This week, we’re thrilled to debut a new monthly column that focuses on a category of the jewelry design world that’s undeniably deserving of more attention—contemporary jewelry. With jewelry sales still thriving and the industry attracting more visual artists than ever, the category has leapt to the forefront of jewelry design in recent years, fueled by a growing desire from consumers to invest in unique and one-off jewelry styles. With this column we hope to introduce you to some of contemporary jewelry’s most innovative and talented artists working today!
What defines “contemporary jewelry” in 2023? We’ll leave that question to the column’s author, JB Jones, to unpack. And she’s more than qualified to parse it—Jones is the co-founder of New York City Jewelry Week, along with Bella Neyman, another brilliant jewelry curator and author, which has become the literal and spiritual epicenter of jewelry design in New York City and beyond. Jones is also the co-host of jewelry industry podcast Rough Cut with photographer Alain Simic. And more informally, she’s a jewelry world connector of the highest order. We’re thrilled to count her as a TZR contributor and we look forward to her monthly dispatches with relish! —Emili Vesilind, Editor-in-Chief, The Zing Report
Sparkle is synonymous with the New Year—so, let’s talk about sparkly things! Not your fine jewelry sparkle, but rather a contemporary jewelry interpretation on sparkle. But first thing’s first: What is contemporary jewelry?
Contemporary jewelry’s aim is to express an idea or concept, tell a story or share a feeling in jewelry form, regardless of the materials it’s fabricated from. It can be (and often is) political, personal, or comments on culture or society. Contemporary jewelry is sometimes made from non-traditional materials, but it’s safe to state that its commercial value or marketability usually takes a backseat to its artistic value.
At times, it is not wearable due to size, scale, material, or even an intentional lack of function. That last point is a contentious one, with many arguing, “how can it be jewelry if it’s not wearable?” Let me know if you want me to delve into that in a later column! But for now, let’s get back to sparkle, and the idea of using non-traditional materials. Specifically, let’s talk glass, perhaps not a traditional way to deliver sparkle in jewelry, but as you will see below, a highly effective one.
Here’s a closer look at three contemporary jewelers—Sita Syamini, Agustina Ros and Biba Schutz—who use glass in dynamic ways:
Sita Syamini is a recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design who’s now living in New York City. In 2020, while still in school, Sita began experimenting with mining her own stones and encasing them—along with metals—inside glass forms.
The result was a literal explosion. The gems are transformed, unrecognizable from their original form, and unquestionably fascinating. The glass casings capture light, enhancing what’s still a gemstone core. For me, Sita’s work begs the question, “Does the value of the gemstones change now that they are destroyed inside the glass?” I’ll leave that one with you!
Argentinian born Agustina Ros describes herself as being “motivated by curiosity.” A master of many skills—glassblowing and flamework to name two—Ros utilizes her technical knowledge alongside her innate curiosity to test the boundaries of what’s possible in the medium.
Take her “Blown Tetris” series where she sets, in a complicated tetris-like manner, tiny cold-worked faceted glass components inside of blown-glass jewelry structures. The sparkle-factor here is off the charts, the facets of the “tetris pieces” bounce light in every direction within its voluminous glass home, and that home in return reflects every bit of the light around it across its surface.
Biba Schutz often references shadows in her work, a fascination born from the urban landscape of her native New York City. Glass is just one of the many materials she uses, but nothing captures the shadow-play concept as spectacularly as the glass itself. The volume of her jewels’ glass components, set in metal as if sprouting from it, seem to capture and twist the light.
It’s as if the glass is undulating and shifting its form as you move, all the while radiating light from within. Schutz has had a long and illustrious career in the field of contemporary jewelry and it’s no wonder why—her work is intriguing but also organically elegant. — JB Jones