David Watkins

Since the 1960s, the British jewellery artist David Watkins has been celebrated for his pioneering and experimental approach to jewellery forms, materials and techniques. Originally trained as a sculptor, jazz musician, and model maker, his previous careers are echoed through the form, rhythmic and futuristic feel of his most iconic pieces.

Through his practice, Watkins has engineered new techniques and materials - computer-aided drafting, hand-dyed industrial acrylic, neoprene and plasma-coated steel - to test the possibilities of jewellery as wearable sculpture. His radical approach to designing and making positioned him at the forefront of the influential New Jewellery movement of the 1980s.

In 1984 Watkins was appointed Professor of Metalwork and Jewellery at the Royal College of Art, a post he held until his retirement as Head of Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery. When he retired in 2008, his personal contribution was recognised with the award of an Emeritus professorship.

Fish Tail Squares No. 1 to No. 5


Steel wire, neoprene
Hand shaped, sprayed
Average L220mm
Crafts Council Collection number: J150

Fish Tail Squares No. 1 to No. 5, David Watkins, 1981. Photo: Nick Moss

Fish Tail Squares No. 1 to No. 5 is representative of a shift in Watkins’s practice from his modernist acrylic works of the 1970s, to what can be described as his postmodernist works of the 1980s. At this time Watkins began experimenting with neoprene-coated steel wire, including neckpieces produced in groups to be layered and worn together to create bold combinations of colour.

This piece, a lightweight composition of steel wire, more improvisational in nature than earlier works, explores narrative and metaphorical dimensions, drawing upon Watkins’s experiences in Australia and travels through Asia in 1978.

Samurai Square, David Watkins, 1981. Crafts Council Collection number: J172. Photo: Nick Moss

Also from this improvisational series of work, Samurai Square explores a Japanese theme, in the symbolic colour red.

Primary Orbits, David Watkins, 1983. Crafts Council Collection number: J158. Photo: Nick Moss

A further example of the neoprene and steel works is Primary Orbits, a combination neckpiece in which four individual circles are layered. For Watkins the piece is “an early example of the layered forms I have found fascinating ever since. Although I had already explored the concept of extending a neckpiece to occupy and articulate space around the shoulders, the Orbits series draws the space in an ‘aleatoric’ manner, framing the head and face of the wearer in an interdependent composition. The series probably established the theme of circularity that I have found so inspiring in works for the body. Much later, I reconsidered my 1980s Orbits, and they provided source material for further developments.”

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