How an object comes into being has long fascinated me… the idea, who decides, and why? Design is the fascinating process whereby such an idea is brought on a journey to its place in our world – whether material or virtual, as metal, gemstones, leather, textiles or plastics are brought together by human intervention to form a piece of jewellery – its design, with its own particular limitations, being as fascinating as that of any other object.
I came across some such design journeys recently while researching modern Irish jewellery of the mid-twentieth century.
This was a time when great concern was being expressed about the quality of product design in Ireland, especially for the export market, which the government endeavoured to address by establishing the Kilkenny Design Workshops in 1963 – filling them with experienced product designers and craftspeople, primarily from overseas.
I love how the expression from different cultures has influenced and contributed to our sense of a modern Irish aesthetic.
Regarding KDW jewellery these influences can be seen in the silver prototype rings and cufflinks by Rudolf Heltzel. (Fig.1, 2), along with the Viking influenced necklet, (Fig.3) by Asger Max Anderson.
Regarding KDW jewellery these influences can be seen in the silver prototype rings and cufflinks by Rudolf Heltzel. (Fig.1, 2), along with the Viking influenced necklet, (Fig.3) by Asger Max Anderson. It is discernible too in Anderson’s Celtic influenced Torc Bangle (Fig. 4) with his versatility seen in the strong form of an amethyst set ring (Fig. 5) contrasting with the greater complexity in the technical drawing of the cluster ring-Later made. (Fig. 6) All motifs being characteristic of the Scandinavian aesthetic – fashionable at the time.
While this work was interesting and contributed to our knowledge of style and technique, exciting modern work was, however, also being made elsewhere in Ireland, with the most successful jewellery being that by the Swede Marika Murnaghan, who came to Dublin in the mid-1960s, having married solicitor Denis Murnaghan. Initially, she began making jewellery in the Searbhac (Hawk) workshop in Dunlaoire, moving on when her work proved a success. She was to be replaced there by jeweller Linda Uhlemann.
Murnaghan was truly original – establishing a very successful manufacturing business with her modern jewellery collections, all of which with a lightness of touch, displayed a strong influence of both her native Scandinavian culture and of her adopted Irish one, which last greatly, absorbed her. (Fig. 7, 8, 9) The work was additionally priced to have wide appeal, selling extensively in Ireland and more selectively the UK. It was probably, however, through her strong branding and marketing, including her modern boutique interiors, that Murnaghan showed great vision (Fig. 10) contrasting greatly to what was generally to be experienced in traditional retail jewellers at the time.
And additionally, Marika Jewellery boutiques were strong competition for KDW outlets.
At its height the company employed upwards of 40 people, only ceasing trading in the late 1980s due to Murnaghan’s untimely death. She was held in considerable respect shown both by her commission, through competition, to design and make in 1983 the first piece of platinum to be hallmarked in Ireland (Fig.11) and currently by the inclusion of unique items of her jewellery and silverware in the collection of the National Museum of Ireland.
Another aspect of both Marika and KDW Jewellery was that their construct was acknowledged to be by a process known as Craft Design – a term rarely in use today, but sadly missed.
Finally, Marika Jewellery along with that of KDW were Viking/ Scandinavian invasions in the modern age, but this time pleasing to those truly conquered, resembling perhaps to how today we enjoy the products of H & M and IKEA, both of whom unpretentiously touch many people by addressing their requirements with quality design values and broad accessibility in the marketplace.
Further suggested reading:
- Dunlevy, M. (2001). Jewellery -17th to 20t h Centuries. Dublin: The National Museum of Ireland.
- Marchant, N. and Addis, J. (1985). Kilkenny Design: Twenty-one years of design in Ireland. Kilkenny and London.
- Publications Teahan, J. (1987). The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin, exhibition 1637- 1987. Dublin: The National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.
- Thorpe, R (ed). (2005). Designing Ireland, A retrospective exhibition of Kilkenny Design Workshops 1963-1988. Kilkenny: Crafts Council of Ireland.
Figure 1, Rudolf Heltzel, Silver Prototype rings c1960s. Designing Ireland Catalogue Image by Roland Paschhoff. Courtesy CCOI. Figure 2, Rudolf Heltzel, L+R Prototype silver cufflinks 1966/7. Designing Ireland Catalogue. Image by Roland Paschhoff. Courtesy CCOI. Centre cufflink by Marcus Huber. Figure 3,
Asger Max Anderson :1971- Hammered silver Necklace. Designing Ireland Catalogue. Image byRoland Paschhoff. Courtesy CCOI. Figure 4, “Torc” Bangle, silver 1972. Asger Max Anderson. Designing Ireland Catalogue. Image by Roland Paschhoff. Courtesy CCOI. Figure 5, Silver amethyst set ring. Asger Max Anderson :1971. Designing Ireland Catalogue. Image by Roland Paschhoff. Courtesy CCOI. Figure 6, Asger Max Anderson – Technical Drawing :1971 Archive: Byrne D. Figure 7, Murnaghan wearing unique silver pendant. Archive – National Museum of Ireland The Irish Woman September 1978. Courtesy the Irish Country Women’s Association. Figure 8, Marika Jewellery. Archive; National Museum of Ireland. Evening Herald 1970. Images Courtesy Independent Newspapers. Figure 9, Selection, Marika rings – Archive; National Museum of Ireland – Evening Hearld 1970 Courtesy ; Independent Newspapers. Figure 10, Marika Retail outlet. Archive; National Museum of Ireland Evening Hearld 1970. Courtesy ; Independent Newspapers. Figure 11, Decorative Hair comb, platinum.L16.5cm 1983. The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin – Exhibition 1637-1987. Courtesy; The Company of Goldsmiths.