What is it that renders contemporary jewellery precious?

19.10.2012 – 22.03.2015

Two remarkable jewellery collections are in safekeeping at the mudac: the mudac’s and the Swiss Confederation’s, for which the mudac makes regular acquisitions. Strong of almost 200 pieces, these collections reflect the developments marking a realm eternally in effervescence. The mudac dedicates a first exhibition to these collection, under the heading of What is it that renders contemporary jewellery precious?

The traditional definition of a jewel is that of a finely worked small object rendered precious by the material itself or the work entailed, and serving as an ornamental accessory. When contemporary jewellers use traditional metals to create ornamental accessories, they defy convention by scratching or brushing the gold, or by blackening the silver, ageing it or depriving it of its gloss. The resulting patina in both cases is a far cry from the brilliant finish generally associated with Western jewellery.

When, however, they resort to base materials, it is their manner of transcending these that renders the pieces precious. They will, for instance, turn plastic wrap into a pearl, a bank note into a cameo. Our consumer society’s daily scraps are brought back to life as jewellery pieces in all their splendour. Moreover, the ingenuity of some of these jewellery designers has led them to come up with new attachment systems, to reinvent clips for jewellery pieces that integrate them into the body or garment to which they belong in ever more elaborate fashion. And yet, above and beyond all these considerations, what all these creations have in common is the painstaking workmanship that they entail. Every one of them bears witness to the intelligence of the hands that shaped them.

Contemporary jewellery

Already in the ‘60s, contemporary jewellery freed itself from what by then was deemed a devitalized tradition, and from industrial production subservient to market laws. Instead, jewellery creators claimed an artistic status born of a wide aesthetic spectrum: from purist minimalism to unbridled fantasy, from abstraction to figuration. Many from their ranks aimed beyond the purely decorative, concerning themselves instead with the social, cultural and relational ramifications of jewellery.

By the ‘80s, contemporary jewellery turned openly anti-establishment. Exploring its limits, resorting at times to performances and installations, it drew closer to contemporary art. Over the last twenty years, however, contemporary jewellery has evolved from manifesto-like stands alone towards, as well, personal claims on behalf of the individual—as much for the jewellery de- signers as for whoever acquires it.

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