When architecture and jewellery meet

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Charles Jencks on designing a charity line for Hamilton & Inches.

Postmodernist hero Charles Jencks has teamed up with hamilton & inches to try his hand at jewellery design for the first time to raise funds for charity Maggie’s. He tells Rachael Taylor why jewellery design is a great vacation for him and reveals plans for a whole cosmic-themed spin off.

Looking down on The Garden of Cosmic Speculation from an ariel view, you can almost see potential ready-made jewellery designs staring back at you.

The carefully constructed stairways, curving pathways, stark sculptures and strategically placed lakes of this garden within the grounds of Portrack House in Dumfries, Scotland, would provide rich inspiration for any jewellery designer, so it is perhaps of no surprise that its designer Charles Jencks has decided to turn his creative hand to jewellery design. And, it’s for a good cause.

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In the jewellery industry most charity projects tend to involve impoverished mining communities in the third world, but this project, for which Jencks has teamed up with retailer Hamilton & Inches, is benefitting people very much closer to home.

The legendary landscape architect, and author and critic of postmodernism, has designed a pendant that will sell though Hamilton & Inches shops in Edinburgh and London to raise funds for Maggie’s, a charity that provides cancer caring centres in the UK.

The charity is close to Jenck’s heart as he founded it in the mid-1990s with his late wife Maggie Keswick Jencks, who died of cancer the year before the first centre opened. Maggie herself was also a landscape designer, as well as a writer, painter and mother of two. Design was very important to the pair, so much so that each Maggie’s centre and surrounding gardens is designed to be a visually stunning architectural project in its own right. As well as a shared passion for design, the pair have a belief that fighting cancer is much better done in inspiring surrounds.

While Jencks has designed many gardens in his time and is famed for his books on postmodernism, but he has never extended his design skills to jewellery, until now.

Design projects for Jencks are normally a long, drawn-out process, as the sculpting of landscapes to fit his vision and terrifyingly high standards, is a complicated process. So when it comes to designing jewellery, Jencks says it is “like a great vacation where you can express things simply”.

While he has enjoyed his holiday from landscape architecture, he has not left it behind altogether. The silver pendant with malachite central stone that he has designed for Hamilton & Inches is inspired The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. Jencks says that transferring his design skills to jewellery is simple enough. “The thing about jewellery is it’s very like furniture or a pavilion or a chair: fairly small but like a mathematical puzzle,” he says. “It’s a wonderful exercise of thought.”

Jencks says it is a natural progression for architects to excel in the creation of jewellery and gives the example of his friend Frank Gehry, an architect who designs collections for Tiffany & Co.

A key theme to Jencks’ work is the cosmos, and he says that the pendant is also inspired by what he terms the galactic roundabout. “It’s when two galaxies get close and they strip each other of matter and so the two galaxies have a central black hole holding a whole galaxy,” he explains. “The lines of the force become the design.”

While Jencks has found the design process relatively simple in comparison to landscape he says that there has been lessons to learn about jewellery making, particularly with materials – Jencks had originally wanted to use hammered silver but found this was unsuitable. “There are some techniques that you think are simple that are very difficult and expensive,” he muses. “There is a learning curve and that’s why you must work closely with experts.”

Jencks has enjoyed the project so much that he says he is hoping to spin out his collaboration with Hamilton & Inches into a “series of cosmic jewels”.

No extension has been confirmed but Jencks says that he would design the collection under his own name and would continue to use it as a way to raise funds for Maggie’s, so this could be the beginning of a beautiful partnership, in more ways than one.

This article was taken from the March 2011 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. See the whole edition by clicking here.

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