Throughout time, jewellery has been used as a form of currency, as well as a marker of personal status, and a symbol of social or religious affiliation. Gradually, the art of jewellery making developed into a fine craft distinguished primarily by its use of rare stones and precious metals. While this definition continues to apply to a large segment of the art form today, there is also a branch of studio-based creation, referred to as contemporary jewellery, which derives its value not from the worth of its materials, but from its exploration of new ideas, personal narratives and social commentary.
Over the last 20 years, innovative technologies have had a growing influence in contemporary jewellery, as has the incorporation of non-traditional materials, such as plastic, ceramic, steel, wood, textile and found objects. Often conceptual in nature, and sometimes humorous or even provocative, contemporary jewellery creation has become a mode of aesthetic expression, much like painting or sculpture, and is increasingly blurring the lines between art, craft and design. The Guyomarc’h Blackburn collection contains an impressive array of works by leading international figures in the field and reflects the themes and preoccupations that have come to define the medium. The following is a glimpse at four stunning pieces from the collection.
Donald Friedlich, brooch from the series Lumina (2019)
Made from borosilicate and dichroic glass, this brooch exemplifies the contemporary fascination with the interactive and optical qualities of jewellery. It strongly evokes both the colour field paintings of Mark Rothko and the light sculptures of Dan Flavin and James Turrell. In his work, Friedlich focuses on the way that jewellery looks in motion, when being worn. This striking brooch shifts dramatically in colour, depending on the angle of the viewer and the movements of the wearer. From one viewpoint, it resembles a neon tube lit from within, saturated with colour and light, while from another perspective, the colours appear pale and diaphanous. Few jewellery artists have explored the ever-changing optical qualities of glass in such depth.
Märta Mattsson, Diego brooch (2018)
A critique of the notion of preciousness in traditional jewellery has led many contemporary jewellery makers to broaden the variety of materials they use in their practices. This brooch by Swedish artist Märta Mattsson is made from a scarab beetle, preserved through the process of electroforming before being coated in resin and adorned with artificial flowers. Inspired by the magical hybrid creatures of European folklore, Diego explores ideas of decay and rebirth, as well as attraction and repulsion. In their strange familiarity, Mattsson’s creatures recall a specimen one might have found on the shelves of an 18th century Wunderkammer.
Carina Shoshtary, Nepenthes brooch (2021)
Originally trained as a traditional goldsmith, German-Iranian jewellery artist Carina Shoshtary describes herself as a modern hunter-gatherer, since many of her works incorporate found or recycled materials. Her Nepenthes brooch is made from corn and rice starch-based bioplastics, a material that allows her to create complex, naturalistic forms. In addition to using newly developed materials, Shoshtary employs cutting-edge technologies in her creative process, including a 3D pen to create the spontaneous and flowing lines of her organic, Art-Nouveau-inspired pieces.
Aurélie Guillaume, We All End Up at the Bottom of the Sea brooch (2018)
Contemporary studio jewellery makers often use their art to communicate narratives of personal history, identity and culture. The work of Montreal-based Aurélie Guillaume draws from the long history of enamelling and its deeply rooted connection to the art of storytelling. In this brooch, created using the technique of cloisonné, the whimsical characters depicted are in reality based on the artist’s own experiences and emotions, while also functioning as entry points into a dreamlike, fantasy world. Guillaume explains: “[My] illustrations use hyperbole to exaggerate the whimsical, grotesque and even macabre nature of the world around me. I believe in finding humour in tragedy, just as I think we can find beauty in ugliness.”1 Inspired by street art, comics, Pop Art and counterculture, Guillaume’s intricately enamelled pieces unite personal experience and popular culture with a traditionally conservative form of art.
Amassed over the course of the past decade, the Guyomarc’h Blackburn collection invites us on a fascinating journey through the history of 21st century studio jewellery creation. These remarkable pieces are as ambitious in their desire to negotiate a world in flux as they are modest in size. Together, they offer stunning examples of the complex and wide-ranging narratives told in contemporary jewellery, and demonstrate the incredible scope of possibilities within the medium. At its core, this sweeping collection is unified by the originality and daring of its pieces, and their explicit desire to challenge traditional academic art historical categories.