“I don’t wear jewels, I drive them!” This statement by the Dutch jewelry and product designer Gijs Bakker wrote history just like his series of car brooches, which he released in 2001, in which he poked fun at the almost loving relationship between men and their cars.

car brooches
His career is one of perpetual revolution rather than steady evolution: Gijs Bakker

In his pin jewelry “Holysport”, he also takes a wickedly ironic look at the religious character of sport and its – as fans think – worshiped, main protagonists. In the over 40 years in which Gijs Bakker has created jewelry, his work has proven to be far more than just ironic accessories such as Jaguar or Ferrari brooches with light yellow citrine or milky blue chalcedony protruding from the chassis as a precious and equally superfluous add-on. The avant-garde jewelry design created by the studied Dutch gold and silversmith, Gijs Bakker, who was born in 1942, is known and appreciated way beyond the borders of his small country. His work is regarded as exemplary of the waywardness of design: modernistic and minimal, at times combined with an absurd sense of humor.

A whole series of brooches draws on the religious character of sport. “Cellini with ball”, 1998, white gold, silver, diamond, photography and plexiglas

Leaving marks

Even if his jewelry design always kicked up a greater storm, Bakker is just as much professionally involved in creating designs for industrially produced objects. When Gijs Bakker started studying at the Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidonderwijs, the current Gerrit Rietveld Akademie, in Amsterdam in 1958, it was by no means certain that he would focus on the field of goldsmith work. Whereas his designs in the study years 1958-62 were still fairly conventional, the work created after 1962 carries clear marks of a year spent in the Konstfack Skolan in Stockholm. Now 63, he experienced his breakthrough as a jewelry designer when his geometric, abstract jewelry became a must have for young, enthusiastically experimental women in the swinging sixties. Once more, in the seventies and eighties, Bakkers creations achieved an entirely new level of quality. The direct connection between his jewelry and the body of the person wearing it became the indispensable characteristic of his work. In an interview with the Scottish Arts Council in 2004, Bakker reported: “My jewelry is very experimental. It has nothing to do with jewelry. For example I made a piece in 1974 from a thin piece of wire which you put over your arm and it leaves a mark – the older you are the longer the mark stays. The mark is the important thing, not the actual piece itself.” This was also the period in which so-called profile jewelry was created, consisting of stainless steel wire that was aligned precisely to suit the contours of the person wearing it, thus reflecting their unique character. Much of his work after the mid nineteen eighties frequently takes a critical stance, but always with a wink to the people and environment around him. But Gijs Bakker has always been innovative, not only with regard to content and design. The Dutchman has also been a pioneer with regard to materials and techniques: For example, he was the first to combine photographs, laminated with PVC, and gemstones and/or precious metals in order to design jewelry.

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“Jaguar 3E 1975” from the series “I don’t wear jewels, I drive them!” dated 2001. Silver, citrine, color photo, plexiglas

In 1993, he joined with Renny Ramakers to found the Amsterdam-based design bureau, Droog Design, which designs products for renowned, international companies in the fields of home accessories and household appliances, furniture, interiors, public space, exhibitions and jewelry. In 1996, he and Marijke Vallanzasca set up the Chi ha paura…? (who is afraid of …?) foundation. The completion of the question “Chi ha paura…?” is “contemporary jewelry”. “Who is afraid of contemporary jewelry” is also the topic that the foundation and the brand by the same name focus on: Whereas jewelry is generally only defined as a simple accessory Gijs Bakker, in his capacity of head of Chi ha paura, asks internationally renowned designers to create jewelry items that are more than just decoration. In other words, a piece of conceptual jewelry, in which the choice of material is less important than the concept, the idea. Gijs Bakker’s entire life work should be seen in this context: It is his inestimable achievement that he, together wit his wife Emmy van Leersum, who passed away in 1984, elevated jewelry to an independent work of art, thus triggering and promoting the development of avant-garde jewelry in Europe and the United States.

Bakker today: The brooch “Eruption” from 2004 is a wild assortment of smoked quartz, citrine, corundum, spectrolite, glass, metal and white gold
Purism with Scandinavian influence: “Chromium Bracelet 360” from 1969. Chromium plated copper
Jewelry in which the concept idea by far exceeds the material value: Bracelet “Shadow Jewelry” from 1973
So-called “profile jewelry” was created in 1974. Bakker’s wife Emmy van Leersum is wearing her personal jewelry made of stainless steel wire

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