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Individualism and the heritage of Craftsmanship. Conclusion

3 min read

The recent revival of craftsmanship has created a demand for bespoke designs that are influenced by antique forms and the heritage of craftsmanship. These pieces can combine new approaches with old languages and therefore communicate at different levels by carrying diverse narratives.


In order for this to happen a new spirit needs to be defined. This connects the traditional craftsmanship to the present time and a new place. But this spirit can also be influenced by the cultural heritage from the place where it comes from. This heritage helps to give it a transformed identity and new individualism.


The symbolism that Spanish jewellery had as seen in La Alberca jewellery, was directly connected to the beliefs and emotion of the maker and the wearer. In the contemporary context, where individuality plays in important role, this type of symbolism can be adapted to personal iconography, fantasies and anxieties. By doing so, jewellery is created by accumulation of fragments; as a large structure made out of small pieces of emotions.


Filigree technique can function as a pencil that draws a line which communicates. This gives it endless possibilities. By combining it with other materials, like pearls, different meanings start layering a composed story: Spanish delicacy and the feeling of decadence of the pearls.  The new narrative is influenced by the viewer’s personal experience and cultural heritage. And the result of the two is a combination of Individualisms, a new placein the contemporary context.


More and more, society is becoming aware of the risks of an irresponsible production and consumption of material goods. This change is generating new and interesting approaches to the design process, enabling new narratives and personal experiences in an ethical approach to consumption.


In the case of Jewellery design there has been a big ambiguity on the ethical choices. It is becoming the responsibility of the designer to understand the complexity of the situation to inform not only the material and processes, but also the design choices.


The material and processes choice should always be based on developing partnerships with suppliers based on good working conditions, fair trade relations and a long-term mutual commitment. Therefore aiming to generate a positive change.


The design choice has had two approaches towards the issues of ethicality: to show or not to show the ethical choice; but definitely future developments will bring new paths in between which combine these two. But in all these cases, ethics becomes an added value to jewellery.


To show; called the Activist, who will generate change by making visual references about the gravity of the problems, or provoking change through ethically related iconography (e.g. recycling).


Not to show; and the commercial option, because being commercial does not necessarily mean being un-ethical. This option will anyway become some kind of activist as well. First by creating a polarisation in the market: ethical/non-ethical. And second, by reaching more consumers (marketing capacity) and making them aware of the issues.  The conversation about ethics becomes private. “Sophisticated fashion essentials that are incidentally environmental”[1].


There will be other coming strategies, probably based on new mining possibilities and the new narratives that this could generate. Like the Gold Phytomining, based on plants which accumulate gold. This might breed a new narrative where adornment, plants and precious metals interconnect.


The combination of traditional Spanish craftsmanship using responsible processes fills up the necessity to explore both territories, in order to find a way forward to re-use cultural heritage respecting human and environmental capital. But would it be relevant to apply the same tandem “traditional craftsmanship-sustainable and ethical production” in different contexts? For example in countries with a big amount of natural resources and cultural heritage, and if it is, which direction should the design process take?


[1] Hamnett,K. <http://www.katharinehamnett.com/> Accessed 30 May 2007


This is an excerpt from Arabel Lebrusan's MA paper "Individualism and the heritage of Craftsmanship. Questioning Spanish sensibility and sustainable processes in the contemporary jewellery practice". Central Saint Martins. 2007.

If you have enjoyed reading this text, you can download the full paper HERE


arabel lebrusan
arabel lebrusan

Arabel Lebrusan is an artist, designer and pioneer of the ethical jewellery movement, with almost two decades of industry experience behind her. She is a fount of knowledge when it comes to responsible sourcing, sustainable manufacture, and the preservation of traditional craft. Her engaging blog posts range from personal accounts of once-in-a-lifetime sourcing trips to helpful tips for buying and wearing jewellery and opinion pieces on pressing industry matters.