Do You Speak Jewellery? (1998)

"Do You Speak Jewellery" is one of the first texts ever printed addressing the theory of contemporary jewellery making. It was presented as a master thesis alternative and it presents Manuel Vilhena's personal ideas on the above. Each page displays a letter of the alphabet. The book was silk screened, hand printed and hand bound and only thirthy books were produced. They were all sold, a few were given away, and, at present, only one original is kept by the author. In 2015, an updated/revised edition was printed - DYSJ 2 - keeping the original structure but changing a few "letters" in accordance with the times. Below, we present the unabridged text as printed in 1998.


Big jay Jewellery is not Art. Art is a disciplined activity that, involves both skill and creative imagination in a communication beyond words context. Art provides the person or people who produce it and the community that observes it with an experience that might be aesthetic, emotional, intellectual, or a combination of these qualities.
To put it differently, in few words and in synchronization with contemporary thought, Art is everything that is allowed to hang in a museum wall, or sit on a museum floor. So, whenever in your mind there is the doubt about something being art or not, just rephrase this sentence as a question. It all becomes clear as milk. Today, art in all its categories is considered an essential part of human achievement. Coming back to Jewellery, you might say - "But I've seen pieces of Jewellery in Museums all around the world". WRONG! what you have seen are art pieces, not Jewellery pieces. You get the difference? - Art, not Jewellery. "jewellery" pieces that sit in museum vitrines loose their Jewelleryness.

Big jay, little jay

Let us create a distinction: there is "jewellery", with a little "j", and it stands for - "A particular kind of language that uses mainly goldsmithing techniques and the manipulation of a vast array of materials, including the so-called precious ones, to create jewels intended to be worn by human beings". It can be used artistically, commercially or otherwise. There is "Jewellery", with a big "J", and it stands for - "Manifestation that occurs when pieces of jewellery are worn by human beings". It is not a language, it is not Art. It does not live inside museum walls. It is an event that takes place for a particular period of time and in specific conditions. It is of the utmost importance that these distinctions be present in your mind as you continue reading this book. It is the basis from which to construct a new structure of thought for jewellery making (if one wants to, of course, there is nothing compulsory about this, only a possibility for novelty). Hence, for the remaining "letters" of this book, please, pay attention to how things are written.


An artist's medium affects the style of the work. As jewellers, we know perfectly well the difference it makes and the quality changes that occur when a material is exchanged for another, even if the form and proportions of an object remain unaltered. So, the artist chooses the materials he thinks appropriate for the purpose of better communicating his ideas or emotions. That is, up to now... Suppose, however, and this is my belief, that this choice of materials is actually a choice of the materials, that is, the materials themselves choose the artist they see fitter to forward their qualities and splendour. Jewels make jewellers. To be aware of this possibility places man in an active and responsible, but not commanding position. There would not be any pointless discussions about the success in the creation of egotistical personal work, but about the fluidity and the transparency one can achieve during a lifetime, as a means of forwarding Creativity or, in similar words, allowing the the Human Spirit to be nurtured by all that surrounds it.


Diamond is the hardest substance known to man. Diamonds exhibit a wide range of transparency and colour. Colour in diamonds is caused by the presence of minor elements. Good quality diamonds of clear, strong, and unusual colour are highly prized and usually set in beautiful jewels. Colourless stones, known as white diamonds, are extremely valuable, while yellow or brown tinged stones are regarded as imperfect. Green and blue diamonds are rarities and red diamonds are the rarest of them all. Three important characteristics of the diamond when used as a gem are its brilliancy, its fire, and (dependent on these and weight) its price. Easy to carry, trade and hide, they provide the lonely traveller with an emergency rescue fund, anywhere in the world in times of need. As for all that is so precious, beware of imitations though. Not all diamonds shine.


The accomplished piece of jewellery is the result of an equilibrium, delicate as the morning dew, of conscious thought and unconscious thought in parts one to ten, respectively, from the part of the maker, and of conscious wearing intention and unconscious wearing intention in parts ten to one, respectively, from the part of the wearer. So, Jewellery becomes a dynamic function as opposed to a static definition.


It is clear by now that the flow of ideas in modern jewellery is arriving at an end. Thirty years of experimentation by hundreds of artists lead inevitably to this. All aspects and forms of reproducing human thoughts and ideas through jewellery have been pursued. From the first experimentalists in the field to the latest conceptual fine thinkers, many have been the ways used to fulfil this media. Moretheless, whatever "new" way of creating work will always be old for it sprouts from a common ground, the ground of making new things. However hard the effort to produce something new, in this sense, is useless and futile, a complete waste of time, for it leads to nothing apart from a different way of producing the same results - jewellery for the sake of personal convictions. This is the ground of most of the "Dinosaurs" of jewellery, namely, the generation of teachers and artists who were able to produce and sustain their work alive over a period of more than thirty years (basically since the start of the new jewellery movement). Their contribution to modern artist jewellery was and is, as we all know, a series of landmarks. However, if that was extremely important at the time it is less so now. What does not evolve, withers and finally dies. The statement of their work will always be present and should be so always, but the evolutionary jump in jewellery is taking place as a natural process, not as a defeating one. Actually, it is taking place as you read these lines, feel proud to participate. Jewellery, thanks to them and, through us, is changing dimension. All Historic events are processed in such way, and only forward in time is Man able to look back and analyse the facts, unemotionally, if possible, and learning, always.

Gold (to go for)

The desire for public recognition bethrows man in an endless game of fame and fortune. It can lead to adaptation and blindness towards one's own creative work. If you think it could act as a stimulus for creation think again, or else, re-concept "creative". Either way, keep on reading. If it is sought after with intention, it's gain is by itself major payment for work done. Being such, incoming money from the same provenance is robbery and dishonest. Let's be fair and get paid for the actual work we produce. "Why not have both, the fame and the money", you ask? Most people do or try to and the result is the catastrophic "melée" of personal and commercial work. If such distinction is then introduced in one's mind, chaos sets in (which is, by the way, what I'm trying to do right now...). If to produce something for money is one thing, to produce something for fame is another and should be paid with what one wants to get. There you are! The fair deal is up to what you want to get, so it is just fair that you get what you deserve. Fame and power. In our case, the intentional quest for Human recognition depletes the essence of creation.


A mark, conspicuous feature or characteristic indicating quality or excellence left upon a manmade object as sign of autonomous individuality from the part of the maker [after "I", individuality]. Each individual possesses at least one, even if not registered in any assay office.


The ways of producing a piece of modern jewellery are many. As many as as many jewellers there are. Some artists develop a technical approach, others, prefer the symbolical path, others the conceptual intellectual approach, others, follow the transformation of two dimensional sketches or drawings into three dimensional pieces of jewellery, some look forward into the future by experimenting with newly developed materials or techniques. Most combine some of these or other features in the creation of their finished work. All of them are valid if they fulfill the scope they're used for. Making Jewellery. Common to all is the existence of the idea that whatever we produce is a result of our individual ways. Wrong. We, as artist jewellers have whatsoever no conscious control over what we do. The sooner we accept this, the sooner something really new can happen. In this manner, we can overpass any compromise, being it technical or ideological. Individuality is and will always be present in whatever we do independent of our conscious will to express it or not. You see? there is no need to strive for individuality, actually, there is no way to run away from it. Let free to express itself without constrictions, in a softcore way, jewellery pieces will exude a delicate breeze of individuality.


Jewels are not always pieces of jewellery. Here are the most common definitions:
1. A precious stone; gem.
2. A costly ornament of precious metal or gems.
3. Little pieces of happiness.
4. Small, hard to find, get or keep, beautiful things or people.
5. The result of the process of speaking jewellery.
In this case, a "wearing intent" is integral part of the jewel itself which becomes a piece of jewellery. As the spoken/written word presents us with poems, novels or short stories, so does jewellery present us with many different forms of jewels - rings, bracelets, necklaces and so on. Jewels can be worn on the head in the form of crowns, diadems, tiaras, aigrettes, hairpins, earrings, nose rings, ear plugs, and lip rings; on the neck in the form of collars, necklaces, and pendants and chains; on the limbs in the form of rings, bracelets, armlets, anklets and toe rings; and as "touch objects", carried in the hand, or even implemented in the inside of the body via the digestive or other tracts, or by surgery. Jewels, to be jewellery pieces have to fulfil the necessary technical requirements that make it wearable in whatever desired circumstances. Do note that there is a difference between jewels in general and jewels as jewellery pieces, please read well.


While melting a metal alloy several things happen, both to the materials and to the procedure undertaker. First of all the former and the latter will get to know each other in preparation for this singular event. As the operation develops, body temperatures increase in relation to the burning fuel temperature. The metal mixture takes time to heat before it starts melting. A little flux should be used or other precautions taken to prevent oxidation and allow a perfect mix, and later, flow. The crucible, should be heated simultaneously, in order to keep the metals' temperatures at a steady increasing rate and minimise heat dispersion. At melting point the materials start to fuse and mingle. At melting point, Karma is inexistent. At melting point two or more materials become as one and their molecules bound in an infinite embrace. At melting point, a new entity makes its appearance into life, with qualities completely different from the forming bases. At melting point there is synergy. Later, if need will be for the dreaded moment, only by the use of stressful and time consuming procedures will the composing materials separate and become themselves again. The material loss in these procedures is never less than 10% for each part. Some form of contamination will always be present. The undertaker, as observer and experiment inductor, should consciously and with integrity advise the interested parties beforehand of these facts and, thereafter, of his own free will decline to perform, if agreement is not reached, happily. On a parallel basis, think about the "output power" of any piece of jewellery and how it is obtained by the synergistic combination of its component parts, sacrificed for the whole. The procedure of analysing and decompartmentalisation of the finished piece as a whole, into easily explainable components, is not only detrimental to the work itself but also, in my opinion, anti-evolutionary.


As opposed to Magic. It is never present - I repeat - never present, when maker and object create each other.


Is there some invisible underlying statement hidden behind the misty layers of meaningfulness? Only now can it start to be seen, as the unveiling of its façade begins to show an increasing powerful simplicity. Jewellery without meaning a possibility? It is possible, no doubt about it, but a structure has to be set to permit this event. Spontaneity and instinctiveness will be the tools for creation of a new set of values. The underlying factors are impossible to explain and describe in a modern academic manner so its understanding lies in the inherent or mastered capacity of each one to freely see and feel it. As jewellers it is our pleasure to forward in time the aspects that are intrinsic to this art and not to let it wither or deviate by sheer intellectual virtuosismo. "If jewellery limits in any way your self expression, please feel free to choose something else". It is my theory that an evolutionary jump is taking place also in the domains of jewellery. It focuses not the way or ways of thinking/making but on the place or ground from which jewellery itself is produced. It is not a product of intellectual games. It is a different existential platform supporting Jewellery as a manifestation of human communication. A physical link, one might say, between the third and other dimensions. It will be possible to finally address matters with such light-hearted playfulness as to enter the realm of real communication, free of cultural, intellectual or meaningless deceiving filters.


When presented with any particular object or work of art, the human brain, as natural catalogater, automatically searches for the fastest connections, adjectives and processes for making order inside itself. It shelves this object inside any given category or "place" and dismisses it. The more this object is "charged" with meaning and symbols, the more catalogating clues are present and the easier it is for the brain to explain to itself what it sees (it does not matter about the veracity of these explanations). If, however, $little or no connective information is present, the time span between seeing and understanding is extended and the space thus created is a space where seeing takes a different meaning, a place of not knowing. If an art object is able to create this space, in the viewers or experiencer's mind, its independent inner voice can be heard. By inner voice, let's understand, the capacity to act as a vehicle for direct and unfiltered human communication (again, that is why art is unexplainable, contrary to what critics say or try to do). By creating or learning to create such objects we allow the object to make space for others (people). In the case of Jewellery, take time to see how this affects the end result and the wearer him/herself. Be honest to your customers, for their money give them nothing.


In these days, as we become more aware of the planet's resources and begin to see the world as an extension of self (what, you don't?) it is no wonder that many people turn to a more wholesome way of life and thought. The growing demand for organic food (grown without the use of chemicals or artificial preservatives) is only one aspect of this conscious reevaluation of the role of man in this world. Now, I know that to say this is like biting one's ankles but here goes: The jewellery industry and individual jewellers use many products that damage and corrode the earth and that are toxic to jewellers themselves and environment. Materials which were hazardous to the wearer were banned. Morally unacceptable materials such as elephant ivory or tropical butterflies wings, to name two, no longer find enthusiastic support amongst consumers. While all efforts and modifications are being introduced in the industry to minimise and, I hope, eliminate damage, it is up to you, the wearer, as integral part of this process, to demand for organic jewellery. If the motto for the nineties be "think globally, act locally", let us not forget that we are jewellers.


What then determines the hierarchy of a piece of jewellery (as art or as design or as crafts)? Any piece of jewellery, taken on its own will only be just that. It is the relation to the place where its going to "live" that determines its standard. If on or in the body, then Jewellery happens, if in a museum or art gallery, then that piece will become an art piece, if in a shop, it will become a design or commercial item. The definition lives in the re-la-tion-ship between the object and the place. This relationship is not static. So, an object can twirl and sway through a myriad of definitions, free at last. Hence, jewels can be presented as art, jewellery can be discussed as art and Jewellery can be an artistic manifestation. Depends greatly on what wears who.


The purpose of this book. To raise questions. As you read it, either you'll have many, and that is good, or you'll have none and that is fine. In either case, please remember that this is a personal theory for jewellery making and Jewellery experiencing. It is my vision and beliefs on this matter. It is my direct participation in the contemporary phenomenon called Jewellery. We are part of it as creators and creatures and any questions that may arise in this domain serve to open new possibilities with the intention of forwarding matters of artistic jewellery in time (and space, of course).


Circular band used to decorate almost any part of the human body such as ears, toes, noses, whatever, or, most often, fingers. The finger ring has traditionally been worn for a number of reasons: it may have a symbolic meaning, as a wedding ring; it may identify the wearer on a social or cultural level, as a signet ring; it may be thought to have, or have magic powers, as a talismanic ring; or it may be worn as an ornament. Due to its adaptability requirements (remember - "the finger") and restrictive size (remember - "the finger"), they become jewels "par exelence", little universes of beauty. Rings can be made in either of two ways: by making a hole through something or by wrapping a band around nothing.


It is, nowadays, very common to observe free violence in the art scene. It is interesting to note that having reached the limits of shock and attention drawing, many artists turn to the only thing that even through repetition never ceases to impress and disturb us: The mutilated body. It is against nature and faces man with the idea of a violent death, caused by external factors to his will. Presents us also the important and casually thought-of-and-dismissed idea of the fragility of the human body and life itself. It presents us with the sense of pain, physical, but also mental, death by suffering. It is nonetheless an interesting and proficuous way of making Art. Jewellers, on the other hand, have always treated the human body as inspiring muse and have always emphasised its attributes of sweet fragility and sensual warmness. I think it to be an enormous accomplishment that at this point in time we (jewellers) are still able to shock with beauty!

Thirty Years

Since the 60's, artist/jewellers have been inventing the letters with which to write the word "Jewellery". Experimentation in this field led to a breaking of traditional boundaries associated with the definition of Jewellery itself. Its borders were pushed to the extreme limits. At the same time, however, this enlargement of boundaries is self defeating for it created even harder and unbreakable limitations. To go too further away from the centre creates the risk of disintegration. Unclear definitions do not create a firm supporting base for any type of creation, even if the definition is "no definition". Jewellery lives in a arty crafty limbo. Is it one, is it the other? Is it both contemporarily? Interesting question? Pointless in my view, for out of context. It is not important or even relevant for the creation of Jewellery itself. "jewellery" has to be re-redefined as Jewellery and not as an all encompassing field for artistic endeavours, even if its possibilities are almost endless. Fine art such as painting and sculpture have, since the beginning of their existence as such, been building a supporting frame that is able to support the modern, thus, contemporary art is understood, or, at least, accepted by most people. "jewellery", on the other hand, has produced what has always been considered primarily for adorning or talismanic purposes, hence, the supporting ground for contemporary jewellery as Art, is fairly recent (circa 30 years, against 250). It is therefore natural that most people still do not regard it as such. The fact that fine art is highly prized and seen a s a top accomplishment of Man, does not mean that jewellery falls miles behind. It is the manner in which things are created that dictates their place in the hierarchy of Art, and these standards are set by agreement. If art critics, gallery owners and museum curators all around the globe affirm that jewellery is not fine art, then let it be so (categorisation does not exclude quality). In no way does this diminish its value, except, of course, commercially.


When talking about contemporary jewellery, the importance of technique seems to, sometimes, fall behind matters of creative genius. Let us be reminded however that only after thorough experience in a particular field of techniques has been accomplished, can one mismanage them with enough skill to produce aesthetical interesting results, with individual imprints. So, firstly you have to master the rules and then, only then, can you break them. This needs a lot of skill and a tremendous personal commitment, it sets the difference between creative genius and automata. A process of unlearning takes place once the desired summit of experience is achieved. Then, another process kicks in automatically to autonomously redirect and refine personal ways to a higher standard. The latter depends on the former. Hence, technique is not important at all, if we recognise its importance.


As by now, you should have perceived the difference between jewellery and portable art. The latter can use the former as physical bodily support for the conveyance of meaning. Let us be reminded, however, of the difference for it can create doubts and confusion in the minds of many an honest person. The wearing factor determines the existence of Jewellery. To stick a pin or some kind of fastening device in the back of an object does not transform it into a jewellery piece. To make a hole in the ground does not transform the planet into a precious stone ring. These things live in other domains other than Jewellery's. To make art pieces and state, for the sake of artistic I-do-what-I-wantness, that, for some intelligent reason, they are jewellery is a downright mistake. People who work in this way should reevaluate their status as jewellers and, for the sake of clarity, give themselves another name.

Wear (to)

To carry or have on the person; to have habitually on the person; to display in one's appearance; to bear or maintain in a particular manner; to damage, erode or consume by long or hard use; to pass gradually or tediously; to diminish gradually in effort; to break down or exhaust by relentless pressure or resistance; to become unusable through long or heavy use; to use up or consume gradually; the act of wearing or the state of being worn; clothing - specially of a particular kind or for a particular use; gradual impairment or diminution resulting from use; the ability to withstand use, durability; to pierce or to be pierced [(by) the body]. It is natural that with a vast array of definitions such as this, some confusion might be present when we talk about "Jewellery", and "wearing intention" and "to wear a jewel" and so on. For the purpose of this book, let us forget all definitions except the last one. It makes life much easier and my point stronger.


The human body is the essential condition for Jewellery to exist. In the core of a "piece of jewellery" lives the intent of being worn. Things that do not posses this quality are not worthy of being called such name, they belong to the realms of object making or sculpture, or whatever, according to the prevailing general agreement. I cannot accept definitions which describe as pieces of jewellery objects which have no contact whatsoever with the human body. It is counterproductive and an error of thought. The power of Jewellery as a manifestation relies on this definition for its existence. The mere idea of connection to the body is not enough. Jewellery accentuates the eroticism of the body, and allows for interaction and invitation for discovery. A necklace will frame the neck or back, an ankle bracelet will enhance the leg, a toe ring will focus attention on the beauty of the feet, its proportions, its skin texture. Its sexuality. Its acknowledgement as the visible and touchable part of that entity called man. You start to see the importance of big jay Jewellery?


Pure gold is the most malleable of all the metals and also one of the softest. It is yellow and has a high lustre. From the Latin "Aurum", its atomic symbol is Au. Atomic number 79, atomic weight 196.9665, electron configuration 2-8-18-32-18-1. Specific gravity 19.3, melts at about 1064 degrees Celsius and boils at about 2808 degrees Celsius. It is unaffected by air, heat, moisture and most solvents. It is soft to the touch and has no particular taste or smell. It is a beautiful material to work with. That's it! - Nothing else is beautiful about it.


(in the original print, there is a black and white image of a zebra and no text)

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