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.

Gardens of Arqua Petrarca


Plasma coated stainless steel
Cutting, welding
Ø 145mm
Crafts Council Collection number: J281

Gardens of Arqua Petrarca #6, David Watkins, 2003. Photo: Heini Schneebeli

The most recent of Watkins’s works acquired for the Crafts Council Collection (in 2004), Gardens of Arqua Petrarca #6 is one of a series of bangles in which figurative and narrative elements play an increasingly important role. The piece tells the story of Petrarch, an early Italian Renaissance scholar and poet who died at Arquà in the Euganean hills. He was noted for his love sonnets, in which he addressed an unrequited and possibly imaginary love.

The work is representative of a period in which Watkins began to focus on two-dimensional or flattened objects and the creation of ‘aleatoric’ compositions, a term used in music to describe the use of sounds left up to luck or chance. The surface texture is achieved by plasma coating – a hi-tech process in which particles of hard alloys are deposited on raw metal, changing its appearance.

Embrace, David Watkins, 2003. Crafts Council Collection number: J280. Photo: Heini Schneebeli.

David Watkins on the use of steel (from David Watkins, Encounters: Jewellery, 1997-2003, Electrum Gallery [2004]): “I find myself drawn to steel. It is often overlooked, perhaps because it is everywhere in our lives. But that is also its importance and its achievement. I like it because it is not, as are so many of the jewellers’ materials, soft and yielding, or too easy on the eye. It fights back a little. The process is not so... nice. But I find the material quite beautiful. And true.”

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