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by Darren Arnold / Europe Correspondent
Designers conjure images of the future of jewelry.
When most people imagine the future, they see flying cars, robots, and other marvels of technology. While the turn of the millennium and the post-September 11 world have brought a taste for the antique rather than a yearning for a sleek, mechanized future, the question remains: What will people imagine next? What will the jewelry designers of the coming decades be creating for their clients?
In most fields, designers' ideas for the future are shaped by function. For example, in the automotive industry, designers envision a world of limited resources where small, lightweight cars will be a viable option for people who live in self-contained communities or telecommute to work. Better technology will make alternative forms of fuel, like electricity or methanol, more viable, which will also have an impact on the way cars are built.
Technology likewise plays a role in the future of jewelry design. Take computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM), for example, or non-uniform rational B-splines (NURBS), mathematical representations of three-dimensional geometry that can be used, via a computer graphics program, to model almost any shape. These are just two methods that have already been used to help jewelry designers produce work in detail that would be beyond the best unaided human.
However, as big an influence as technology has, the human imagination may play an even bigger role in the evolution of jewelry design. It certainly shaped the jewelry trends of the 1990s, when a distaste for the conspicuous consumption of the '80s led to a revolution in the market for more personalized designer jewelry.
German-based designer Tom Munsteiner believes that trend will continue. "Everybody is developing more and more individualism, and the ambience [of a piece] is adapted to the person. I think [custom] design will be very much in demand in the future, since the client wants to identify with his or her specific piece of jewelry.
"The client of the present and future no longer wears jewelry to show what she can afford, but rather to make a statement [about] who she is," he continues. "This means jewelry will have to make a stronger contribution to expressing the interior -- the character and soul of a woman. Today, individuality and design are in demand."
Hubert Heldner of the Swiss-based teaching collective Free Form Artists agrees that the individuality of the client plays -- and will play -- an important part in the design process. "Customers who appreciate my designs play a key role in how I will develop [a piece]," he says. "A lot of my designs overextend my financial capacity. All my designs need to find their customer first, [and] only then will they be realized in 3-D. It is not my technical skill, it is [the customer's] imagination that will limit what I create next."
Another trend from the '90s that is predicted to shape the future is the increasingly frantic pace of life. According to consultant Patrick Dixon of Global Change Ltd., that pace will keep accelerating in the coming decades as technology continues to evolve, impacting business and society alike. That breeds a desire for simplicity and soothing images that today is manifesting as a love of pared-down, "Zen" designs and an emphasis on nature.
Although technology now exists to produce increasingly elaborate designs, that doesn't mean that this technology will be used. If the client wants simple, then simple is what will be created -- no matter how complex a NURBS program may be at the designer's disposal.
But while consumers may have definite opinions about what they do and don't like, designers still play an important role in stimulating their imagination. As Heldner puts it, "A customer will not buy what is not proposed to him." So the question becomes, will jewelry designers really push the limits of their -- and their buyers' -- imaginations?
Right now it appears that jewelry is taking on more of a conceptual edge, and will continue to do so. Certainly German-based designer Michael Zobel would say so: "I think jewelry design is already quite conceptual, and its evolution will certainly continue in this direction. . . . Some designers will always strive to show new ways [to design]. I think that jewelry in 10 or 15 years will develop a strong 'consciousness.'"
The use of new materials in jewelry may serve to stimulate that consciousness. Designer Jochen Pohl is of the opinion that "high-tech materials and/or high-end materials . . . or materials that are especially scarce" are what we'll be seeing a lot more of in the future. He feels that designers will gravitate toward materials that require "high expense and/or considerable know-how" in order to produce jewelry items. As low-cost labor and mechanization gradually take over the low end of the market, the only advantages designers have are their skill and their imagination.
Heldner thinks that designers will draw "from their personal experiences," while Pohl says that designers will look to "reflections and reactions, and interpretations of the things that move people" in order to produce original designs.
Globalization, a trend that has sparked social unrest as well as business promise in recent years, will also have its influence.
"Globalization will alter the shape of all large corporations as competitors realign through rapid mergers, acquisitions, disposals, or new partnerships," Dixon asserts. "However, reactions to globalization in its current form need to be understood." He predicts that in reaction to the growth in global structures, people will seek their own identities in the form of groups or brands that they can identify with on a more manageable individual level.
In more practical terms, the growth in telecommunications means that people have better access to faraway cultures. Vitoria Soares of Brazilian dealer Marcelo Gemas believes this will have a positive impact on the jewelry world. "In the following 10 or 20 years, the globalization of the economy will mean that different cultures will become more widely-known," she says. "More [new] original designers will appear by the day, with [overall] designs becoming better and designs coming from distant, unexpected places. . . . Because of globalization, I foresee that not just [countries like] Brazil will make standout jewelry, but new and wonderful designs will come from countries such as Peru, Colombia, Russia, Lithuania, and Poland."
Munsteiner agrees, adding that the "states from the former Eastern Block" will be places to watch in terms of future jewelry design.
No one can know what the future will hold, or what unexpected events might inspire future generations. But the shapers of the future -- as with past generations of designers who molded the look of today's jewelry -- may well be the ones who are true to their own personal vision. As Heldner puts it: "You can't foretell the future . . . unless you create it!"
by Darren Arnold / Europe Correspondent
Above, and set into the "P" - Aquamarine ring by Tom Munsteiner; photo courtesy Tom Munsteiner.