My immediate interest in jewellery was established when I created a workbook on jewellery as part of my GCSE Art and Design course. Since then, my interest in this field has developed further, which is why I have chosen to base my dissertation on this particular theme.
However, considering that the general term 'jewellery' can be defined as, 'ornaments containing precious stones worn for personal adornment', I have decided that to base my dissertation simply on 'jewellery' would be covering too wide a scope. Therefore, instead, I have chosen to focus mainly on designer jewellery, which in my opinion, is one of the most original, and compelling kinds of jewellery in existence today.
In my dissertation I plan to examine the work of a selected number of leading contemporary designer jewellers, as well as explore a range of contemporary jewellery exhibitions, presently being held in prestigious galleries within the UK.
Before launching into designer jewellery I have decided first of all to examine briefly the history of jewellery, because indeed many of today's contemporary jewellery designs depict inspirations from the past.
The history of jewellery covers over several thousand years of civilisation, and begins with that of the ancient World. It was during this period, that techniques such as granulation and modelling of tools were first practised by groups such as the Etruscans and the Hellenistic Court Jewellers, who also mastered the art of modelling human figures. Materials used within this period were predominantly gold, as well as the frequent use of enamels of various colours, particularly green and blue among the Hellenistic jewellers.
A trip the Victoria and Albert museum, London, in June 1999 gave me the opportunity of viewing some examples of Ancient World jewellery, including jewels belonging to both the Cypriot and Hellenistic period. Unfortunately, the photographs that I took did not develop very well because of the glassy reflections produced by the protective glass casing surrounding the jewellery displays. Nevertheless, I was quite satisfied with the fact that I had been given the chance of personally viewing the ancient jewellery, as this allowed me to observe, and appreciate more fully all the distinctive elements of ancient jewellery that I had previously learned about through my own personal study of the history of jewellery.
I also found that a lot of exhibitions in the Victoria and Albert museum displayed jewellery belonging to the Middle Ages, the period which follows that of the Ancient World. It wasn't until this particular movement (800-1500) that precious stones were fully introduced into jewellery production. The most popular of jewels included the ruby, sapphire, emerald, and diamond, and individually they each expressed the ideals of Christianity. Furthermore, later in the period, designs influenced by Gothic architectural styles were said to express a spirit of elegance and grace rather than stateliness and richness.
After the Middle Ages, the Renaissance period was formed. It too made predominant use of jewels, primarily due to the fact that at the time jewels were seen as an essential part of the Royal image. It was also during this period that the gemstone was fully introduced, and designs were mainly derived from classical art, which joined the medieval themes of religion and sentiment.
The eighteenth century that followed was often described as the 'Golden Age' of sentimental jewellery. The jewellery of this period was distinctly elegant, much more so than that of the Victorian period (1837-1914) when the whole mood of jewellery changed dramatically. During this period, jewellery was no longer seen simply as 'an elegant addition to a costume', but instead as a romantic statement. Mass production of jewellery was used intensely in this period. This is maybe why the Arts and Crafts movement, formed later in the century, is considered as one which looked back rather than ahead for its inspiration and guided principles, simply because it opposed this idea of mass production, and instead preferred the more 'romantic, though not rigid, return to earlier, purer aesthetics and techniques'. It's inspirations came from jewellery designs of the Middle Ages, and figural and floral motifs were quite popular. In general, jewellery of this period was very dull, especially in comparison to that of the Art Nouveau movement when jewellery designs became much more dramatic and flamboyant. During this Art Nouveau period (1875-1919) jewellers experimented with a variety of both precious and non-precious materials, creating jewellery of a much larger scale than that of the earlier centuries. Unfortunately though, despite the fact that jewellery of this period was aesthetically pleasing, with most jewellery designs derived from either nature or the human figure, it was too impractical. Consequently, it eventually disappeared before the outbreak of the First World War.