- Carolin Denter
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Klimt02 is in conversation with gallerists and experts in the field of contemporary jewellery. This series of interviews is an attempt to make the enigmatic art market in our field more understandable and to underline once again the importance of transparent communication. The series started with the article Between Commerce and Art.
Rosy Greenlees has been Executive Director of the Crafts Council since 2006: a national organisation harnessing the power of craft to transform lives, inspire innovation and drive individual fulfilment. Her early career was as a curator in regional galleries and on major public art projects before taking up senior cultural management roles.
Rosy, you have been Executive Director of the Crafts Council since 2006: a national organisation harnessing the power of craft to transform lives, inspire innovation and drive individual fulfilment. Can you explain to us a bit more about your work and tell us if you have a specific vision in mind while working on the communication of Crafts?
The Crafts Council is the national charity for the craft sector. Our vision is that craft skills and knowledge enrich and uplift us as individuals and in doing so will change our world for the better. We see our mission is to inspire making, empower learning and nurture craft businesses at a time when the public’s interest in making has never been more popular.
If this was six months ago I would have written something rather different to now. Society has faced unprecedented challenges this year but craft has shown its value from the many volunteers making scrubs and face masks for our health service through to the rise in craft making at home during lockdown. At the same time craft businesses have suffered a drastic loss of income and need our support.
We think craft is a cause for good. We want to promote craft for social as well as economic value. So, we are passionate about giving children and young people the opportunity to make as well finding ways of developing and nurturing professional makers. We have a new public space for craft opening later this year and our fiftieth anniversary in 2021 so this is an really exciting but challenging time for the Crafts Council.
- For contemporary jewellery I think its strengths are in its imagination and ability to transform sometimes very unusual or inexpensive materials into incredible visually stunning and intellectually interesting works.
You have not only been Director of the Crafts Council, but as well you worked as curator in galleries and on major public art projects, you have founded London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise (TCCE). Comparing the different fields of art you have been working in, where do you see the strength and where the dead ends of contemporary jewellery?
Jewellery is such a broad church. It ranges from the very conceptual pieces that contemporary jewellers make through to inexpensive small batch production; and from conventional high value traditional jewellery through to fashion brands. Materials and products range from the very expensive through to modest prices that are accessible to anyone. For contemporary jewellery I think its strengths are in its imagination and ability to transform sometimes very unusual or inexpensive materials into incredible visually stunning and intellectually interesting works. It enables wearers to assert their identity in a very individual way and sometimes requires a level of bravery to wear what might be very unusual items. I do love conceptual pieces that challenge the idea of what jewellery is but these are objects best shown in a gallery than sold on the high street and, indeed for that reason, are very difficult to earn a living from. For me the weakness is that contemporary jewellery is quite niche and that limits the market.
Do you think that art lovers are more open to the concept of contemporary jewellery? Where are the difficulties?
Yes, they probably are in that art lovers often like to assert their individuality and express themselves through the things that surround them and their homes.
What would you say, who is the main target for contemporary jewellery sales?
We know from the Market for Craft research report which the Crafts Council published this year that there are different types of consumers. Of the seven profiles identified in the report the Proto Collector Group are buyers (aged 55-64) who are interested in all types of craft, independent minded and discerning in their taste. Quality and exclusivity are very important to them. They will buy directly from a maker and are probably art lovers too.
However, such serious buyers are only getting older and jewellers need to target a younger demographic. The Early Mainstream Group of buyer are aged 16-34 and jewellery is a very popular product with them; albeit at a much lower price level. This is where we should be focused especially given their concerns for ethical issues and provenance. They want to know where something has been sourced and made. Contemporary jewellery often uses low value materials and low-tech processes, objects can be upcycled or recycled. All attributes that would appeal to a younger audience.
- There is great potential for jewellery to sell in online retail; and younger consumers are not necessarily put off by not being able to touch or see a piece at first hand.
The Crafts Council covers all craft disciplines and our support programmes are available to jewellers. For example, Collect, our international fair for modern craft and design showcases galleries from all over the world and we specifically look for jewellery galleries to exhibit. The Goldsmiths Company based in the UK and Galerie Marzee from Holland have both been regulars. We also support jewellers through our professional development programmes for makers. We mentor and train makers at the early stages of their career and have supported many jewellers over the years.
The Market for Craft report identifies two key drivers for the future:
The first is the huge increase in online retail. There is great potential for jewellery to sell in this way; and younger consumers are not necessarily put off by not being able to touch or see a piece at first hand. Social media is a fantastic vehicle for selling unique hand-made objects because it provides a visual platform to tell the story of the piece and the maker. People love to follow and learn about makers and digital technology has been hugely influential for the sector.
Secondly, we are living in a world where the experiential is becoming increasingly important as an entry point into buying craft. Consumers want to experience craft and making first hand through workshops and social events. Jewellery is such a personal thing and these two drivers offer great potential for contemporary jewellers to expand their reach and market.
We are conducting an interview about the "market" for contemporary jewellery. Perhaps this term is not appropriate at all, as the market is either highly problematic or does not really exist. Could you evaluate for us the jewellery market as you have experienced it over the past decade, and describe your experience?
It has been a very volatile period over the last decade. When I joined the Crafts Council 14 years ago there were a slew of jewellery galleries showing excellent high-quality contemporary jewellery, for example Electrum and Lesley Craze. Sadly, many of these have closed with their owners and clientele retiring. This reflects, I think ironically, the broadening of the craft market and a huge increase in popularity of craft more generally. Similarly, workshops such as Clerkenwell Studios which housed a fantastic number of jewellers in central London has gone. The result of gentrification and rising property prices.
The Market for Craft report shows how craft in all its disciplines has become mainstream and the result has been, as mentioned above, brands producing work which is cheaper but still appeals to buyers who want to express their individuality.
Jewellery fairs and open studios are for me a great way of experiencing contemporary jewellery first hand. And we know in the Market for Craft report that people want to talk and buy directly from makers. So, the digital and physical go hand in hand. I love to visit Goldsmiths Fair which, this year, is on a digital platform and visiting Schmuck and Talente was a great treat and incredible experience. Open studios in London, for example, Cockpit Arts who have a great number of really good jewellers is also my way of keeping up with trends and replenishing my own modest collection.
- There is an opening for contemporary jewellery which doesn’t respect the conventions of conventional jewellery being made from high value materials.
Let’s turn to the details of how the contemporary jewellery market is constructed. What distinguishes it from other, more regular markets – especially concerning valuation?
The market for jewellery is changing. At one time most families might have a small number of jewellery items made with high value materials and which were kept perhaps for investment but often for sentimental value handed down from generation to generation. Jewellery had traditionally been associated with luxury -with high value and rarity. But fashions have been changing. Cheaper lines are more popular because people have wanted to change what they wear more regularly to complement their outfit. However, more recently, the ethical implications of jewellery have become contentious. The Market for Craft report notes the increasing interest consumers have in the provenance and source of materials and their desire to recycle and not waste. Jewellers need to promote their sustainability credentials and think about where they buy from, the source of their materials but also how they might make from other more sustainable materials. There is an opening for contemporary jewellery which doesn’t respect the conventions of conventional jewellery being made from high value materials. Interesting contemporary jewellery is exciting because it can be made of anything.
Thinking about contemporary jewellery, do you think it is necessary to “educate” the audience, customers, collectors (…) and so on?
Yes, the best way to encourage sales is to educate. The Market for Craft Report notes that there is a middle market of new consumers and we need to help them engage more deeply in craft, developing their knowledge of making and building confidence in what they buy. It’s about educating potential buyers to understand the value and skill in the work of jewellers. If you do that people then begin to appreciate the price and see it is justified.
- The challenge for contemporary jewellery is that it is a niche market and the jewellers don’t necessarily have the wide appeal and profile that an artist or designer – a popular new trend - who makes some jewellery has.
Contemporary jewellery, except for a few auctions held worldwide, is rarely available for resale or to the secondhand market. Why do you think this is the case, and how do you see the stability of the value in contemporary jewellery pieces?
Unfortunately, the investment value in jewellery still resides either in the materials i.e. precious jewels and metals and their rarity; or in the name of the jewellery designer. The challenge for contemporary jewellery is that it is a niche market and the jewellers don’t necessarily have the wide appeal and profile that an artist or designer – a popular new trend - who makes some jewellery has. It is also a relatively young sector – most contemporary jewellery has only been made in the last 50 years and value is often found in age. Contemporary ceramics was in a similar position for many years. More recently auction houses have seen a growing trend and interest in the likes of Hans Coper and Lucie Rie and indeed more contemporary ceramists resulting in increasing prices. So maybe jewellery will have its moment too. Indeed, Phillips Auction House which is promoting ceramics and design features an item on Shaun Leane so interest in more recent challenging work is evident.
Artists, gallerists or collectors: Not many talks about sales, prices, customers, success or failure. What do you think is the main reason for this secretiveness, as in the art market it is considered as prestigious for a gallery to share their sales with the world.
The contemporary jewellery sector is a full of passionate makers, buyers, educators, curators and gallerists. Going to Schmuck and Talente you see an amazing community of people who are committed and curious about contemporary jewellery. But it is a small market compared with the contemporary art market and there is a smaller pool of buyers and potential commissioners. So I guess people are perhaps more protective of their clientele and businesses. However, the art market is now more about money than a love of art so it is inevitable that sales are so loudly acclaimed. In contemporary jewellery and in the wider contemporary craft world personal passion and enthusiasm still predominate which gives it more authenticity.
/ Rosy Greenlees, Crafts Council. 29.09.2020
About the IntervieweeRosy Greenlees, OBE, has been Executive Director of the Crafts Council since 2006: a national organisation harnessing the power of craft to transform lives, inspire innovation and drive individual fulfilment. The Crafts Council brings high quality craft to an annual audience of over 4 million through its exhibitions, national Craft Collection and events; has supported thousands of makers through its talent development programmes; and leads a national campaign for craft education and participation.
Rosy spent her early career as a curator in regional galleries and on major public art projects before taking up senior cultural management roles. As Cultural Strategy Manager, she was responsible for the Mayor of London’s first culture strategy; and was founder Director of the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise, now known as The Culture Capital Exchange (TCCE), promoting links between higher education and cultural organisations.
Rosy is currently President of the World Crafts Council and a member of the UK government’s Creative Industries Council and a Board member of Creative and Cultural Skills. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Manufacturing; is an Honorary Fellow of Arts University Bournemouth and City and Guilds of London Art School; and was awarded an OBE in the 2017 New Year’s Honours.
About the author
Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. 2015 she made an Internship at Klimt02 in Barcelona. In 2017 she graduated as Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at the University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she worked as Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement till the end of 2019.
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