Even so, the field remains a special, hidden niche tucked somewhere within the folds of design and art. It’s also an exception to all the mainstream rules in regards to luxury, accessory, fashion, and even jewellery itself. The niche-ness of contemporary jewellery makes it all the more interesting, yet difficult to get your hands on (or rather, on your hands!), and even more difficult for involved artists/designers/jewellers (whatever you’d like to be called!) to make a living.
But with every niche comes a niche audience – otherwise the thing would not exist – and this old saying still holds true: if you build it, they will come.
Amsterdam is where this said niche thrives, and SIERAAD International Jewellery Art Fair has contributed to the city becoming one of the top contemporary jewellery destinations in the world. Founded in 2001, it was originally described by co-founder Astrid Berens as an initiative with ‘the idea of making jewellery, in all its aspects, better known and more accessible.’ In its 16th edition, this objective remains very much the same. The founders are Berens and partner Maarten Bodt, companions in life that share the same contemporary and historical interest in the jewel. They have aimed to create a space where jewellery in all its iterations, expressions and forms gets its own, tailored spotlight.
The location? Westerpark’s 2500 meters squared circular Gashouder building, built in 1902. This year is the 10th edition that SIERAAD can be found here, coming a long way from the original location: an indoor tennis court in Enschede. The growth of the event is a testament to its success, from the mere 20 stands of year one, to last year’s 97 stands. In 2017, 160 designers from over 40 countries are expected to show.
The selection process of the exhibitors ensures a certain quality to the included work. Designers are required to submit 12 to 14 high-resolution photos of their jewellery, a CV and an artist statement. Berens says that it’s important to them to include many different participants that work with diverse techniques and materials. Over the years she’s discovered that a balance between inexpensive and very expensive work needs to be struck so that all kinds of visitors have the opportunity to buy what they like. When asked about how the applicants are chosen, Berens said, ‘Sometimes we think: okay, we’ll give this person the benefit of the doubt. The work is maybe not up to par but he or she needs a chance to grow. Often when we actually see the pieces, we are amazed and happy because they are so much better then we thought.’
Thus the jewellery you’ll find at SIERAAD – some more commercial and some more experimental – runs the gamut of more traditional and technical to quite the opposite, and is best represented by the makers themselves directly. This cultivated environment ‘contributes to their (exhibitors’) independent entrepreneurship,’ states Berens; ‘…it’s not just consumers, but also curators of museums and collectors that find their way to SIERAAD Art Fair.’ Additionally, many visitors use SIERAAD as a wholesale opportunity to stock up on eccentric jewels for their individual businesses.
To shed light on SIERAAD 2017, we’ve spoken to a handful of this year’s individual participants whose diverse work sparked our curiosity. Each of them will agree that all trade fairs are different, yet SIERAAD brings something more to the table, and better caters to the particularities of their jewellery.
RB Design’s Raluca Buzura (Romania) exhibited for the first time in 2016. She says she’s back again due to an overall positive experience, which includes the smooth application procedure, the solid communication and organization, the lighting, the size of the stands, the security, and the calibre of the other participants. Also impressive last year was the audience:
I was very surprised to discover an educated public that has a lot of appetite and love for jewellery… It’s a type of wearer that is putting on a statement piece on a Tuesday morning when it’s pouring rain outside while taking the kids to school on the bicycle. This is what I find incredible about the public I’ve met in Amsterdam, that they don’t look for a special occasion to wear a statement piece, but they create a special context by wearing it.
Buzura’s jewellery is a quintessential example of the standard and creativity one will find at the fair. According to the designer, her practice of working with porcelain to create fluid forms is a translation of her personal experiences, which she then eliminates the hints of as she creates. She calls these pieces Wearable Art Installations. Her work is jewellery as a metaphor, swirling with textural adventures and flashes of gold.
The consistent growth of SIERAAD means that every year a new batch of first-timers appear. German designer Julia Baudler is one of them. In the past, she’s exhibited in Vienna, Munich and Bucharest, but never before in Amsterdam, Her cheery, colourful jewellery precisely matches her enthusiasm to be included. Playfully working within standard jewellery tropes, her baubles toy with the balance between perception, value and illusion. Her necklaces, pins and sometimes mismatched earrings of gemstones, silver, glass, silicon and resin are simply fun to look at and to wear. Like other designers, Baudler hopes to take advantage of the fair’s reputation of having an open-minded and similarly colourful audience.
Another designer at SIERAAD for the very first time is South Korean born and London based Yeena Yoon, who brings refined, architecturally sound jewellery pieces in precious materials to the table. Her background is in fact based in architecture; before committing full time to jewellery she worked for Zaha Hadid’s firm, no less. Yoon describes her work as Contemporary Fine Jewellery, and has come to Amsterdam to launch her new collection, the Covet Series. ‘Interested in the concept of versatile interactive design that explores the relationship between the wearer and the jewellery,’ Yoon says, her pieces double and even triple in use. Necklaces become rings and/or earrings, collectable in their nature and delightfully puzzle-like in their use. When not being worn they become sculptures ‘that only the owner knows the hidden treasures within.’
Cécile Gilbert will also be debuting her geometric, Art Deco-esque jewellery at SIERAAD for the first time. She’s been following the event for years and feels as though her work will match the fair’s aesthetic, which she describes as daring and unique. ‘Using a non-traditional material, polyester resin, I create striking, modernist pieces in an eye-catching colour palette. Shapes are minimalist and sculptural, cast in abstract patterns and vibrant colours.’ The pieces, seemingly contemporary remixes of Bakelite goodies from the 1920’s, are rather inexpensive and appeal to both younger and more sophisticated jewellery wearers alike.
The use of uninhibited colour seems to be a trend at SIERAAD; another noteworthy designer includes Japanese born and German based Beru Inou, whose youthful, frothy looking jewels made of porcelain and glass make us think of summertime treats for the body. Her statement: ‘The cherry blossoms are pink, the sky is blue, the forest is green, the sun is yellow… Colour is feeling and emotion. The temperature of my heart.’ And if sugary sweet jewels aren’t your pleasure, there is no doubt edgier work to be found throughout the fair as well. With pieces entitled GangBang made of phallic shaped, blackened silver chain and black diamonds, or Boobies, with rose quartz and actual lava, Denise Ebert’s (Germany) creations might be of a different flavour worth seeking out.
For the more traditional jewellery lovers out there, don’t worry: jewellers like MOYA’s Eline van der Laag will also be present. Clever assemblages of gold wrapped around pearls create kinetic surprises in her elegantly simple contemporary classics. It must be a winning combination too, as this year will be the 10th time van der Laag shows at SIERAAD. When asked about how the fair has changed since her first showing, she said:
I had more silver in my collection and nowadays it is only 18 carat gold. My clients grow along with me: from an earring to engagement ring, to wedding rings, to birth gold… And it is nice to see I have some fans that will come to my stand every year and ask me what is new. Jewellery is an emotional luxury.
We think she’s right about that. And so must the various contemporary jewellery departments from international art academies that come to SIERAAD each year to showcase their students’ work. Since the beginning, jewellery schools have flocked to Amsterdam to promote their programs at the fair by giving exposure to their student’s jewellery via inventive group exhibitions.
Independent jewellery designer Sam Hamilton (Ireland, based in London) was once, actually twice, one of these students; the first during her time on Erasmus at the Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts in 2009, and the second, as student and curator for Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School’s (Florence, Italy) 2013 SIERAAD student exhibition, Crop 13. When asked about the appeal to participate in SIERAAD in this capacity, she replied:
I don’t know any other country where this would fly. It wouldn’t work here in England for example because some of the material choices of the jewellery. I also think it’s good because it gives students their first glimpse of doing a fair, and a first try at promoting their jewelry in a more commercial environment, if indeed they would like to go down that path after art school.
But while they are still within the experimental comforts of the academy, SIERAAD is a great testing ground for school and student alike. This year, two schools will have the floor: the Hochschule Düsseldorf, or Applied Art and Design Düsseldorf, under Professors Herman Hermsen and Jantje Fleischut,; and Idar-Oberstein, the German academy best known for their stone and gemstone cutting legacy, under professor Theo Smeets.
The latter’s claim to fame is their role in the contemporary renaissance of the use gemstones in jewellery after the 1970’s, ‘due to its rediscovery as a material that can be creatively shaped by artists.’ This was said by Wilhelm Lindemann in the nsaio6 – New Jewellery from Idar-Obserstein catalog, the original exhibition from which Idar’s presentation at SIERAAD is an excerpt. ROCK STARS. Jewellery from Idar-Oberstein focuses specifically on the application of gemstones in contemporary jewellery by its bachelor and master students, made over the last fifteen years. In this show you’ll find many marvels: a knuckle-duster carved out of solid agate (Lina Goltsius); mushroom shaped pendants hand-cut from real pearls (Sabine Wehr); industrially elegant compositions of emeralds or lapis with plastic and steel (Matthias Dyer); and dazzling experimental faceted smoky quarts and rock crystal (Azhar Ali Malik), just to name a few.
And that’s not all. Many other presentations from collateral jewellery-related shows and events happening around the Netherlands can be found throughout the Gashouder as well. You’ll just have to go and find out what there is to discover as you wade through this incredible sea of jewellery from all over the world. Van der Laag sums it up the very best: ‘whether you know a lot or know nothing about jewellery and you visit this fair, your world will grow a bit bigger… You will see things you never have imagined that could exist, and you will think differently about jewellery from then on.’
OBSESSED! Jewellery in the Netherlands is a festival that unites the best events focussing on jewellery – exhibitions, symposia, fairs, book presentations and open studios – into one intriguing programme, put together by Current Obsession.
OBSESSED! runs throughout the whole month of November’17, in various cities across the Netherlands, accompanied by a special free edition of Current Obsession Paper and an interactive webpage.
Cover image: Kanavice Brooch by Snem Yildiri
The independent artists mentioned in this article were selected from a short list chosen originally by Astrid Berens.
SIERAAD ART FAIR
1014 DD Amsterdam
Tickets: adults € 15,00 p.p. or € 12,50 for 65+ (you have to show your 65+ card at the entrance of the fair) € 20,00 for 2 days.
Hours: Thursday Nov 9 – 14:00-21:00/ Friday Nov 10 – 11:00-18:00 / Saturday Nov 11 – 11:00 18:00 / Sunday Nov 12 – 11:00 18:00