Netherlands, for instance at ABK Maastricht according to course coordinator Chequita Nahar, where jewellery students are increasingly doing internships at fashion companies designing fashion-related jewellery (also called Body-related jewellery) and upcoming projects will involve collaborations with jewellery companies. A comparison could be made to a current trend in the hospitality industry where high end restaurants serving haute cuisine also have set up sister restaurants serving brasserie-style high quality food at more affordable prices hence appealing to a larger segment of the market. Some food for thought.

New ways of presenting art jewellery could also be a key to attracting younger audiences. Netherlands-based, German-born Jewellery designer Jantje Fleischhut mentioned pop up shops that are more dynamic, and where jewellery is taken out of the gallery and vitrines and placed into packaging. She also mentioned the potential of connecting art jewellery to design events to reach visitors who are already open to this field.

What needs to happen most now is for art jewellery to have more exposure to the wider public which is where the media and museums come in, not only to give more attention to the field but to present more diverse forms of contemporary jewellery. German design historian Barbara Maas commented that museums could give this field more attention, especially museums of fine art, because they have a different clientele which is - even today - largely unaware of artistic jewellery. James Beighton from the Middleborough Institute of Modern Art in the UK mentioned several initiatives that take art jewellery into the public via participatory projects and advertising campaigns throughout the city. No doubt, there needs to more communication about art jewellery in all media to reach a wider audience. It wouldn’t hurt either if a high profile trend setter like Lady Gaga would be covered top-to-toe in art jewellery!
Like many creative disciplines, it’s a time of change which is simultaneously exciting because of all the new possibilities and daunting because it jolts us out of our comfort zones. But times like these are most inspiring because we’re forced to search for new ways to make things happen - what results is an opportunity to view our profession from a fresh perspective and a renewed energy and passion for what we’re doing.  
_ _ _ _ _

The International Visitors who attended the meeting were Belgian gallerist Caroline van Hoek, UK curator from the Middleborough Institute of Modern Art James Beighton, German design historian Barbara Maas and Italian professor from Politecnico di Milano Alba Cappellieri. The Dutch guests were Fredric Baas (Curator Stedelijk museum Den Bosch), Astrid Berens (Director Sieraad fair), Liesbeth den Besten (Art historian and publicist), Marjan Boot (Curator, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), Renske Brinkman, (Project Manager, Premsela), Jantje Fleischut (Jewellery designer), Eveline Holsappel, (Curator Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem), Suska Mackert (Head Jewellery design Gerrit Rietveld Academie Amsterdam), Job Meihuizen (Program Manager Premsela), Chequita Nahar (Coordinator Jewellery and product design, Academie Beeldende Kunsten Maastricht), Els van der Plas (Director, Premsela), Chris Reinewald (Journalist), Margriet Sopers (Independent jewellery expert) and Marjan Unger (Art historian).

Read's stories about jewellery here, here and here
Read our feature interview with Ted Noten here

If you are interested to contribute to the discussion, please contact Premsela
To read the full report of the meeting, please visit the Premsela website 

Images from International Visitors' Programme visit
Images 1 & 2: Visit to Object Rotterdam
Image 3: Studio visit Ruudt Peters
Image 4: Visit to jewellery department at Rietveld Academy
image 5: Studio visit Lucy Sarneel
Image 6: Studio visit Katja Prins


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