Jewelry, Form, and Fun

Before we go on and talk about form as an element of design, let’s talk about the pleasant, joyful aspects of jewelry form. What makes it fun?

There’s no doubt that jewelry is beautiful to behold, but jewelry is essentially small sculpture. So while it’s meant to be seen from multiple sides, jewelry—its form, surfaces, corners, edges, and texture, whether smooth, rough, nubby, scratchy—is really all about touch. In fact, most people who wear jewelry fiddle with it. Have you seen men and women finger a ring when nervous? Adjust a watch or bracelet? Slide a pendant on a chain? Pull an earring? Of course you have. You’ve done it yourself. (Pandora bracelets are excellent jewelry toys. They have substantial weight, they slide around the wrist, and the beads spin on their cables. You can even take all the beads off, reorganize them, and put them back on the cable. Perfect for fiddling!)

In fact, we need to explore our world by touch. It’s how we’ve learned to negotiate it. Writes Rachel Zuckert, Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Northwestern University, “These cases [of the blind and their use of touch to determine shape, mass, weight, volume]—and evidence from children’s development as well (the child’s need to reach for, grasp objects in order to understand them, their shapes and sizes, their distance or spatial depth more generally)—show… that we do not originally learn or comprehend three-dimensional shape, weight, depth or solidity through sight, but rather through touch. And because sculptures are three-dimensional forms, with mass, volume and solidity…they are directed towards, and appreciated by, the sense of touch.” (“Sculpture and Touch: Herder’s Aesthetics of Sculpture.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 67:3 Summer 2009, 285-299)

While most jewelry makers are aware of jewelry form as it functions—is it too heavy, does it roll, does it hang crookedly—and how it looks, it’s easy to lose track of the fun of jewelry, its sensuousness. Last year, I spent time in Greece, and found a great shop with designer pieces on one of the islands. They were a visual feast. But when I tried some of the pieces on, the edges were sharp, clasps were scratchy, or they lacked the physical weight that often makes jewelry feel “rich.” As a result, they lost my interest.

Always remember that jewelry is touchable, that while they are small bits of sculpture, they will be worn on the body. In addition to their visual beauty, be sure that they are physically—touchably—beautiful as well.


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