The created Jewel

Article  /  Debates   CriticalThinking
Published: 26.01.2006
The created Jewel.
Ramon Puig Cuyàs

In opposition to that collar made of teeth and bones that defined the identity of the Neanderthal man, contemporary man has a web page and a door into the cyberspace. lf, as Yvette Taborin says, adornment magnifies the body, today ¡t is not adornment but technology and computers that magnify our body and our identity, until dissolution.
The immense ability to invent and create symbols is the main feature that distinguishes humans from the rest of species that share this world with us. Jewellery has been one of the first demonstrations of this ability of the human being to create symbols. Because he is an essentially social being, man has always needed to create symbolic codes, both verbal and visual, to communicate and express himself with the others. Through the symbolic value of the jewel or corporal "adornment", man created some cultural systems to convey visual information about the bearer that helped him to define his identity: affiliation or belonging to a group, condition, status and social position. But we often forget that as well as playing an important role in social communication, the jewel was also a symbolic code that allowed man to represent himself and communicate with the invisible and transcendental world. lt was a way of defining his spiritual identity that helped him to understand, penetrate and control the forces of his magic universe where poetical, mystical and scientific thoughts jumbled, ¡.e. intuition, faith and reason.

In opposition to that collar made of teeth and bones that defined the identity of the Neanderthal man, contemporary man has a web page and a door into the cyberspace. lf, as Yvette Taborin says, adornment magnifies the body, today ¡t is not adornment but technology and computers that magnify our body and our identity, until dissolution.

Fashion and industrial production have democratised jewellery but they have also removed its symbolic values and have trivialised ¡t. Nowadays jewellery shares the remains of its old social role with a series of objects full of symbolism for our society, cars, mobile telephones or Internet. Contemporary man can perfectly live without adornments or jewels and, what is more, he looks for discretion, soberness and functionality in dressing, but if he is not connected to a computer he doesn't have identity. What is the role and the meaning of jewellery in a civilisation opened to the 21 st century that bases its values on money and technology?Some people started looking for an answer to this question during the sixties and the seventies. Encouraged by the social and economic changes that were taking place and full of hope with the possibility of building and transforming the society in a better world, they faced a process of jewel redefinition with a renovated spirit. In this renovation, art and design schools played a very determining role. Schools managed to offer a working and experimentation environment which was much more open and more adaptable to changes and to new influences than professional workshops and factories, which were paralysed by a formal and conceptual conservatism that is tradicional among the jewellery world.

As jean-Françoise Pirson says in her book "La structure et I'objet", there are two types of objects. "The manufactures object, either from speculative or applied art, that seeks to draw man's attention away from the action of the suffocating forces that divide body and mind, pleasure and work, survival function or comfort and living function. And the created object, elther from speculative or applied art, that acts against these suffocating forces introducing or experimenting a new way of thinking or living. lt is a loneliness act stimulated by other forces: powerful forces that produce in some beings the experience of recognising themselves through the object created by them." A way to reaffirm identity.

This renovation process lead the jeweller to look for this created object, the created jewel. Jewellery separated from its tradicional relationship with precious metals to incorporase new materials and ¡t became mainly a jeweller's way of personal expression. It became a way to materialise his own mythical world and to give his personal view of the world around him which a possible bearer could be identified with. jewellery stops being an applied art to become a speculative art.
Nevertheless the British critic Peter Dormer in his book "The New jewellery" and in his text for the Barcelona "Contemporary European jewellery" exhibition catalogue questioned this possibility mainly because the jewel is conditioned to its portability and especially to its small size. "One of the limits that keeps jewellery in an essentially decorativa function is its literal lack of physical space in which to create gesture, posture and develop metaphor." Convinced that jewellery is a serviceable art, he recommended jewellers not to pretend to disconcert people with their works, because the role of jewellery was to delight, to please the public with decorativa, elegant and ingenious jewels that could satisfy people's wishes and tastes. He also added that jewellery had to be applied to the design of consumption objects, portable functional adornments like watches, binoculars, radios and even computers, and that ¡t couldn't neglect commercialisation.These ideas are very related to the dominant thinking of the eighties and nineties and they seem to be much nearer to the idea of the manufactures object rather than to the created object. The argument of the small size is obviously easily refutable, we just need to take a general look around us to find a lot of small objects full of significance and bearers of big metaphors, real works of art like the famous Alexander Calder's circus, a D, rrer engraving or a small Iberian bronze. Conceming the thought that the function of the jewel, ¡.e. being worn and seen on a body, is a limitation, ¡t is the opposite, or at least a simple feature that makes ¡t different from the other artistic means that have other functions. In any case, what the contemporary jewel claims, the created jewel, isn't being useful to the bearer or user, but a complicity between this user and the creator.

What will define what a jewel is or isn't will be the will, the intention of its creator, the level of responsibility and personal engagement with the work created by him. But this engagement or responsibility can only be reached if there is a conscious will, or at least the consciousness of being creating it.

1 believe that the role of the jewel has to be to create or reinforce identities, not a superficial or formal identity, but a deep identity that links what we are with memory. And if the jewel is a created jewel it can be used not only to magnify our physical body, but, as all creations want to project our being to the future, it can be used to make visible what is invisible, make real what is virtual. Jewellery, beyond luxury and fashion triviality, goes into the land of the universal problems of art. Although maintaining the body as a reference, ¡t blurs the limits of íts performance framework, so as to face the challenge of adapting the symbolic and spiritual values that have characterised It since its origins to a society based more on the scientific knowledge than on the myth. But science and art are not so different, they share some aspects, as Paul Valtry said, "Science and art are almost the same on the observation and meditation phase, they differ in expression, they approach in arrangement and they divide in results."
Scientists pretend to represent the world with the least ambiguity and mistake from the rational thinking, artists also pretend to represent the world, but they deliberately exploit the ambiguity of intuition. lf in the remote origins of jewellery, the amulet and the talisman wanted to connect man with nature and the transcendent universe through the forces of magic, today jewellery pretends to do it through a new humanism that should integrase art and science values. A jewellery that must help to experiment new ways of thinking and living both to the creator and to the bearer. This should be the function that really conditioned the creation of the contemporary jewel.

© Ramon Puig Cuyás, 2000


From the catalog exhibition “Balanced”, jewellery exhibition Barcelona Antwerpen
October, 2000