To describe jewellery and jewellery design both as an item and a phenomenon today, one has to consider a vast spectrum. There’s the unique craftsmanship contrasted with commercial mass production. A practice that’s being challenged by the contemporary discussions on resources and materials. And there’s an aesthetic range from classical beauty to the unpolished, provocative, and aged.
This is all well-understood at Design School Kolding, where there’s a significant interest in jewellery design amongst the students of the Accessory Design programme. This course aims to educate students to design accessories and ‘wearables’ that aren’t garments, like shoes, bags, and jewellery. It’s a discipline where salaried roles are found in the commercial sector, whereas the more artistically driven designers, those motivated by the conceptual and by craftsmanship, often have to carve their own path in the profession as independents.
Thus, both Liv Johanne Eskholm, the programme head and lecturer in Accessory Design, and her colleague, Anne Mette Fosgrau, who oversees the Fine Craft workshop and also teaches in Accessory Design, are keenly focused on preparing the students to navigate this multifaceted landscape, ensuring they can find their place in the future world of jewellery. To secure that position, students need to delve into aesthetics, design, craftsmanship, and materials.
A New Aesthetic
“In the past, jewellery was very much centered around tradition. It was a symbol of status, expressed through classic beauty ideals where there was a consensus on what was considered beautiful. But that beauty ideal is not the sole standard today,” explains Anne Mette Fosgrau.
“Today, students are keen to explore the ‘ugly’ – or perhaps more accurately, the beauty in the mundane, the tarnished, the fallible, and the used. For instance, they might choose to challenge the norms by drawing inspiration from a shattered concrete tile, taking a fragment from it, and then translating that chaos into something refined,” she elaborates on the students’ design language.
Sustainable Resources on the Agenda
The jewellery designers of the future must also make incisive choices when it comes to meeting the uncompromising demands of a more sustainable practice, where material selection is also about ethics and resource-awareness.
“Many are keen to work with new materials or upcycle materials and incorporate the inherent references that come with them. It could be horn from the meat industry, bioplastics, or slag from fibreglass production, which are then combined with precious metals to elevate them a bit,” shares Liv Johanne Eskholm. At the school, students can immerse themselves in material exploration – sometimes almost 24/7 because they have access to the workshops around the clock.”
“The material experiment provides students with a creative approach to upcycling, allowing them within the aesthetic framework to challenge the status quo. For example, one of our students mixed grinding dust from pearls and gemstones with a ceramic material, thereby creating a new, aesthetic material,” she says.
Future jewellery designers must each decide if they’re leaning towards a career as a craft-based jewellery artist and designer of unique pieces, smaller collections, and custom tasks – or if their path leads to the more commercial production of jewellery for global markets, where design increasingly occurs digitally, and where the actual production is outsourced.
“We don’t have specific wishes for our students regarding which path they should choose. Through their education, they acquire fundamental skills that allow them to operate in both realms – but they also have the freedom to define their own speciality and choose their own direction. Therefore, process and concept understanding are crucial skills we place great emphasis on, just as they continually work on designing prototypes and developing production drawings throughout their studies. However, they should also be able to interpret the jewellery in their own way, so they have a footing as designers. And while some will choose to work conceptually and artistically, others commercially in the industry, some manage to operate within both niches,” states Liv Johanne Eskholm.
Mentors and Meeting Places are the Way Forward
Regarding specialisation towards the jewellery artist profession, the education at Design School Kolding cannot tackle the task on its own. Therefore, these two professionals also value the – existing, albeit limited – opportunities outside the school when it comes to professional development.
“The Goldsmiths’ Guild runs a mentorship programme, where several professionally strong forces are available for the newly graduated jewellery artists to reflect upon and find their own path in the industry,” Anne Mette says. Moreover, she points to the State Art Fund as a significant support, where one can apply for grants allowing for periods of uninterrupted focus on the craft.
She also wishes for a museum – or another physical setting that could serve as a professional meeting place – for Danish jewellery art, on her wishlist of things that could pave the way for more jewellery artists in the future.
“We could really use a permanent exhibition space for jewellery, where the young can reflect upon existing craftsmanship and contribute with their own work. It could simultaneously be a gathering place for networking within the profession, and a venue facilitating meetings and collaborations across the board. We believe that both today’s established and tomorrow’s new jewellery designers can learn a lot from interacting with each other,” states Liv Johanne Eskholm.
Upcoming jewellery designers at Design School Kolding take a few foundational courses across disciplines, spanning the bachelor’s degree, but primarily have subjects dedicated to Accessory Design. Here, they’re equipped with essential technical skills in the metal and leather workshops, and subsequently, students shift their focus towards their chosen product area, such as jewellery design. They can also gain professional feedback in their product area within the school’s workshops.
The number of students focusing on jewellery varies from year to year, but in the latest cohort, eight out of ten in the Accessory Design course have chosen the path of jewellery design.
Some applicants to the programme possess basic skills because they have attended, for instance, preparatory folk high schools or courses. These individuals often have a head start compared to applicants who, despite having craftsmanship and design lessons in primary school or sixth form college, are more versed in problem-solving than in aesthetic practice.
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