Ute Decker is a leading proponent of ethical jewellery renowned for her wearable sculptures in recycled silver and bio-resin. In 2010, within one year of setting up her own studio, she has been voted ‘trendsetter’ and one of ‘Britain’s most inspirational jewellery designers’. Ute Decker is also one of the first jewellers worldwide to create a collection in Fairtrade and Fairmined gold.
Described by the Financial Times as ‘the architectural jeweller’, Ute combines organic, angular and clean minimalist dynamic forms with exquisite surface textures creating striking jewellery art as individual and limited edition pieces imbued with a refined timeless elegance. It was clear to me, that, with the emergence of a ‘new geometry’, I wanted to find out more about what inspires the artist within to create pieces that communicate beyond the context of the wearer. I am delighted to introduce Ute Decker, a fellow ambassador with me for London Jewellery Week.
Juliet: Your background is in political economics; what prompted a move to jewellery?
Ute: The wonderful response to my minimalist wearable sculptures in recycled silver (and now also in bioresin and fairtrade gold) gave me the courage in 2009 to change careers and work full-time as a studio-jeweller.
Juliet: Your pieces communicate with the space they occupy and are more than just body adornments, what is the inspiration behind this dialogue?
Ute: The Greek word for `form` is IDEA. `Forma` in Latin (from which we derive the term `form` in English), translates directly as `Idea` in Greek. For me, creating a form, be it in jewellery or any other medium, is a very personal abstract expression of my ideas and aesthetic sensitivity as well as values. Consequently, it is important to me that the beauty of my pieces is not only on the outside but is an integral part; from the mindful choice of the materials’ provenance through to the careful hand-crafting of each individual piece in my studio. Beauty as a material version of ‘goodness’ can remind us about the qualities to which it alludes, such as love, trust, intelligence, creativity, kindness, justice and courage. By having such works around us, we can be subtly reminded of the constituents of virtue. This is particularly true for jewellery, which we wear directly on our body.
By working ethically as a jeweller I strive to acknowledge this complex relationship between beauty and ethics, between outer beauty and inner beauty.
While I like to create one-off and small-series pieces that would be just as suitable to be displayed on a plinth, it is in the context created by the interaction with the human body that these wearable sculptures invite a broader dialogue. Just as the silence between notes in music is vital, in my minimalist sculptures I strive to create a harmony between the solid form, minimalist lines and the empty space within and around them to magnify the intensity of expression.
I would like each piece of my jewellery to give the wearer sensory pleasure through its external beauty, a sense of contentment and certain shared values through the knowledge of its inner beauty, as well as invite dialogue and encourage communication through the expressivity of its form.
|Pure gold arm piece|
Juliet: Your jewellery has a strong reference to architectural elements, has this always been a fascination?
Ute: Recognising that we are as much sensory as we are cognitive, rational creatures, the relationship of ethics and aesthetics in artefacts, the built environment and the goods we produce has interested me for a long time – you might call it the question of social beauty. For an exhibition during the London Festival of Architecture in 2010 I was inspired to create a series of pieces that were not so much literal re-interpretations of actual buildings but rather major pieces of “jewellery that can be inhabited”, influenced by architectural forms. By showcasing jewellery created in a sustainable manner in the context of the Architecture Festival, my aim was to invite the viewer to consider the environmental and social impact of jewellery; a debate by now mainstream in architecture and urban planning, yet relatively new to jewellery in the public’s perception.
Juliet: Do you think there is a connection between fashion and jewellery?
Ute: Yes, certainly. However, in my own practice as a studio-jeweller I am interested in a timeless aesthetic which I believe will always be in fashion.
Juliet: There is a trend that speaks of a new geometry; how would you describe this aesthetic?
Ute:The harmonious relation between solid minimalist shapes and clean angular lines, whether as an expression of auspicious proportions or for their expressiveness, has been a recurrent theme since the Egyptians build their pyramids according to the golden mean ratio.
Juliet: Your jewellery merges form and function; are we likely to see any gem set jewels from Ute Decker?
Ute: Currently, I am working on new pieces for a group show at the Roger Billcliffe gallery under the theme of black and gold. There will be lots of natural silver oxidizing with the Easter eggs this April.
Sketches for men’s jewellery are waiting to be given form and I will be experimenting more again with silversmithing as well as basketry techniques to incorporate these in my jewellery.
And then there is a collection of Tahitian pearls, ethically sourced rough precious and non-precious stones, wood, yarns, as well as boxes full of organic found objects waiting for the right moment. Once the time is right and the idea will out, the form will follow.
Juliet: You are an advocate for ethical jewellery and campaign for ‘good practice’; what have been your greatest challenges?
Ute: The promotion of a more ethical approach to jewellery has come a long way. We have achieved a significant milestone with the launch of the world’s first certified Fairtrade and Fairmined gold this February and I am very excited to be among the first jewellers to work with this ethically mined gold.
Jewellery departments in many universities now offer courses on ethical jewellery and are building up information resources for their students: the next generation of jewellery makers.
There are still many challenges ahead, in particular when it comes to gemstones: eliminating child labour and other exploitative practices during cutting and polishing, as well as their sourcing – not just from the Congo, Burma and Zimbabwe.
Fairtrade and Fairmined gold are already oversubscribed – clearly there is not only a developmental need for a more equitable and sustainable approach to jewellery, there is also a solid and growing consumer demand.
This is also reflected during London Jewellery Week, where a key feature this summer will be ESSENCE – the Ethical Jewellery Pavilion. Located within Treasure, the cornerstone selling exhibition of LJW, Essence will showcase leading ethical jewellery designers who share the vision that sustainable jewellery does not have to sacrifice design or quality and who are committed to sourcing materials and managing their businesses in a way that is socially, environmentally and culturally responsible.
I look forward to presenting new sculptural work in recycled silver alongside my Pure collection in Fairtrade gold at Essence this June.