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.

Flat Square Neckpiece

1977

Mild steel, yellow gold
Inlaying, oxidising
L185 x W185mm
Crafts Council Collection number: J53

Flat Square Neckpiece, David Watkins, 1977. Photo: Nick Moss

Watkins’s ‘flat square’ pieces were developed from his late 1970s wire body-cage constructions that framed the body. From these more complex cages evolved a series of simple steel square neckpieces, which were to become one of his most influential ideas. Flat Square Neckpiece was one of his earliest inlaid pieces and also one of the first simple flat squares. He developed a strong visual dialogue by placing a straight line against the curve of the body.

Flat Square Neckpiece, David Watkins, 1976. Photo: David Watkins

“These rectangular pieces, with their curved corners and soft geometry, work as formalist devices using the hard/soft principle. Place a straight line against the curve of the body and you have a visual ‘dialogue’. This accounts for the visual and conceptual tension in proposing that a rectangle should work around the neck.” – Peter Dormer on Watkins’s series of simple steel rectangular neckpieces in David Watkins: Jewellery and Sculpture, Crafts Council, 1985-1986.

Interlocking Bodypiece No. 2, David Watkins, 1976. Photo: Michael Hallson.

Watkins’s late-1970s wire body-cage constructions explored the interaction of the body and the wearable object: “My work proceeds primarily from the body, and from my attempts to reconcile simple geometry with the flesh and bone that has suggested it. In a way, these objects are evidence of the process. They may therefore inform about the body even when they are removed from it. They must nevertheless remain wholly satisfactory statements in their own right.”

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