Art Jewellery – a constant adventure into the unknown

Jewellery takes so many forms as do the people creating the pieces of jewellery. There are numerous options for us to choose from and adorn ourselves with. Throughout history all races of people have worn jewellery for so many reasons, the symbolism of jewellery is a subject all of its own. We will certainly cover this area in future posts but for now, we will continue to explore an area of jewellery known as “Art Jewellery”.

Sea Creature with fascinator curtesy Photographer Bernie O’Brien for Tiger Finch Jewellery

An interpretation of art jewellery is wearing a piece of jewellery that is perceived as individual, a limited number or one off piece, is artistic and possibly not for everyday wear. Moreover, the design is free, unrestricted, the creative freedom offered to the maker is extreme and immersive. In a sense it allows the maker to step back from any constraints and really reveal their inner most artistic process. The results can really push the boundaries of what we perceive as jewellery and what we may consider as art.

Art jewellery really is a crossover point between form, use, design, practicality and artistry. It is making a piece of work that is a different interpretation of usability. It ceases to acknowledge practicality as a constraint and delves further into the beauty of imagination without limits.


A beautiful example of a famous Art Jeweller

Born in Aÿ-en-Champagne, France, the celebrated artist René-Jules Lalique (1860-1945) is considered the indisputable master of jewellery design in the Art Nouveau style. Fascinated by three central themes, floral, fauna and the female form, his whimsical, lyrical compositions in an array of materials; gold, semi-precious stones, enamel and glass are the perfect encapsulation of the late 19th century pre-Art Deco era. His workmanship still continues to amaze and delight. This is true artistry, he made the impossible happen and his work was always outstanding and beautiful.

Lalique’s training as a jeweller was three-fold. Initially, he served as an apprentice to a Parisian jeweller and craftsman Louis Aucoc whilst simultaneously studying at Paris’s Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. It was shortly afterwards in 1878, he made the decision to move and study in London for two years at ‘Sydenham School of Art’ Crystal Palace. It was during this time the burgeoning Arts and Crafts movement would have a huge influence on the young artist and shape the future of what was to come.

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Opal, amethyst and gold necklace designed for Lalique’s second wife, Alice Ledru. 1897-1899

By 1881 Lalique was accomplished enough to begin his career as a freelance designer working for amongst others Boucheron and Cartier. Later he would become a rival to both of these iconic ‘Maisons’ or House of design. It was during this time that the highly decorative ‘Garland Style’ proved most popular for the Paris elite. Large corsages, brooches, stomachers (decorative triangular panel often part of a ladies corset) and tiaras fashioned to mimic floral bouquets or sprays of foliage were en vogue.

Lalique embraced this to a degree but also incorporated a fairytale, mythical artistry and figurative narrative to his jewels. He even eschewed the favoured use of large diamonds for stones such as tourmaline, chrysoberyl, cornelian, opal and bloodstone, mixed with coral, ivory, enamel and glass. This was certainly breaking the rules but he was following his own journey without the need for constraint or following the masses. He chose to be innovative and champion other gems in such an amazing way never seen before.

Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Melissinde ‘La Princesse Lointaine’ or faraway princess by Edmond Rostand, Theatre De La Renaissance 1895. Photo courtesy of APIC/ Getty Images.

Art Jewellery facilitates creativity and a mix of new ideas

Art jewellery is also one of the names given to jewellery created by studio craftspeople as opposed to goldsmiths or silversmiths. As the name suggests, art jewellery emphasises free creative expression and design and is characterised by the use of a variety of materials, sometimes unexpected or of mixed value. In this sense, it forms a counterbalance to the use of “precious materials” (such as gold, silver and gemstones) in conventional or fine jewellery, where the value of the object is tied to the value of the materials from which it is made.

Tiger Finch Jewellery creates a balance between the artistic value and the precious value of the material. Utilising fine opals in unique sterling silver designs encompassing reclaimed coral or lava beads with fine opals and gold. Redefining the rule book. Art jewellery is also related to studio craft in other media such as glass, wood, plastics and clay; it shares beliefs and values, education and training, circumstances of production, and networks of distribution and publicity with the wider field of studio craft. Art jewellery also has links to fine art and design.

While the history of art jewellery usually begins with modernist jewellery in the United States in the 1940s, followed by the artistic experiments of German goldsmiths in the 1950s, a number of the values and beliefs that over time have influenced art jewellery are still found in the arts and crafts movement of the late nineteenth century.

Many regions, such as North America, Europe, Australasia and parts of Asia have a flourishing art jewellery scene. Other places such as South America and Africa have been developing the infrastructure of teaching institutions, dealer galleries, writers, collectors and museums that sustain the art jewellery movement and its roots within history gone by.