Karl Fritsch_Screw Ring 2010

Contemporary Jewellery at the Design Museum

Unexpected Pleasures is a new exhibition on contemporary jewellery at the Design Museum London, celebrating the art of the unconventional.

Delicate and sophisticated designs, precious gemstones set in an elegant setting of silver or gold, a form of adornment - these are the accepted forms of jewellery today.

The contemporary jewellery movement was born in the 1970s to highlight the notion that jewellery is as much about our emotional attachments and response to jewellery, as well as about its financial value. Many of the exhibition's 200 pieces chosen from around the world will certainly make you smile, be surprising or perhaps just elicit a yawn.


Whatever your reaction, exhibits such as the Scampi Bracelet by David Bielander above or the Yellow Kelly pendant necklace by Felieke van der Leest below show that contemporary jewellery can successfully challenge our views of what can defines and makes jewellery.

felieke van der leest - yellow kelly - 2008

Curated by jeweller Susan Cohn, there are three main themes to the exhibition examining how we experience wearing jewellery, the meaning and narratives that are expressed in the jewellery that we wear and a perspective on the origins of present day jewellery trends.

Karl Fritsch_Screw Ring 2010

The contemporary jewellery presented is discreet, pretty and poetic at times, whilst being loud, wild and completely unwearable at others. True to the unconventionality of the jewellery, the materials chosen are also rarely valuable as is the case with this ring of rusty nails and screws by Karl Fritsch above or the necklace of vibrantly colourful Paper Pearls by Dutch artist Mano van Kouswijk.

Amongst the jewellery pieces displayed was this woven fine nylon Veil (1983) by British artist, and Course Director of BA Jewellery at Central St Martins, Caroline Broadhead. Reminiscent of a screen, the flexible Veil explores the space of the wearer and the ability of the wearer to look through it.

Caroline Broadhead, veil - 1983

The exhibition does push the traditional jewellery lover into a nearly uncomfortable place. Are these designs valuable pieces of jewellery or just art? Perhaps the unexpected pleasure of this exhibition is not just the surprising exhibits, but the questions it raises too.

Unexpected Pleasures: The Art and Design of Contemporary Jewellery at the Design Museum, London is open until until the 3rd of March 2013.

Image Credits:

Caroline Broadhead - Veil, 1983. Photography by David Ward. With thanks to Design Museum London.

Marilyn Monroe

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