Head juror explains the ins and outs of judging the ITS contest

Hosted at the northern Italian port of Trieste, International Talent Support (ITS) is a crucible for creativity, offering emerging designers a chance to step into the limelight and launch their careers. Swarovski has supported ITS since 2010, sponsoring the ITS Jewelry Award and the Swarovski Award with cash prizes of €10,000 each.

Ute Schumacher, Head of Trend and Design at Swarovski

The jury unfailingly boasts a world-class line-up of experts and industry insiders, chief among them Ute Schumacher, Head of Trend and Design at Swarovski. Here, she explains how the judges set about the difficult task of picking two winners from an extraordinarily deep pool of jewelry-design talent.

We receive an average of 130–150 entries from all over world. Students are asked to satisfy many criteria: First, of course, is the need to follow the brief! If they come up with a completely different concept that has nothing to do with the brief, it could be amazing work, but unfortunately, we can only assess those that stick to the brief.

From 150 portfolios, 100 are rejected. We go through the remaining portfolios in detail and narrow it down to the final ten portfolios.

It’s important for designers to be able to put across their ideas clearly. Can I, as a stranger, understand it? Is it well thought through? You can have an inspired idea but a very weak finished piece, because what you sketched on paper is technically not feasible, or it might be liable to break.

We also want to see how they interrogate the theme. It’s not just about playing with gender fluidity—where a man wears a little butterfly with a heart and the woman wears a suit, for example. That’s banal. It’s necessary for them to really dive deep, to research and analyze, to ask lots of questions.

Aesthetics are important too. How does the designer mix materials? How have they used new technologies? For the past decade, young designers and experienced design houses have been mixing crystals with other materials: wood, porcelain, rubber, textiles. It gives them a larger field for creative expression.

The finalists have to present their work, but they have only ten minutes. Sometimes it’s difficult for candidates to express themselves, and then we arrange a translator so that it’s fair. There was one Japanese designer who couldn’t speak a word of English. She was very shy, but she was able to present her work with the help of a translator.

The presentation also allows us to see how passionate they are about their work. If we challenge them, can they defend it? We want to see if there’s real emotion behind the design.

The final selection starts with elimination. Every judge will have their personal opinion, but we very quickly arrive at a consensus where we agree that there are five people who are weaker. And then the struggle begins!

Thirty years ago nothing like this existed. There were only competitions run by companies who bought your design—in other words, they paid you a fee and then they put it into production. I think ITS is so important for young designers in this economic climate. It’s very hard to get noticed—they need a platform like ITS where they can meet the press, meet companies, and present themselves to the world. I think it’s really crucial.

Swarovski Crystals Magazine #01 - Everyday Extraordinary

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