first thougts and questions

I’m on my dissertation project since few month now, and I’ve never been back on my literature review because I thought that I should just see how things going on and not be constantly stuck with my first draft. I think that wasn’t the best idea! I’m realising that I forgot to search and keep questioning myself about many topics! How bad is that! So, just in case some people are interested/curious about the start of my work, I’ll copy and paste my literature review on the blog, and it’s also for me to be sure that I’ll never forget to have a look back again! And again: feel free for any comments/suggestions/questions! I will be pleased to read them and if I can, answer to it!

My first thought about Chinese contemporary jewellers was that they did not exist. For me, jewellery in China was only traditionally based using old skills and beliefs, like jade carving, filigree, turquoise, coral, sea pearls. China has developed jewellery skills quite tardily. As I started to read books, I found that Chinese people love famous luxury Western fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Channel. As we already know, the Chinese are good at copying. It makes me wonder what it would be like to be a contemporary artist jeweller in China. To be able to create something really new, with an artistic approach and not only an aesthetically pleasing luxury item. Is there a Chinese jewellery school to develop skills and an artistic sensibility? Does Chinese culture inspire jewellers? If so, in which way? Do they use traditional skills, materials and beliefs? Can we talk about a “Chinese contemporary style”? How do Chinese jewellers sell their creations? Do they use internet shops, galleries, or their own display in workshop? Is there a market place for contemporary jewellery in China or do they need to work with Western countries? What type of customers do contemporary jewellery attract? Are they the same ones that are interested in luxury brands?  Is there a “place to be” to start a business? Are Western artists interested in coming to work in China?

First discovery was that Chinese people are big buyers of western luxury fashion brands! Since the end of the communism and China opening its borders to Western economy, brands like Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Versace, etc, have found a big opportunity there to have a new market place and customers! A modern elite class in China appears and as statistics show, China has become the third largest consumer for Gucci, the fourth largest for Louis Vuitton, and the first for Swatch group! (Lu P. X., 2008) But the question is why Chinese people are so fascinated by luxury? In her book, Jacqueline Tsai explains, that, during the 17th century, China was very influenced, what we can see with the craze for “chinoiseries” by the western countries. China has weakened slowly during the 19th century and the advent of communism power has put away the idea of luxury for the Chinese people. (Tsai, 2008). China has always being a country attracted by luxury: “The long history of China and its long-founded traditions give Chinese consumers the inherent ability to appreciate the beauty of luxury products and to enjoy their possession.” (Lu P. X., 2008).  Jewellery is a huge part of the luxury economy in China. European, especially French Houses from the Vendôme place, have all opened branches in China.  Chinese are big consumers of gold: “Each year, China consumes 253 tons of gold, making it the third-largest gold market in the world, with 8% of the world consumption.” (Lu M. C., 2010). So yes, I am now aware and I can tell that jewellery has its own place in the China economy! Now, luxury Chinese jewellery brands like Hiersun and Fanghua are growing really fastly along the international brands! (Lu P. X., 2008) That is a proof; there is also a market place for Chinese brands, not only for western ones.

Chinese people are interested in famous luxury brands, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are interested in contemporary jewellery that is not famous.  Can we put actually contemporary jewellery and western luxury brands in the same category? In some ways, yes. Because in many fields of art, there are still some things that are expensive; consequently, people who will be attracted to these things and potential buyers are typically from the upper class.

After been interested in famous luxury brands, I’m trying to find if contemporary jewellery has its place in China. One thing is that contemporary art is much more than just doing pretty things. Contemporary artists have a long reflexion process and their creations are just the culmination of their artistic approach. This is probably the thing to know to be able to understand contemporary jewellers. They need to think conceptually and need to be critical of the world and everything around them. This seems to be normal for Western people, but actually difficult for Chinese who were constrained during many years by the communism.  Zara Arschad, a British designer and teacher based in China said in an interview for the design blog “Nuandao”: “I’ve tried teaching over the past couple of years and I have found that getting young people here to think conceptually is very difficult” (Arshad, 2011). I found that thinking conceptually is something quite new in China, especially in the jewellery field.

Jewellery departments have been opened recently in art schools. Sometimes it’s just a jewellery class that belongs to the design department or the fine art department.  Because of this, art school’s websites do not really promote the jewellery section yet. I know it’s possible get a bachelor or a master degree in jewellery through seeing artists’ CVs. Schools of art which have a jewellery class are all located in big cities such as Beijing (Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, CAFA: China Central Academy of Fine Art, Tsinghua University) and Guangzhou (Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts). The one with the biggest jewellery department that was created in 2004 is the China Academy of Fine Art, which is located in Shanghai. The jewellery class is next to the glass and the ceramic department.   Then there is also few schools like the China University of Geosciences (based in Beijing) and the Hong Kong Institute of Gemmology where jewellers can learn gemmology as well.  During my research, I’ve also found the DIY school (in Taiwan), a non-official jewellery school, is more based on craft skills than contemporary artistic approach and metalwork.

Zara Arshad said, “People are still in the stages of using design to brand, to make things look pretty, and mostly for high luxury fashion. If you speak to the average Joe on a local level, he will tell you design is “Louis Vuitton”.  It’s very superficial and that’s what we are trying to change.” (Arshad, 2011). Li Degeng says as well, “we are trying to push the idea of design that it can be intrinsic in your culture and daily life, and not just “Louis Vuitton”. (Degeng, 2011). The mentality in China is slowly changing. It will take time to get through the general thought that design is not only seen in luxury brands, but can also be made by new designers and jewellers, not only with aesthetic pieces.

One other thing I’ve found is that many Chinese contemporary jewellers are going to studying abroad, mostly in the UK. The Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), the biggest jewellery school in Europe, has many Chinese students graduating from their jewellery department every year. Most of these graduates will remain in the country they studied in and start their business in a western country.  Studying jewellery in a contemporary way is something quite new in China.  The political, economical and social history played an important role in the past, and now the Chinese need to go ahead to create new things: “another problem is that Chinese education has not created a more tolerant, more open environment for majors like jewellery design. “ (Yang, 2011)

if you’re interested by the books I’ve read, here they are:

and for the blog: Nuandao

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