Q&A: Theo Fennell on jewellery as art

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Fennell on why artistry trumps brands and artists are not jewellers.

Theo Fennell is a master craftsmen and his jewellery is often miniature works of art; so much so that a few years back he held his own exhibition called Show Off! displaying his jewellery within artworks such as paintings and sculptures. He talks to Professional Jeweller about the correlation between art and jewellery.

Do you feel that there is a blurred line between jewellery and art?
I think that really well designed and executed jewellery can become art and I would hope that some of the reliquaries and homages that I am doing that can be worn or displayed in their cases would fulfill most of the criteria of art if only in a tangential way. I think the jewellery trade shot itself in the foot by becoming so brand conscious on the one hand and obsessed with stone sizes and worth on the other, so that the real value of jewellery, its sentiment and originality, its design and craftsmanship, got lost. I really think that this has changed and that people are looking for something less shallow.

What makes a piece of jewellery art and a piece of art jewellery?
Concept and intent. It has to have some resonance and enough thought to change the way its wearer thinks, even a little bit.

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What sort of customers buy art jewellery?
Those who know their own mind and want to own something that goes beyond ordinary jewellery. Who want something that is not just decorative but a statement of their belief that there are no boundaries.

How do you feel about artists such as Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor turning their talents to jewellery – can they ever really understand the true artistry of a jeweller or do they just focus on the aesthetic?
I am depressed by the quality of much of it. I hope I could draw better than some of them make jewellery, or in some cases draw! Having said that, some is interesting and looks nothing like the work for which they are famous, which is a good thing. I don’t think it is enough to take an art concept and just miniaturise it and make it in precious materials; I think the concept needs to be tailored to jewellery from the start. If one blew up a ring to the size of a public statue, say, you would just have a very large ring.

Has bold costume jewellery made art jewels more acceptable in the wider market?
No, it has just allowed people to be braver and explore new options and boundaries.

Does a piece of art jewellery hold more value than a more mainstream piece made with the same precious metals?
Of course, the whole worth is in the concept, artistry and craftsmanship. Those decorative jewellers who came so brilliantly close to genius, rarely used particularly grand or expensive stones. The wonder was in the use of colour and concept and craftsmanship.

In a time where beads and brands are king, has art jewellery fallen out of favour?
Quite the opposite; it is the brands and beads that will fall away. The market is returning to the days where design and craftsmanship are at a premium where people are bored with paying an absurd price for something that they can buy in any airport in the world. People want to be part of what they wear and to feel some real thought and skill has been put into it and that not everyone is wearing one.

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