Even top jewelry historians (who have surely seen it all) still get excited when they’re faced with something truly new: When Vivienne Becker took her seat on the International Talent Support (ITS) judging panel this year, even she was blown away.
For the past fifteen summers, Trieste in northern Italy has played host to ITS, where the best and brightest young talents from fashion and jewelry design share ideas with industry luminaries and each other. Swarovski has partnered with ITS since 2011, and every year two prestigious jewelry design awards worth € 10.000 each are given to the winners of the ITS JEWELRY Award and the Swarovski Award to help further their careers. What’s more, contestants benefit from having their work scrutinized by a stellar panel of experts. Here, Vivienne shares some fascinating personal insights from her experience of judging the contest in July.
This was my first year as a jury member at ITS. In other competitions that I’ve judged, the process can sometimes get heated—especially if you feel really strongly about one particular candidate. But generally I found that everyone gravitated towards the best pieces.
This year’s gender identity theme was very interesting and relevant. Jewelry is associated with femininity, but until the 16th century it was mostly men—kings, popes, princes and nobility—who decorated themselves. Jewels were status symbols, and I think it’s one of the many wonderful aspects of Swarovski’s influence on fashion jewelry that those boundaries have been broken down completely. Now it’s all about ideas and creative design.
Jewelry has an intimate relationship with the body, therefore as judges, we were especially interested in form. One candidate viewed jewelry as armor, a very masculine adornment; another designer used abstract female and male body parts in her work—one particular necklace allowed men to feel what it was like to have breasts! It was very amusing, and beautifully done.
Transparency was a big theme. We saw a lot of acetate and acrylic, as well as see-through acrylic with further materials inside. In fact, the exploration of different materials was really interesting.
Original ideas and the ability to express them in terms of craftsmanship and use of materials was one of our key criteria. But designers have to also show a sound knowledge of jewelry—they have to understand the rules before they can break them. So on the one hand we were looking for originality, but candidates also had to show that they understood what jewelry is, what it means, and how it should be worn. In the most successful pieces there’s that sense of familiarity that reveals how the designer played with tradition and the history of jewelry.
Jewelry is all about memories. One designer explored the idea of jewelry as a receptacle of memories through the lens of grandmother’s kitchen. She used Formica, a very 1950s material. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, because that was the era of the housewife, and she was questioning the very rigid concepts of femininity at that time. It was a wonderful use of an unexpected material, and the forms were really beautiful. I loved how she translated the Swarovski theme of gender fluidity into a piece that was about femininity—one that talked boldly about being a woman.
It was very stimulating for me to see so many exciting ideas, and it has broadened my view of fashion jewelry.