What is definition and characteristics of art jewelry? If you search about the term of “art jewelry”, you will find some articles and blog posts but perhaps not as many as you expect! I think this is due to the broad definition of this term that makes it difficult to particularly write about it. It is also used interchangeably with other terms such as contemporary or alternative jewelry, while they have differences.
First, I had a look on Wikipedia. In the first paragraph, I read: “Art jewelry is one of the names given to jewelry created by studio craftspeople. As the name suggests, art jewelry emphasizes creative expression and design, and is characterized by the use of a variety of materials, often commonplace or of low economic value. In this sense, it forms a counterbalance to the use of “precious materials” (such as gold, silver and gemstones) in conventional or fine jewelry, where the value of the object is tied to the value of the materials from which it is made. Art jewelry is related to studio craft in other media such as glass, wood, plastics and clay; it shares beliefs and values, education and training, circumstances of production, and networks of distribution and publicity with the wider field of studio craft. Art jewelry also has links to fine art and design.” Art jewelry’s value is not equal to the cost of its raw materials. However, it can be made using precious metals and gemstones and still be creative and expressive.
At the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Art Nouveau movement has changed using precious materials as almost inseparable elements of fine jewelry design. They have started using some materials that assisted to their design despite being precious or not. At twentieth century, modernism revolutionized some of the concepts accepted in fine jewelry even more. I do not mean that the elements of contemporary jewelry did not exist before modernism. I have seen the image of some very old jewelry pieces that are very modern!!
Art jewelry movement criticizes that the value of jewelry is equal with the preciousness and monetary value of its materials. The focus of this movement is on the artistic aspects of jewelry. Therefore, art jewelers might use some different media and materials than the fine jewelers to express the artistic forms. They might use semi-precious metals and stones, polymer clay, ceramic, wood, glass, etc. as the alternative working materials.
I think another important aspect of art jewelry is to be expressive. It also convey a message and story that communicates with the person who wears it. The content can be expression of an emotion, a memory, a fairy tale or even a social or political message or symbol. Lousje Skala had a series of necklaces, named “gift” of necklaces in an exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra. The series tell the story of Holocaust survivors who migrated to Australia. I have also seen some jewelry pieces made about recent protest against racism in US.
On the other hand, art jewelry is also called studio jewelry. It is because this form of jewelry is traditionally is made in studios of jewelers around the world. And that make the jewelry pieces unique and one of a kind. But of course there is always a sad and historic battle against mass production. The followers of “arts and craft movement” (1880-1920) were expressing their concerns about the effects of factory systems on craftsmanship and loss of handwork skills. They believed that industrial manufacture leads to loss of traditional skills.
What do jewelers say?
Jewelers have very interesting definitions and viewpoints about art jewelry. An article (link removed) collected some of these views. I especially liked this quote from Laura Bracken:
“Art jewelry (or hand-crafted jewelry) is like storytelling–it’s all about sharing a small part of one person in order to connect with other people. When we purposefully transform metal into jewelry, we give that jewelry an ‘essence’ that can’t be replicated any other way.”
I think art jewelry is not only about the form and decorative aspects of jewelry pieces, but also content and telling stories and this makes it unique and individualistic.