A pretty red brick building from the 19th century is located not far from the city center of Geneva, a few hundred meters form the main railway station Cornavin on the right-hand side. This venerable old building has housed the classes for jewelry and object design at the Haute Ecole d’arts appliqués since 1987.
The entire building was renovated not long ago and is now once more an inspiring structure for creative students seeking education as jewelry designers at the Academy HEAA, Haute école d’arts appliques HES, in Geneva. The one hundred years old inscription above the entrance Ecole des arts industriels now once more is a good definition of the standards that the Swiss academies for design intend to satisfy in the future. After all, it is now more than ever important to design highly qualified products that not only find their place in our society, but that also gain appreciation in the industrial sector by creating added design and cultural value.
No matter how ancient the building may appear, the courses on offer are right up to date. Indeed, an artistically innovative, project-based and recognized higher education curriculum has emerged from the long tradition of luxury watch and jewelry making in Geneva. It was a political decision to create a qualified education in the design sector in Switzerland in addition to, and downstream from, the high standards of professional education. The study course “Industrial Design and Products” presents itself as a dynamic structure with three main foci: In addition to the class in jewelry objects and accessories, the courses in ceramic object design, fashion and style accessories round off the curriculum. There are joint plans for a post-graduate course, which will be centered round a joint “laboratory for experimental work and material research”.
Minor study course with a feel for the big picture
The approximately 24 students at the Geneva Academy (HEAA) mainly come from the various regions of Switzerland, France and neighboring European countries. In addition, there are regular exchange students from colleges in Europe, Japan and America, with which the HEAA maintains active contacts. There is also lively exchange in the other direction, with jewelry students from Geneva spending time at foreign colleges.
The course in jewelry and object design focuses mainly on jewelry design. Professors and students alike see it as the critical appraisal of human behavior and human needs for meaning, intensity and beauty. The work with jewelry is intended to lend depth to feelings and to encourage and enlarge on spirituality and thought. It is meant to be more than simply learning techniques and aesthetic appreciation, and instead sees itself as a contemporary contribution to perceiving the world around us.
Theory and practice
In order to be admitted to the course in jewelry and object design, students must have completed an apprenticeship or academic entrance qualifications with one year of preliminary practical experience. This can be completed in the Arts and Crafts College in Geneva. The course at the HEAA lasts for three years and culminates in a Bachelor’s degree. During this period, the curriculum contains practical and theoretical aspects. For example, the course includes drafting concepts, independent research and direct experimentation with various materials. This leads to the creation of projects that the students themselves can realize, occasionally including outside partners. This practical approach in terms of authorship design receives a foundation through the critical appraisal of aspects relating to art history, cultural and social studies, which are intended to incite an in-depth observation of environments and social development. Consequently, mutual and personal considerations relating to the social significance and purposes of the design objects are requirements for the creative process.
In addition to purely technical subjects such as metal working and casting methods – in some cases with synthetic materials – the curriculum includes experimental work with various materials. Further; the practical side includes classes in drawing, introduction and practice with 2D and 3D computer programs and photography. There are also theoretical subjects such as the history of jewelry, gemology, the theory of art, philosophy and sociology as well as marketing. In addition to the academy’s own, extensive curriculum, students in the course for jewelry and object design can also attend courses in interior design, visual communication and new media, as the school operates on the basis of the European credit system (ECTS).
Several lectures per year by prominent jewelry artists, interdisciplinary and specific workshops and participation in exhibitions and trade fairs (for example the design fair “BIickfang” at the end of November 2003 in Zurich) provide the students with the necessary reality of professional life and open up new horizons at the same time.
Teachers and students
The academy can look back on the success of former alumni with considerable pride. The graduate jewelry designers that completed their education at the HEAA in Geneva now operate regionally and internationally: Some of them now work as designers in well-known watch companies, while others have opened jewelry galleries in Switzerland in addition to their own artistic work. For example, Fabrice Schaefer and Galia Jaccard manage the gallery, Tactile and Annick Zufferey has her own gallery in Geneva, Christian Balmer and Ilona Schwippel run the gallery ViceVersa in Lausanne, while Pascal Cretin and Gemma Barrera own the gallery Caractère in Neuchâtel. The graduates Sophie Hanagarth and Brune Boyer teach in Strasbourg and Paris, and Pascal Cretin in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Founded 16 years ago by Esther Brinkmann, professor and head of the faculty for bijou – objet et accessoires, Fabrice Schaefer and Nicolas Mertenat, both graduates of the jewelry course in Geneva, now round off the team of professors together with their two assistants Céline Mazzon and Sybille Perroud-Oudshoorn. In addition, there is a guest professor each semester. At the moment it is Christoph Zellweger (Zurich and Sheffield) who is preparing the students in the 5th semester for their future graduation. In the summer term 2004, Sonia Morel (Lausanne) will run a project with students in the 2nd and 4th semesters.