Precious plastics?

The commonly accepted definition of jewellery is that of personal ornaments, such as necklaces, bracelets or brooches that are typically made from or contain jewels and precious metals. Costume jewellery is usually made with imitation gems and inexpensive materials and is often perceived to be inferior. Nevertheless, it can be equally sought after, with many fashion designers adding a jewellery range to their collections; Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret having paved the way in the 1920s.

The wearing of jewellery can denote wealth, social standing or marital status and historically jewellery was thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits or illness.   A piece can be worn to enhance notions of beauty or to indicate belonging to a group or a collective cause as in simple brooches or badges.

Contemporary jewellery sometimes combines precious materials with comparatively inexpensive ones. Setting silver in acrylic and diamonds in silicone is not uncommon. The hand-made element of many of these pieces challenges traditional concepts of value; the craftsman’s skill adding value, whatever the material.

The intricacies of seemingly impossible 3D printed pieces reflect the beautiful delicate hand carving of bygone eras. This relatively low cost method of production provides the means of creating artefacts at realistic prices thus making them accessible to a wide audience.

The topic of recycling and re-using valued resources is a global concern, and just as jewellery made from precious metals and gemstones can be remodelled, so too can jewellery made from plastics. Objects can be recycled into something new or re-invented to preserve the memories and associations of the original object.

The different characteristics of plastics materials require a range of production methods. Plastics can be cast, hand carved, pressed and moulded, and 3D printed. They can be opaque or translucent and the designer may celebrate the natural appearance of the material or colour it with the addition of dyes and pigments.

The jewellery on display here, from the collections of MoDiP, the Plastics Historical Society and the Worshipful Company of Horners spans five centuries, from the intricately hand carved horn comb dated 1694 to the 21st century acrylic creations and 3D printed pieces. 

So, do you think of plastics as a throw-away, transient commodity or as a material of beauty and value?