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.

Hinged Loop Necklace

1974

White perspex acrylic, 18ct yellow gold
Lathe-turning, goldsmithing
L265 x W135mm
Crafts Council Collection number: J13

Hinged Loop Necklace, David Watkins, 1974. Photo by Nick Moss

Hinged Loop Necklace is one of the first pieces to combine acrylic with gold. Acrylic was Watkins’s principal material in the early 1970s. Pieces of this period were produced from industrially sourced clear or coloured rods, whereas earlier works employed coloured acrylic. This piece marks Watkins’s transition towards more monochromatic work, preferring instead the contrast of the natural colour of plastics with precious metals: “Colour helped me to realise a basic formal language. As I became more sure of the language, colour became redundant.”

The piece also marks the establishment of the ‘hinged loop’ format: the process of lathe-turning formed small recesses or channels in the acrylic which Watkins filled with gold, turning a technical feature into a decorative one, enabling a sculptural unity.

Four-Way Bracelet on Stacking Trays, D85mm, David Watkins, 1974. Crafts Council Collection number: J12 a-h. Photo: Nick Moss

Throughout the first decade of his career, Watkins’s jewellery was produced out of lathe-turned, dyed acrylic. Watkins was among the first to explore the potential of plastic in art jewellery; he found innovative new ways of surface dyeing and heat-forming acrylics. Four-Way Bracelet on Stacking Trays was one of the first pieces using coloured acrylic in combination with gold.

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