Jewelry of the 21st Century Feed

Read My Jewelry - Jewelry with a Voice and Visibility

Read-My-PinsOriginally, this post was going to be exclusively about the book, "Read My Pins" and the remarkable exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. There is much to say -- a lot more -- about how jewelry can make powerful statements for the wearer, to the viewer, or from the maker. 

As a jeweler, jewelry maker, metalsmith, jewelry collector and avid fan of all kinds of jewelry, I believe in the power of jewelry to express insights, emotions, and meaning far beyond the initial perceptions of beauty and craftsmanship.  "Read My Pins" excels in such revelations showing how Madeleine Albright used an expansive repertoire of her pins to convey diverse signals such as cooperation, dissatisfaction, special interests, sympathy, cultural awareness, or common cause throughout her career.  Much more on this amazing exhibition below.   

But let me start with a contrasting message that came to my attention this weekend to consider even more seriously the power of jewelry to convey a message.

The cover photo of the February issue of Vanity Fair Mexico shows Melania Trump "eating jewelry."  What does this say to you?  How do you think the Mexican readers should interpret the image?

Melania-Trump-Eating- Jewelry

The message seems to be simply about conspicuous consumption and extravagant surplus.  Clearly, the First Lady of the United States, is pleased to show her privilege and position.  Unfortunately at the same time 50% of Mexicans live in poverty and there is a struggling U.S. middle class that is less than 4 months from economic ruin.  This image parallels an infamous historical quote, "Let them eat cake." 

Compare this to the empowering messages of jewelry in the book and exhibition "Read My Pins." The exhibition displayed pins and dramatic brooches worn my Madeline Albright during her tenure as Secretary of State.  To a feminist metalsmith I must remind myself (and anyone reading this post) that Madeline Albright was the first woman Secretary of State and the highest female official in U.S. Government at that time.

Every pin in this exhibit could initiate a conversation about the power of jewelry to communicate a message.  Madeline Albright used these pins and brooches for such purposes very effectively for years.

I loved the exhibition "Read My Pins" for many reasons. The entire exhibition was crowded with energy, enthusiasm, and thought provoking themes.  Over and over, the intrinsic value of the materials was irrelevant.  The "real" value was always based on the message and the context. 

This Atlas pin (below) holds the weight of the world -- symbolic of the United States role in many turbulent political situations in this world.  What message could be more important when worn by the U.S. Secretary of State and remains ever present in my mind during the past week.

Atlas Pin purchased by Madeline Albright in Paris. No attribution to the maker. (Photo from the exhibition)

A brooch could represent a concept (e.g. "sting like a bee") in an international negotiation.  Quoting Madeline Albright "I believe the right symbol at the correct time can add warmth or needed edge to a relationship."


The pin (left) was from the Suffrage Movement. "The green, white and violet colors of the gemstones and pearls signify, respectively, hope, purity and dignity. The first letter of each word, (GWV) suggests an apt acronym: "Give Women the Vote' ." Jewelry can send an important political message empowering women to stand up and be counted in marches demanding the vote and social change. (Quotes are from the description labels from Legion of Honor exhibition.)




Dove-and-eagle-read-My-pinsBoth the "Read My Pins" exhibition and book provide an important insight into the voice of jewelry. Jewelry can be important in so many ways. The message can be ennobling, enabling, even empowering such as in the next pin with an eagle and dove asserting both strength and a passion for peace.


Madeleien-Albright-with-Yaser-ArafatJewelry represented both power and a message when worn by Madeline Albright.  The photo right shows her wearing the bee pin above while negotiating with Yasser Arafat about the Middle East. 

Jewelry with emotionJewelry can also have emotional resonance. Quoting the museum label:  "In 2006, on a visit to New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina, Albright was approached by a young man who gave her a small box. 'My mother loved you,' he explained, ' and she knew that you liked and wore pins. My father gave her this one for their sixtieth wedding anniversary. She died as a result of Katrina, and my father and I think she would have wanted you to have it. It would be an honor to her if you would accept it.' "

"Albright wears the Katrina pin as a reminder that jewelry's greatest value comes not from intrinsic materials or brilliant designs but from the emotions we invest in them. The most cherished attributes are not those that dazzle the eye but those that recall to mind the face and spirit of a loved one."

This brooch of fused "shattered" glass (designer unknown) reflected the "shattering of a glass ceiling," a significant milestone for all women and reflecting support for another woman Secretary of State - Hillary Clinton.  Women in our country are not reaching the heights of leadership (corporate or political) in proportion to our share in the population.

Hidden-FiguresThe communication power of jewelry often aligns with social change.  In the movie, "Hidden Figures" the painful realities of discrimination against women and African-Americans -- or both -- in the early 1960's are presented in this powerful story.  In one scene, a simple pearl necklace symbolizes the growing awareness, acceptance, and empowerment of one of the female figures.

The "Read My Pins" exhibition and book are engaging, fun, educational, and thought provoking.  Each piece opened new doors or revealed new humanizing insights or highlights on topics familiar from newsreels but often distant and foreign.  I enjoyed almost every aspect.

For the contemporary craft world, I was a bit disappointed that so many of the pieces had no attribution to the maker and that so few contemporary makers were represented.

Many of the pins in the exhibition were antique or vintage collectibles, essentially manufactured costume jewelry. Lack of attribution is typical of such consumer products, but there was a significant number of obviously hand made pins purchased or given to Madeline Albright in foreign countries or purchased in the 20th century.

Many of the 20th century pins had no maker attributed to the work. What a shame? Would a painter sell their paintings without a name or initials on the front or back? To every maker reading this post, be sure to mark your jewelry (or other media) in some way.

Left, 1998; Helen Shirk (US); Sterling silver
Left, 1998; Helen Shirk (US); Sterling silver, 14k yellow gold

My second disappointment with the Madeline Albright collection is the lack of contemporary jewelry.  I am thrilled to say there were pins by Helen Shirk ( left,) Carolyn Morris Bach (below right) and  Gjis Bakker (cover of book), but not many other examples of jewelry by a contemporary hand. And even a smaller number of examples of contemporary jewelry with the maker's name. 

Get the book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box from your local library or bookstore. It has background for a good number of her pins, and it is very interesting. 

Shaman Bear, 2008; Carolyn Morris Bach
Shaman Bear, 2008; Carolyn Morris Bach (US); 18k yellow gold with 22k gold plating, silver, fossilized ivory, copper

Think about the power of jewelry and the voice that can resonate so much about our politics and social change.


















FitBit Jewelry Past, Present Future or "Silicon is the NEW Silver"

Prestigeset_newFitBit is a new kind of jewelry that extends the role of jewelry beyond the past and present and into a freshly imagined future. Prestige, value and identity might be jewelry of the past and present, but there is a new dimension at our doorsteps.

What is pertinent is not how the work is made, but the function of the jewelry. That the jewelry itself has a new role, a bio-monitor function.

ShineOne of points is that jewelers, textile or fashion could integrate the small electronic functional component into more decorative adornment, combining the traditional roles of jewelry, and fashion with this new 21st century utilitarian aspect.

I am especially excited about the functionality of this bracelet and filled with anticipation of the future.  

Cell-phoneI may be revealing my age, but I have seen the future before. I have very strong memories of the first cell phone in my life.  It was the size of a shoe box, a man's shoe box at that. It weighed about 7 lbs. and featured a hefty strap to carry it. My husband had one of these phones and we loved it.  As new parents the mobile phone was so wonderful, allowing us to go out and feel comfortable that our babysitter could reach us at any time. This amazing phone brought relief from worry.  
It was not too heavy or
cumbersome, it was a privilege that
my husband's company
bought this IMG_6536phone for him.
(They were very expensive, and so was a phone call. You paid per phone call and by the minute.) Can you imagine that phones now slide into a pocket? Unimaginable back then.

FitBit-combinationThat is what the FitBit watch represents to me.  It offers similar new world potential that 25 years from now, everyone, or almost everyone, will wear a bracelet that will tell them if they have exercised enough, need to eat less or can eat more, measured their heart rate or blood pressure, and more. Just as a cell phone has become an essential part of our every day routine, body monitoring jewelry will be part of everyone's well being and adornment. This is a fabulous opportunity for jewelry makers too.

Jewelry that takes on a value beyond prestige, or identity, but health, and well being.
Prestige, Value and Identity Bracelets 
Bracelets constructed from recycled tin cans as a commentary on the roles of jewelry thoughout history by Harriete Estel Berman.

As an advocate for fitness, I signed up as a Fitbit affiliate. Links on this blog about Fitbit may generate revenue to help this blog to continue.


FitBit Evaluation of Design and Function

After wearing my Fitbit bracelet I am still learning about the interface and feedback information.

There is a lot to learn...but I don't need to figure it out all at once. This image shows my Activity, Steps, Calories  and Distance so far today.

My favorite feature is the feedback on exactly how much activity you had that day.  No need to deceive yourself whether you worked out enough to eat more. Below is the Very Active Mins, Sleep, "Badge" for 10,000 steps, and Calories In vs Out.

Very Active Mins only includes VERY ACTIVE minutes. A casual Sunday walk won't qualify as active minutes which I think is good. To many people think they are exercising, but their heart rate has not increased. 

10,000 steps every day is my goal.


When looking at your own Fitbit dashboard, clicking on any square reveals more detailed information. 


Fitbit is a real motivator to know how much I've exercised every day, not just on my "work out days." 


UPDATE: As of June 12, 2015 I walked 1,997 miles wearing my Fitbit!

I even walked 30,000 steps in one day!



 A Jeweler's evaluation of the clasp on Fitbit:

The clasp on the Fitbit is not great. As a jewelry maker, I'd give it a below average rating. It is very hard to close with one hand by yourself when it is new. After a year of wear it is much easier to put on, but the bracelet has opened and fallen off by accident. I think the designers wanted it to have a clean appearance, but I would have preferred something more secure and easier to use for the lifetime of the fitness band. 

FitBit-Tangerine-Orange-TealThe wrist band on Fitbit is attractive with clean lines. That is great as far as that goes, but as solid rubber it gets sweaty or irritated underneath. I which it were a more breathable mesh or fabric.


"What is the Jewelry of the 21st Century?" sparked considerable discussion on Facebook Critical Craft Forum and on my Facebook page.

To clear up any misunderstanding regarding my enthusiasm for this bracelet:

The FitBit presents a very clean and minimalist aesthetic.  It is not as "interesting" as most jewelry, ....but I am absolutely excited to anticipate the future of this beginning, in affordable, bio-monitoring jewelry.

Jewelry has a new role, and a new dimension of value beyond materials or decoration. This jewelry empowers fitness in a whole new way. 

The function of jewelry as identity takes on a new role with fitness. Wearing a FitBit, or other bio-monitor jewelry, means that the wearer is identified as a fitness enthusiast. While wearing my Fitbit, it has sparked a number of conversations, as we identify each other as part of an elite groups trading stories of fitness.

Yes, I do consider it affordable as an investment in your health. A visit to the drugstore can easily cost $100. on medicine.  With this bracelet monitoring your activity level and the subsequent motivation for reaching 10,000 steps a day a Fitbit wearer could reduce the need for some medications (doctor approved, of course.)

I highly recommend investing in a new you with a Fitbit (or any other activity tracker.) 

Imagine a future where your doctor can determine a prescription of lifestyle or activity to your Fitbit dashboard. The doctor determines the program and you can then work to achieve possibly lifesaving results at any time -- all monitored online by both you and your doctor!

Update July 2015:
My Fitbit has lasted 19 months even though I wear it every day. 
When the electronic component finally wears out I am definitely getting the new model with the heart rate monitor. (My current version does not adequately capture effort expended during biking or floor exercises.)

Next post: 

FitBit Jewelry Past, Present Future or "Silicon is the NEW Silver"

As an advocate for fitness, I signed up to be a Fitbit affiliate. The links to Fitbit may generate revenue to help this glog continue.

What is the Jewelry of the 21st Century?

Harriete Estel Berman wearing Fitbit bracelet.
Photo Credit: Eric Smith

While recent tendencies of avant-garde and art jewelry seem to be following a collective drift toward "string and anti-technique," my observation is that jewelry of the future will combine style and digital function.  This prediction arises from what I am wearing right now...a FitBit Bracelet (and other styles available).  The competition in this field will unquestionably bring more imaginative forms and new functions.

The bracelet goes far beyond decoration. This jewelry of the future is telling me how many calories I've burned, steps taken, distance traveled, activity level, calories burned, heart rate, and monitors my sleep patterns.

Mary-Ann-Scherr's-bracelet-life-saving.A much older distant cousin of the body monitor function in the jewelry world is a one of a kind Heart Pulse Sensor Bracelet from 1973 by Mary Ann Scherr*.  StarTrek, Dick Tracy, and Captain Nemo also foretold of jewelry and communicating functions.  

What does it say when I buy this FitBit bracelet for $99 instead of contemporary, handmade jewelry by my craft kindred community? 

The battery lasts up to five days and survives showers and sweat. It seems that FitBit actually sells additional "colorful bands to fit your mood." Check out the accessory band colors below.

I want one in every I'm waiting till they sell the combo pack with every color. 

FitBit-pink-green-tealThe orange, teal, and navy bands now available as a 3-pack are not enough for my jewelry maven personality. I want more colors, more options, and the answers to the technical issues regarding fit and materials.


FitBit-Tangerine-Orange-TealJewelry makers out there; Are you ready to make a niche in your jewelry for the FitBit component? I am not kidding. 

The entire functional component in the FitBit bracelet is about 1/2" long and 1/4" wide. See it below. Fitbitcomponent

Below is another view from a FitBit Flex Teardown on iFixIt. This one single water tight component is the only working portion of the bracelet.


I see no reason why jewelry makers could not be integrating these and related products into their jewelry. Look at these functional components and think about how this could change your jewelry in the future.

I am thinking hard.
How about collaboration between jewelry makers and FitBit!
A whole show of the FitBit jewelry and a tribute to the pioneers like Mary Ann Scherr. Who knows....I already wrote to Fitbit. They are based right near where I live in San Francisco, CA. (Links to Fitbit products are affiliate links.) 

*Learn more about the body monitor jewelry of Mary Ann Scherr:

Televison interview with Mary Ann Scherr  I recommend watching the television interview first. Consider that in this interview she is an astounding, energetic 90 years old. Near the end they talk about how her body monitor jewelry was before its time. How ironic!

Oral history interview with Mary Ann Scherr from the 

Mary Ann Scherr Designer, Educator, Goldsmith, Jewelr from

Heart Monitor Necklace by Mary Ann Scherr