Designing Britain Home Page tnj graphic title
  The Learning Index

  The New Jewellery
  Momentum 1975-1977
  High New Jewelleryism 1977-1975
  The End of Era?
  Bibliography
  Image Archive
  Author
  Home
 

Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > The New Jewellery
 
This work is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Elsie (1920 – 2001) and my father Jim, who survives her. They have always given me immense support in all my endeavours.

INTRODUCTION

This module aims, in the main, to introduce and provide an overview to a group of works which were made during the years 1975 – 1987; a period which is likely to be seen as the most significant period of fevered international activity in the field of jewellery in the 20th Century.

This account is addressed to newcomers to the cultural field of crafts and to the specific cultural sphere of contemporary jewellery. As such it is neither definitive, exhaustive, nor approached with any particular theoretical framework, save the historical. It is limited in scope to Britain with only an occasional nodding gesture to Europe – although interaction between both spheres was absolutely essential to all future developments and promotion of the work.

This account mainly focuses on five major British figures: Pierre Degen, Susanna Heron, Julia Manheim, Caroline Broadhead and David Watkins, thus necessarily excluding from the account many other significant contributors - and to them I apologise in advance. Also this documentational approach serves as a sort of natural sifter of artists as there is great variance in who has been well-documented and who hasn’t. This account serves as a chronology of exhibitions and events which has left a paper trail of material for studying the movement which I found irresistible. But my account must be seen as a ‘taster’ – although a substantial enough one I believe – to this vast and far more complex subject. I recognise that much more work needs to be done in the field, and can only hope that this account and approach might serve as a useful start-up source for a more encyclopaedic future account.

The present narrative is in chronological (and numerical) order except for the occasional lapse where an image has been placed to enhance or amplify the narrative flow of the account. To progress the text in an historically – as well as textually - ordered way, it is incumbent upon the reader to follow the numerical order of the images as they are arranged.

Finally, two notes about the rationale of the particular approach that this account is taking. Firstly, as will be mentioned following, most individuals were introduced – and in varying degrees affected, annoyed, influenced, and inspired - to this new jewellery through its image-dominant promotion and self-conscious presentation strategies. As several credible accounts and coffee-table books already exist with profuse illustrations of the actual work of the artists mentioned in this one(1), the author chose to offer a different historical context to the topic: a documentational one. While some of the artists’ works will feature, an emphasis is made here on a collection of rare and out of print catalogues, periodicals, posters, invites and other relevant ephemera which it is hoped will offer a fresh – and interesting - view both historically and visually on the subject. To this end it is hoped that the degree to which ‘The New Jewellery’ was constructed by the artists themselves may be discerned by the reader.

Secondly, it is no over-statement to make that to restrict this account to largely British activity is a cruel and unusual punishment. The degree to which the axis of London/Amsterdam/Munich galleries and practitioners criss-cross and inform each other’s work – as well as providing hospitalities and exchanges of all sorts – must not be lost sight of in the foregrounding of British New Jewellers in this account. It is unthinkable for instance, not to be able to discuss the importance – then and now – of the most original and stimulating artist working in the jewellery field in the world today – the Munich based Otto Künzli.

As Ralph Turner states in his book of 1996, Jewelry in Europe and America : new times new thinking,

 
The 1980s witnessed the most radical spirit in jewelry’s(2) history. The new forms that jewellery could take were expanded and its practical limits tested. New works arose which drew further on jewelry’s relationship to the body and clothing. This led some jewellers to performance based work and photographic jewelry events where control over aspects of wearing jewelry were fixed in a single image.(3)
 
It was a moment in jewellery history in which British artists and designers - in close social and conceptual collaboration with their Dutch and German opposites - played a pivotal and seminal role in practical, theoretical, curatorial and documentational developments.

There was a revolution in the jewellery field – as can be similarly observed in other crafts media at the time – due to a myriad of agreeable circumstances, among which can be identified: the loosening of some of the tight knots of modernist dictates (especially with regard to ornament and decoration), the re-establishment of post-war European cultural enterprises, the rise and impact of American cultural influences, the unforeseen revival of crafts which had commenced in the latter 50s but concurred with and caught the zeitgeist of, the 60s, a re-interpretation of craft practice via feminist thinking about fine art hierarchies and hegemonies in the 70s, interest in the more flamboyant body (and domestic interior) adornment and decoration, the return of the object as exasperation with dematerialised artworks and conceptual/idea art manifesting itself, the seeming democratisation of cultural goods, the impact of media in the promotion, reception and mediation of objects into the culture (at a time when artists actually still appeared to have some degree of control over such promotion), and finally the development of new art histories which could begin to account to other, less traditional ‘fine art’ categorised objects. Let it be remembered though, that a curious sort of cultural amnesia still seems to descend whenever informed crafts objects appear in the larger culture and when art commentators are confronted with these difficult-to-pigeonhole objects.

It is worth noting as a broader background to this present account that profound anxieties arose (and still arise) among crafts practitioners around the very concept and appellation ‘crafts’. Issues of visual culture status, proper placement in the fine art/design continuum, feelings of second class artistic citizenry and an acute awareness of the lack of theoretical frameworks or critical discourses to properly account for the field are keenly felt.

It is also necessary in this introduction to acknowledge one of the problematics of history accounting. Dating visual culture – or indeed almost any historical circumstance – is like carbon-dating: a very close approximation to age and period may be discerned but an exact moment of chronological tagging is rarely possible. No one, so far as I know, awoke one morning in 1975 and declared, ‘Let’s have a "New Jewellery" movement! You paint the sets and I’ll make the costumes!’ So, the placing of this unit into a specific time frame is a carbon-dating of the activity and is not to be taken as some precise pinpointing of historical identification. Bearing this in mind then, for the purposes of this New Jewellery, carbon-dating the period 1975-1987 has been chosen with particular emphasis on what could be dubbed ‘High New Jewelleryism’ from 1977 – 1985.

If it is true, as the critic John Perrault has commented in regard to cultural placement, that "taxonomy is destiny"(4) , then certain artists/makers/designers/craftsmen-women(5) who were active in the field of what might be called alternative contemporary jewellery at the time have (with repeated designation in craft journals, periodicals, lectures, books, exhibitions, general parlance etc.) come to be collectively known as contributors to a somewhat arbitrary movement now generally accepted in the field as ‘The New Jewellery’. This designation and taxonomy derived from the 1985 book, The New Jewelry : trends + traditions(6) authored jointly by Ralph Turner and the late Peter Dormer who surveyed this New Jewellery movement at its peak. So the tag, ‘The New Jewellery' was adopted somewhat after the fact (of the work itself) but importantly identified a recognisable idiom and the book documented and presented the major practitioners involved at the time. This was a major movement in visual culture, whose reception and promotion was very importantly linked with the dissemination of documentational materials in the form of catalogues, posters and images.

Another key text to make note of, which is essential in understanding the period immediately preceding – and building up to – this ‘New Jewellery’ is Contemporary Jewelry : a critical assessment 1945 – 1975(7) written by the aforementioned Ralph Turner , who as co-founder (with Barbara Cartlidge) of the famed Electrum Gallery in London, went on to become an influential and provocative Head of Exhibitions at the Crafts Council. It was from this domain that most British promotion of the New Jewellery took place.

The impact of the visual representation of these works – their presented image - and the rise of more contextual, analytical and searching commentaries in the form of catalogue essays and exhibition reviews which no longer relied on the old standards of crafts commentary (dimensions, materials, techniques, attractiveness, form etc.) to explain this new jewellery, were absolutely essential ingredients for its heightened profile. It was a movement which has sometimes been criticised for producing not ‘wearables’ but ‘photographables’. In the hands of such an able photographer as David Ward - who by virtue of having been married to the new jeweller Susanna Heron had a very close relationship to the thinking and presentation possibilities of this work – ‘The New Jewellery’ had its main British visual documentist. And with Ralph Turner and the late Peter Dormer it also had its textual and curatorial documentists. They formed an unoffical promotional triumvirate soon adding in a fellow sympathiser and enthusiast located in Amsterdam who was all of these things in one – including being an active jewellery artist: Paul Derrez.

There can be no doubting that the great impact that this work had in the international arena was not solely effected by the actual work - which got seen by perhaps hundreds - but by the catalogues and images which got seen by thousands. This also includes the bodily movement of the practitioners themselves who were frequently invited speakers to art colleges, conferences, and arts organisations. With carousels of slides in tow, these intrepid propagandists travelled the four corners of the world spreading the news about this challenging, engaging and provocative work. With funding available from the likes of the British Council and the Crafts Council, the artists and the archivists travelled to countless countries and made important connections which resulted in cross-fertilisations, debates, arguments, exchange exhibitions and a close international network of like-minded souls. Collectors emerged and galleries sprang up – often run by the artists themselves. It was a heady and exciting time as all who were present will attest.

Finally, if nothing else, this module hopes to show the extreme presumptuousness and undue haste with which the jewellery historian, Joan Evans wrote in her A History of Jewels (1953):
 
It is not easy to see the future for the art of jewellery; it may even be considered that as an art it has not a future.(8)
 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Though this text and any errors therein are the sole responsibility of the author, it could not have taken the somewhat personal and anecdotal form that it has without giving credit to some of the many practitioners, writers and curators with whom the author has enjoyed conversations, differences of opinion, and generous hospitality over the years. I would like to single out the following in particular for their accumulated contributions and various expertises in the field:

Ann Barros, whose own practice and authorship have made significant contributions to the field of metalsmithing, for her unfailing enthusiasm and interest in this and any other project that I have ever undertaken.
Onno Boekhoudt for his support and for his vast knowledge of the subject, as well as his unique artisitc contribution to it.
Sigurd Bronger for his considerable knowledge of contemporary jewellery and his own inimitable art work.
Barbara Cartlidge for offering me my first London jewellery exhibition and for being a walking/talking encyclopaedia of jewellery history.
Janice Clive, for always being able to answer queries in a direct, honest and knowledgeable manner.
Paul Derrez for his excellence in practice, history, and promotion of advanced jewellery.
The late Peter Dormer who over several enjoyable and lengthy meetings over the years encouraged my authorial efforts.
Suzann Greenaway a close and long-standing friend as well as foremost crafts gallery owner and thus curator, for her encyclopaedic knowledge and forthright opinions.
Karen, Catherine, Sirpa, Barbara, Sheridan, Anna and all those who I worked with on the project for their sensitivity, understanding and patience during an extremely difficult time for me.
Otto Kunzli for the pleasure of his company over many years giving access to a sharp, informed mind.
Dr. Paddy Maguire, for his support during the writing of this module.
Chris Mees for his generous permission to access use of his irreplaceable Design and Applied Arts Index – a must for any researchers in the field.
Marianne Schlwinski and Jurgen Eichoff, for their hospitality and knowledge of jewellery.
Jill Seddon, for sharing her knowledge and her friendship
Dr. Lou Taylor, for getting me involved with ‘Designing Britain’ in the first place and for her continuing personal and professional support.
Ralph Turner without whose dedication and commitment there would probably have been no ‘New Jewellery’ as we know it.

Finally thanks to the Pierre Degen , Ros Perry, the Crafts Council, Galerie Ra, Electrum, Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, and all the other publishers and individuals for granting permission for their copyright materials to be reproduced.
 
Top