Porcelain – for over 600 years a well kept secret of the Chinese, before it was discovered for a second time in 1709 in order to cater to the refined needs of the royal lines in Europe. Since then, the coveted recipe for the exquisite table culture, art of receptacles and decorative porcelain has been in the open. Use of porcelain in jewelry is a new trend, but its precious character and versatility make it role perfect for the idea of jewelry.
White – a color that calls for an unblemished state. As a manifestation of perfection, innocence and purity, it honors the object it clothes. “Blanc de Chine” became a synonym for exclusiveness and discerning luxury. Despite the elaborate painting and rich vividness over the changing fashions of the past epochs, the predominant color is usually the one that is inherent to the material. Contemporary jewelry made of porcelain is also mainly pure white or ivory. Mascha Moje’s necklace jewelry from the group of works “Skin and Bone” proves that the lack of color means that the entire driving force behind the design must be reflected in the form. If color is added as glazing, colored stones or in metal combinations, it is used precisely as a contrasting point to the base. The frequent combination between white porcelain and yellow gold in jewelry objects immediately appears familiar and self-evidently valuable, such as the mocha cups with gold trim in a Viennese café. It is a play on convention. When artists such as Jens-Rüdiger Lorenzen combine porcelain with steel, or Ann Schmalwaßer combines it with copper; they place the main focus of attention on the special aesthetics of the materials themselves, free of any traditional perceptions of value.
Fragile and graceful, the lightly translucent material imbued envy and marvel throughout the entire Western world, when individual items first came to Europe at the end of the 13th century. From this point on, no holds were barred in alchemists’ laboratories to recreate porcelain or indeed to import it under the most difficult of conditions. Its value was equated with gold. Despite the mass production, it has managed to preserve its value undisputed until the present day. Its material properties are also of a precious nature. Despite its fragility, it is astonishingly resistant to impact. The impact strength is twice as high as stoneware. Its quality classification can be clearly heard in the sound: the greater the porosity of the material, the greater the sound suppression. In the hardness scale according to Mohs, hard porcelain is equal to the level of mountain crystal and is resistant to acid. In a certain sense, this means that it has gemstone quality and it is used by jewelry designers such as Nicola Brand and Eva Maisch in this sense when it is set in gold. Varied and imaginative material combinations are necessary, however, as clasp and connecting elements made of ceramic materials are not really an option. J.-R. Lorenzen drills holes in his porcelain elements, into which he melts silver and cuts tiny threads into it in order to fit it together with the other parts made of steel.
The material not only has the quality of a fine substance, it is also extremely demanding in terms of processing and requires the highest standards of craftsmanship and discipline from the artist. Elaborate tools, laborious procedures and a furnace that generates heat of 1,300- 1,500 degrees are the components that create products of truly precious quality. This is why the jewelry designer Gaby Wandscher has entered into a cooperation project with the House of Meissen, the first European production plant for porcelain, founded by August the Strong in 1710. Her romantic, receptacle-based jewelry and her small amphorae in Baroque style are inspired by stylistic elements from the period and the long tradition of the house. Eva Maisch plays with the tradition of porcelain painting in a finely tuned. inspired manner. As if by coincidence, a house fly sits perched on the unblemished white of one of the porcelain disks she has set in gold. The insect motifs are applied in elaborate manual labor by painters in the Royal Porcelain Manufactory of Berlin in a realistic and detailed form. The porcelain paints must be applied according to remembered values, as they are not visible in their true form until after firing. Even after years of experience, the moment when the furnace door is opened remains exciting and one that constantly ensures that there will be surprises.
Conversely, Cornelia Sautter counters the monotonous purism with sugary pastel tones. The delicate pallor of her pieces is interlaced with fine hairlines in delicate ornamental style. Some come in the form of spirals, while others twit like a cloud formation on a Chinese ink drawing. They are reminiscent of “Chinoiserie”, popular in the 18th century, a blossoming trend based on enthusiasm for the Far East exotic styles.
Porcelain is extremely versatile. It comes in the form of cast porcelain, porcelain dough or as porcelain foil (Kerafol) and permits practically any plastic deformation methods. It is suitable for turning and for modeling, rolling, stamping and cutting. After the biscuit firing at 900-1,000 degrees, it can be polished, sawed, drilled and glazed before acquiring its final solidity in the sharp fire at 1,300-1,500 degrees.
Evert Nijland chooses a method that is more akin to the spontaneity of the moment. For his necklace “Guirlandes”, he collects blossom heads that he submerges in liquid porcelain and then fires. What remains is the perfect form of the impression of a spring day. The attraction of working in this way with the “lost form” is found in the inherent laws of the procedure, which is consciously included in the design instead of exerting excessive control. This is a sensual form of work, when the material slides through the hand and takes on form in different consistencies. The amorphous properties of the porcelain dough in its liquid, thick or solid state provide additional inspiration for free or organic forms. Katja Korsawe finds specific design approaches in each of these states.
Ann Schmalwaßer and Antje Bräuer use ceramic foils (soft porcelain). The draft work has a clear reference to surface and is similar to paper processing methods. Folds, overlaps and incisions are characteristic for the papery lightness of the work. In an unfired state, the material is still soft and receptive for stamps, symbols and patterns. Lilia Katona adds mysterious sequences of numbers and words on her brooches. Every work process and each further use leaves behind its traces. This keeps secrets or tells stories.
This is the manner in which porcelain products always carry some form of significance. As shards, charged with memories, they symbolize transience. Gabriela Felgentr6ger simply transforms these items into a ready-made. In her “cup fragment rings”, she provokingly questions the idea of what is valuable and significant, what is wearable and what is not. In the plurality of possibilities, it is conspicuous that jewelry artists are no longer bound to a selection of certain materials. In some cases, the materials are only “found” over the course of the design process and then tested in each project on the basis of the topical specifications. The materials are intensively drawn on over the course of one creative period, before a new task is turned to – a constant challenge.
Institutions such as the “European Ceramic Work Centre” in Hertogenbosch issue work programs as “artist in residence” to international designers, architects or jewelry artists such as Katja Prins: “I search and investigate. Forms and ideas I already have, but while I’m sketching things evolve”. The participants are supported by a team of experts in their experiments. The studio and tools are at their disposal for three months. At the end, there is a comprehensive presentation of work. The “EKWC” sees itself as a “center of excellence”. Like other academies, they are working on constant development in the field of ceramics. Prof. Kittel from the Ceramics Faculty at the University of Arts and Design (Burg Giebichenstein), Halle, sees special challenges and opportunities for jewelry designers and artists in series production. Niessing launched initial, tentative steps in this sense in 1994 with the porcelain necklaces, designed by Piet Stockmans. Many universities such as the Rhode Island School of Design or the University of Applied Sciences, Pforzheim, have a separate studio area for ceramic materials, and courses are offered on a regular basis. Prof. Castello Hansen from the HDK Göteborg: “Jewelry is a phenomenon of its own and to express it, all materials and techniques are used. Porcelain is one material in the ‘vocabulary'”.