Alchemical Processes in Contemporary Jewellery
Searching for beauty in contemporary jewellery through alchemical processes
Zoe Jay Veness
Supervised by Wendy Parker
The research project investigates contemporary jewellery practice according to alchemical processes to seek alternative expressions of beauty that eschew the intrinsic or monetary value of the materials employed. Beauty is therefore examined through a transformation of mundane materials according to numerical systems that reference models in nature to emphasise the value of aesthetics while affirming the value of the idea, of hand work and of extensive and reflective design and making processes.
Different approaches to contemporary jewellery practice that challenge popular understandings of jewellery as being ‘ostentatiously impressive and expensive’ (Dormer, Peter and Turner, Ralph (1985) The New Jewelry. Thames and Hudson, London p.7.) are examined in this research. In some categories of jewellery, particularly those promulgated by the commercial jewellery trade, precious materials such as gold and diamonds equate monetary value with status, wealth, prestige and exclusivity. These ‘values’ are challenged by many contemporary jewellery practitioners for whom jewellery possesses the power to communicate beyond public declarations of wealth.
In this research the popular notion of preciousness in relation to commercial jewellery refers to the predominant use of precious materials combined with customary forms and techniques. This image of preciousness is questioned through unconventional treatments of precious materials in contemporary jewellery. The notions of abusing and contrasting are extrapolated from a survey of contemporary jewellery between the period 1980-2003 to structure these investigations. Contemporary jewellery by Lisa Walker, Robert Smit, Karl Fritsch, Gijs Bakker, Stephanie Jendis, Mari Ishikawa and Mark Vaarwerk illustrate these approaches to contemporary jewellery practice that pursue broader meanings for jewellery beyond the popular assumption of jewellery as bearers of monetary value.
This inquiry is expanded to examine the values of hand skills, extensive experimentation and incremental refinement as part of a process analogous to alchemy. This alchemical theme borrowed from Game and Goring (1998) as well as from Helen W. Drutt English (Holzach 2002) describes a magical transformation of materials considered worthless by mainstream society into objects of desire. The paper jewellery of Nel Linssen is a focal point for this examination.
A search for beauty underpins the objective to transform everyday materials in contemporary jewellery practice. Beauty is examined in contemporary jewellery through numerical systems with reference to models in nature, their additive growth, rhythm and repetition as a means to emphasise the value of aesthetics.
The investigation is limited to the domain of contemporary wearables. The significance of this work is to affirm the value of the idea, of hand work and of extensive and reflective design and making processes within contemporary jewellery practice. The research aims to contribute towards an expansive and poetic vision for contemporary jewellery.