The value society places on jewellery is an interesting one. There is, quite literally, the monetary value we place on jewellery. Then there is the sentimental and emotional value. Proceeding value, however, is the fashion of jewellery and the impact it has on how people view the wearer. As an example, diamonds, once upon a time, connoted wealth and grace. Nowadays, they are more likely to be connected with over-the-top gaudiness and vulgarity.
To highlight this shifting relationship with jewellery is the story of how Tom Binns, jewellery designer, retired his successful business. While he slaved away, making homemade pieces for an affluent clientele, he witnessed the shadow the fashion and art world cast over jewellery. Jewellery is seen as, literally, an accessory to fashion, downgraded to paler versions of art.
Binns, having read the press coverage of Michelle Obama’s meeting with the queen, was frustrated by the focus on her dress and not once on the jewellery piece he had made for the occasion. “My piece of jewellery is more important than this dress,” he says. “It was the queen standing there with all her crown jewels and Michelle Obama with this necklace that was literally tied together.”
Binns’ frustration over the art and fashion world belittling jewellery was triggered by competition and his increasing lack of interest in the industry. He points out that, “Artists should be rebellious, but, alas, rebellion isn’t what it used to be.” The view that jewellery is all about rebellion is a very modern idea, where people use it as statements of change and not of conformity, as it has been used in the past.
From prehistoric times to now, jewellery has been universally used as a way to adorn the body. Supporting this adornment is the desire to reflect one’s position in society and politics, as well as for religious protection. With each era, there are different, unspoken rules about what to wear and how to wear it.
There are always rules. Fashion is about making it clear that you know them. Nailing this season’s look – be it the right trainers, modern brow arch or correct number of buttons done up on your shirt – says to the world: I know what’s up. You walk into a room and, before you even speak, your message is clear. ‘Modern life? I’ve got this.’
Binns is correct in highlighting the current lack of rebellion around jewellery. However, it is merely a current trend and, as with all trends, jewellery will soon swing into another light and function.
New technologies and non-precious materials, including plastics, paper and textiles, have overturned the notions of status traditionally implicit in jewellery. Avant-garde artist-jewellers have explored the interaction of jewellery with the body, pushing the boundaries of scale and wearability to the limits. Jewellery has developed into wearable art. The debate on its relationship to Fine Art continues.
– V & A