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How Can Emotion be Designed into Jewellery? Part 1 – Emotional Memories


How a war veteran’s emotional reaction to my sculpture in the Arthall gallery changed my life

The story begins when Steve, a war veteran, who was so emotionally moved by my sculpture “Self Esteem” (photographed here through the gallery window), that the gallery owner invited him back a few weeks later to talk about his life experiences and how my art triggered so many memories for him.

Steve’s story was full of horror and betrayal:

  • His father had signed him up for the army when Steve was only 15 years old without telling him
  • Friends were killed and blown up in front of him in Ireland and Afghanistan
  • He married to avoid living in barracks alone
  • After 30 years in the army, he left without a job, divorced and homeless

Steve was institutionalised and suffering from PTSD. Alcoholism meant that he couldn’t remember much of the next 10 years. Mostly out of work, he tried to commit suicide several times.

Eventually, Steve was approached by the charity Combat Stress who offered him help for his PTSD.

  • Steve found he enjoyed art therapy and had a talent for poetry
  • He shared some of his art and read some of his poems with us, often breaking down into tears, reliving the emotions which they brought back
  • It was fascinating hearing how psychologists had interpreted his art, finding hidden emotions and feelings

Speaking privately afterwards, Steve explained that he would have liked to buy my sculpture because the bodies reminded him of how, at his worst, he had mentally curled up when he couldn’t face the future. That the coloured threads on the surface for him represented the thin strands he had clung to in the hope of recovery. 

Meeting Steve Changed My Life

I had already realised that my passion was for smaller, wearable sculptures in the form of contemporary art jewellery, so I completed formal training as a jeweller with the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’, at the Goldsmiths’ Centre in London. But I wanted to explore design and in particular how to build emotion into jewellery.

Iconic jewellery tells such an intimate story, capturing a moment in time, the feeling of intimacy when you are with someone or the sensation evoked by a special place. It was during this time that I met Steve. His moving response was so strong that I became even more driven to explore how I could weave a person’s emotions and memories into the DNA of my jewellery designs. 

At that time I still lacked the ability to narrate these feelings into my own designs, so I made the decision to embark on an avant-garde degree in Jewellery and Metal Design at the University of Dundee (DJCAD), which allowed me the freedom, in a supportive environment, to explore this concept. 

To help my clients and other artists understand what I learned and how this has guided my approach to designing emotional jewellery, I am sharing my research in a series of blog posts.

I have also developed this YouTube video which summarises my approach and shares some client stories, but lacks the detailed research found in the blog series.