Narrative Jewellery

Within the box: searching for the ludic between the rational and the emotional in narrative jewellery.  A journey into the universes of the researcher Konrad Laimer and the nostalgic Panayiotis Panayi, contemporary jewellers from North Italy and North Cyprus.

 Introduction. Inside the box

“When new solutions are sought, those involved are invariably encouraged to think outside the box… But what if the inverse is true?” (AnimaVienna, 2017)

In 2016, during a course at Assamblage[1], David Sandu, our teacher, convinced us that we only need fire, a hammer and some silver to make one of a kind pieces of jewellery, which could convey our extraordinary ideas and emotions. Time and practice have proven that this is not exactly the case. However, the idea that some constraints would not limit creativity seems to be valid. Moreover, not only is there no need to think outside the box, but as Boyd and Goldenberg note, “to be truly original and innovative… more, better and quicker innovation happens when you work inside your familiar world” (2018:2). There may be more than one box though, as “creative people have very distinct and limited boxes inside their heads” (Dahlen, 2009:33). Among the “boxes inside” my head was a box of books, so, once I had the fire, the piece of silver and the hammer I started to tell a story[2].

The two jewellers who have drawn my attention have few very distinct and interesting boxes in their head themselves. Their jewellery are portals towards incredible cultural backgrounds, knowledges and emotions. Konrad Laimer, goldsmith from North Italy has his studio in a village where olives and oaks (Fig.1.) “live botanical love story for millennia”. “Up here in the north is my south” (AnimaVienna, 2017) he says, like an invitation to open his box of fine jewellery with the promise of bright stories. Panayiotis Panayi, silversmith from Cyprus, keeps the summer and the childhood games (Fig. 2.) in his nostalgic box “for not having enough of it” (2017). I met him at a fair[3] and spent hours looking at his work; every piece from his collection had a hypnotic effect on me.

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Fig. 1.  Oak & Olive in peaceful coexistence for millennia silver 925/000 oxidized (2017)

Fig. 2. Swing[4] necklace silver 925/000 oxidized and wood (2017)

Judging on the “levels of engagement, from the first view, as Fenn says regarding narrative jewellery (2017:6), in order to place these two jewellers within a context, I am looking for conclusive results within the box of well established jewellers, who have been labeled as narrative jewellers, or who have consistent and coherent collections which convey strong messages and emotions, making the wearers and the viewers part of their game.

The ludic premise

“Play cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play”  (Huizinga, 1949:3)

 I have begun the journey through the narrative jewellery landscape with Jack Cunningham and based on his argument, that “it takes three people to complete the narration: the maker, the wearer and the viewer” (2007), I considered that this could be seen as a game with three players That would imply that the makers are free to play and engage us in their game. But, in spite of the opening quote of this chapter, in his famous book, Homo Ludens, Huizinga (1949:167), thought that the craftman doesn’t have this freedom at all: “the man who is commissioned to make something is faced with a serious responsible task: any idea of play is out of place”. He is contradicted by Frances Lord’s lecture on commissioning public works “Working to a project brief and developing site specific proposal” (7 Nov), during which were presented the works of Lucy Casson, who’s ludic approach hasn’t been inhibited by the constraints of the larger public commissions.

Fig 3. Bronze arm rests Leeds City Centre (2015)

An exhibition at Ruthin Craft Centre in 2010 reunited thirteen makers, among them Lucy Casson, Abbot and Ellwood, under the intriguing and promising title Smile. Its brochure explained that “a smile is not always simply a sign of amusement. It can convey a host of complex emotions: be whimsical or pensive, sad, ironic… Every piece… invites you to spend time with it – whether to uncover a deeper message or admire the maker’s skills and find another aspect of the work that makes you smile and feel brighter.” (Hughes, 2010:5).

These are often the reactions experienced by the participants in a game. People interact, they start conversations, they are curious to find out more.

Interaction, the start of conversation

“A powerful… composition embodies the energy and thoughts of the artist and draws the viewer in. Curiously, sensing that there’s more to know, the conversation begins” (Pond,2017:8)       

In the MA Jewellery’s first study trip to London, I noticed that an everyday place in London wears new unusual benches (Fig.4). A description reads: “See (and sit on) Jeppe Hein’s witty reinvention of the park bench… to break our ingrained behavior in public space… encouraging interaction between those seated and those passing by” (, 2018). The artist, through his objects installed in a public area[5], invites everyday people to notice the place. The bench may appear unusual, but it remains conventional in more ways than one: it is made out of the same materials and using the same techniques. This is not working outside the box, but within it, using different angles and different colours to make us curious and start a conversation to find out their story.


Fig. 4. Southbank Centre (2018), Jeppe Hein’s Modified Social Benches

Similarly, the jewellery made by storyteller makers, displayed by everyday people, worn in public places, sometimes, actually invites a dialogue, “encouraging interaction” when the piece tells us something. Konrad Laimer increases my curiosity to see how the story continues with every piece (Fig 5). The same happens with Panayiotis Panayi’s works (Fig 6). They receive a spontaneous response from me, “from the first view…” (Fenn, 2017:6).                  5  6

Fig. 5. Konrad Laimer, Gift from Africa 1995     Fig. 6. Panayiotis Panayi, Nostalgia, 2017

This kind of adornment can be identified as being narrative jewellery as described by Cunningham: “A wearable object that contains a commentary or message which the maker, by means of visual representation, has the overt intention to communicate to an audience through the intervention of the wearer.” (Fenn, 2017:6)

What does narrative mean though and how do jewellers use it?

 “The beauty of narrative jewelry is in the levels of engagement, from the first view” (Fenn, 2017:6)

 Narrative is about telling a story. Not only does it come from the latin narrativus which means exactly telling a story (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2015), but in literature, it is defined as “characterized by or relating to story-telling” (The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, 2008). Cunningham has astutely argued, the term narrative jewellery “would imply that the work has meaning, has a story to tell, communicates something.” (2005:VI)

Telling a story, however, is a bigger ambition and implies a set of skills, a good subject and an audience able to read it. An entire coherent collection, with a consistent message, could give some clear suggestions. The audience, however,  is rarely able to get the exact meaning of a story contained by a piece of jewellery, and therefore makers choose to tell it themselves whether they are asked to or not. “You pushed me to do something I always wanted to do, to explain my art on a paper!”, confessed Panayiotis Panayi (2018).

I asked both jewellers how important it is for them that the wearers are aware of the meaning or the story of the jewellery they’ve chosen. Konrad Laimer answered that “every jewelery should develop its effect” (2018), while Panyiotis Panayi admitted that he feels that it is in his hands “whether the customer get it or not” (2018).

 A map of the narrative jewellery landscape based on the emotions conveyed

“All three levels[6] of processing work together to determine a person’s cognitive and emotional state. High- level reflective cognition can trigger lower-level emotions. Lower- level emotions can trigger higher-level reflective cognition” (Norman, 1998: 55)    

The starting point of my research on narrative jewellery was Lesley Millar’s lecture on the “Importance of Touch” (19th of Sept) and the Quipu necklace of Inca people made of knotted cotton, which she mentioned as narrative necklace. Similar necklaces (with lines and knots) are presented by Imogen Racz in her book Contemporary Craft as “sculptural metaphors”. If the quipu story remains unknown, we know that the necklaces of Cynthia Cousens are about winter, because she told us. She “spent the winter walking…  she drew, gathered information and objects, and looked are and respond to the landscape. The fourteen necklaces that resulted from this…were sculptural metaphors related to her experiences with the bature (fig. 8) “ (Racz, 2009:59)

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Fig 7. British Museum (1430-1530), Inca quipu           Fig 8. Cynthia Cousens (1995), Winter, Necklace Studies

Once I had started the journey Cunningham and Fenn offered me guidance. Looking closely at all the narrative jewellery in their books, it became evident that their ability to tell the entire story, on their own, once displayed, is limited. They look more like intentions of telling a story.

I have discovered extraordinary jewellers during this research and most of them have unique ways to express original ideas and overwhelming feelings through their craft. From the delicate humor of Lucy Casson and the childish joy of Kim Elwood and Mike Abott to the subversive humour of Roger Rotsch Weber, from the urban restless Asagi Maeda to the nostalgic Xavier Monclùs or the militant dreamer Jo Pond, all over the world, endless stories arise from the cultural boxes of the narrative jewellers. Some are accompanied by the makers’ disclosure. Julie Allison “describes her work as a collection of hand drawn memories” (Fenn, 2017:17). Xavier Monclús also shares his thoughts: “Although houses can’t talk, I’ve always believed they can hear.” (2016). Konrad Laimer thinks that jewellery is “a very positive medium for society to understand history” (2018). However, if the stories have to be guessed, when the author’s explanations are not available, a key of emotions can be used to shape the landscape of the narrative jewellery.    In order to situate the two practitioners I admire within the context of the narrative jewellery, I configured a map of jewellers based on the emotion conveyed by their stories.


Fig. 9. Map of the emotion states expressed by the narrative jewellers through their stories. A subjective narrative jewellery landscape

Konrad Laimer, the researcher’s joy 

“To break the marble spell

 Is the hand that serves the brain can do”

(Michelangelo cited in Harrod, 2015:328)

Konrad Laimer has a Renaissance spirit, he studies all the time, restless researching and experimenting. He shares his joy and his enthusiasm on the materials he uses, which are nothing but silver, copper, marble, amber for construction and apples, leaves, grapevine for burnt out casting. But the copper is from the copper mine in the next village, the apples from his orchard, the marble from the mountains he looks at every morning through his windows. A mixture of science, sustainability and excellent craftsmanship, doubled by a subtle humor and an infallible logic. Nothing is settled though, his exploration continues, endless: “I try to understand the matter in order to have a dialogue. Matter is the key to form and technology. In physics, anatomy and chemistry of matter, my information lies in the design, sounds very scientific, but in a good way.  The history of goldsmiths is very important in my work, I can continue to work well on this knowledge.” (Konrad Laimer, 2018)


Fig. 10. Core Apple Necklace (2016) made by Konrad Laimer of apple slices, burnout casting, gold 750 and silver 925. The Museum of Art and Design, NY, LOOT 2017

The research on Konrad Laimer has been difficult, even though has an impressive CV – he was 16 when started to study goldsmithing and sculpture in Bolzen, then in Strasbourg, and he currently works for museums and academies in Russia and America. He did answer a  few of my questions, of course, but I couldn’t find too many articles about him, and the few I could find were in German, Italian or Polish. He told me I was the first jeweller to write about him. I am not the only one who admires his work , though:  Bianca Capello[7], jewellery historian and critic, also finds Laimer’s research interesting, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. She found it interesting that “before the realization of each collection Konrad studies the history, the traditional symbol, the technical and physical possibilities of the material he is working on”. She noted that she has known the goldsmith for some time and that behind a great humility is a true artist deeply involved in contemporary research of studio jewellery, who loves his territory but he is also a world citizen with an open mind and a deep respect and curiosity of the narrative possibility of materials.”

Panayiotis Panayi, a nostalgic poet

 “The truly skilled practitioner … has an ineffable, special quality.” (Adamson:2007, 71)             

Panayiotis Panayi was 15 years old when went to Greece at Mokume school in Thessaloniki, after attending a technical school in Cyprus. Four years later he had his first exhibition back in Cyprus followed by Inhorgenta, Munich, Polidinamo Centre, Nicosia, Art Exhibition, Beijing, Author, Bucharest and Sieraad, Amsterdam. I met him at Author[8] in Bucharest and spent some time on his collection, Nostalgia. He told me that “Nostalgia came up at the end of Summer because it was not enough of it. I love the sea and seaside walks, which did continue in my workplace during the next 6-7 month while working on this collection.”


Fig 11. Panyiotis Panyi (2017), Nostalgia, white oxidised silver 925, fishing line

Panayiotis Panayi says that he creates and shares his ideas through the jewellery, and he explained to me how every single collection of his started from a state of mind. “Mind Stairs it was the first conceptual collection which came up after studies with an idea of moving forward, going upwards. Target was the second collection after Mind Stairs, so that time was many targets I wanted to do, I used my targets to make the way to the target more interesting and enjoyable! That”s why the roads. Simplicity, while working on Nostalgia collection with much of details, the idea of exact opposite came up, a need to create a collection based on minimal, clean, straight lines. This collection influenced me in way that I actually stopped looking for complicated designs and started paying attention to the obvious. Data started at the dentist! Every day we get a lot of informations and we choose some of them that are interesting for as to analyses them and use them! That what I did that day to the dentist, he used this material on me and use an information was interesting for me. We choose the details from all this information or not!”

I asked Laura Helena Aureli, curator, why did she has invited Panayiotis Panayi to exhibit at her gallery, at My Day-By Day Gallery in Rome. “Lines are clean his geometrical forms are smooth not harsh but rather soft at the touch. He works mainly silver and really his lines are soft you can almost bend them… but they won’t work. They remind me of waves when I see them and also when I touch them. Which is quite strange since lines are meant to be straight. So this is what I liked of him, first of all the person, the man behind the artwork, then this kind of fluid work which clashes completely with the straight lines and the geometric firms he works with when creating his jewelry pieces. The items are very comfortable and elegant when worn and very light. He uses little metal, the pieces are very very light not heavy. Isn’t that nice?” (Aureli, 2018)

My practice

My own work has been labeled as being narrative, since my first collection, Gogol’s Overcoat, a literary obsession (Appendix 1) figurative and inspired by a novel –The Overcoat by N. Gogol-  has helped me to share my enthusiasm on that author. Having been part of a publishing house for over ten years, most of my inspiration comes from literature.

As jewellery maker I have been tempted by all sorts of materials, techniques and subjects. Researching the work of the jewellers I most admire, I found out that the traditional way of making jewellery, once well mastered, offers the necessary freedom to express ideas and feelings.  In terms of subjects it soon became clear that those emotions that were most poignant were the ones that could reach other people also, envelop them into the story. The most important common feature of Konrad Laimer and Panayiotis Panayi is sincerity. They are authentic and honest, they express their own ideas and emotions through the craft they well master, approaching the design and materials after serious analyse and thinking and that gives their jewellery power, meaning and logic.

Adrian Bland’s lecture on The Concept of Context (14th of November) and then the tutorial I had with him also emphasized authenticity. He said that he might not be interested in the apples from the South Tyrol or fishermen’s boats on Cyprus beaches, but he could be fascinated by the artists’ enthusiasm and beliefs as these treats will transfer towards the jewellery features “First of all, I loved the man, he is humble and simple and full of energy and with a nice positive smile… all of these qualities are represented in his work…” said Laura Helena Aureli on Panayiotis Panayi. Bianca Capello also said that she likes very much the work of Konrad Laimer because “behind a great humility he is a true jewellery artist deeply involved in contemporary research of studio jewellery”. I’ll follow their example and explore and practice making jewellery based on my emotions and thoughts (Appendix 2)


“What is true of the producer is true of the perceiver”  (Dewey, 2005:112)

This essay argued that some jewellers, using no other than traditional means of their craft, can create strong emotions telling personal stories through their unexpected unique jewellery collections, playing by the rules, in the most serious way, the game: the maker, the wearer, the viewer.

Paraphrasing the quote[9] on Jeppe Hein’s benches, see (and explore) Konrad Laimer’s and Panayiotis Panayi’s jewellery narratives of their orchards and boats to break ourselves away from everyday places, encouraging the dialogue between those in the know and those passing by.


 Adamson, Glenn (2007) Thinking Through Craft, Berg Publishers

Adamson, Glenn (2010) The Craft Reader London: Berg Publishers

Anderson, Hephzibah (2010) Smile Ruthin Craft Centre

Animavienna (2017) A Box Project At: (Accessed on 15.10.18)Aureli, Laura Helen (2018) [Interview by Facebook messenger, 22nd October 2018]

den Besten, Liesbeth (2012) ‘On jewellery A compendium of international contemporary art jewellery’ Stuttgart: Arnoldsche Art Publishers

Bland, Adrian (2018) The Concept of Context  Farnham [Lecture at University for the Creative Arts,14 November 2018]

Bland, Adrian (2018) [Conversation within the tutorial on the narrative jewellery context of Konrad Laimer and Panayiotis Panayi held on 14 November 2018]

Boyd, Drew, and Goldenberg, Jacob (2013) Inside the Box : Why the best business solutions are right in front of you, Profile Books At:  (Accessed on 08.10.18)

Boym, Svetlana (2007) ‘Nostalgia and its discontents.’ In: The Hedgehog Review, vol. 9, no. 2 [online] At: ((Accessed on 8.10.2018).

Cappello, Bianca (2018) [Interviu by email, 8th October 2018]

Cuningham, Jack (2005) ‘Maker, wearer, viewer. Contemporary Narrative European Jewellery’ Glasgow:Scottish Arts Council

Dahlén, Micael (2009) Creativity Unlimited : Thinking Inside the Box for Business Innovation, John Wiley & Sons [Online] At: (Accessed on 08.10.18)

Dewey, John (2005) Art as experience. London: Penguin

Editors of Phaidon (2013) The Design Book, Phaidon Press

Fenn, Mark (2017) Narrative Jewelry. Tales from the toolbox. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd

Harrod, Tanya (2015) The Real Thing: Essays on Making in the Real World, Hyphen Press

Harrod, Tanya (1995) The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century, Yale University Press

Harrod, Tanya (2015) ‘‘Visionary rather than practical’: craft, art, and material efficiency’’ In The real thing. Essays on making in the modern world London: Hyphen Press pp. 328

Hughes, Philip (2010), Director, Ruthin Craft Centre, ‘Foreword’ In Smile Ruthin Craft Centre pp5

Huzinga, Johan (1949 ) Homo Ludens, A Study Of The Play-Element In Culture London, Boston and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul [online] At:

(Accessed on 28.10.18)

Koplos, Janet and Metcalf, Bruce (2010) Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, The University of North Carolina Press

Laimer, Konrad (2018 [Interview by email, 15th October 2018]

Lefteri, Chris (2012) Making It: Manufacturing Techniques for Product Design, MIT Press

Lord, Frances (2018) Working to a project brief and developing site specific proposal  Farnham [Lecture at University for the Creative Arts, 7 November 2018].

Millar, Lesley (2018) Importance of Touch Farnham [Lecture at University for the Creative Arts, 19 September 2018]

Norman, A. Donald (1998)‘The Design of Everyday Things’ MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts pp57

Panayi, Panayiotis (2018) [Interview by email, 7th October 2018]

Panayi, Panayiotis (2018) [Interview by Facebook messenger, 15th October 2018]

Pond, Jo (2017) ’Identifying with the narrative’ In Narrative Jewelry. Tales from the Toolbox. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd. pp.8

Smith, Westley H.F. (2010) ‘Antony Caro Small Sculptures’ Lund Humphries pp36, 37

Racz, Imogen (2008) Contemporary Craft, Oxford, Newe York: Berg Publishers pp 59, (2018) Jeppe Hein’s Modified Social Benches. At: (Accessed on 20..09.18)

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The Oxford Dictionary of English. (2015) [online] At:, Oxford University Press (Accessed on 22.10.18) 

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Laimer, Konrad (2017) Oak & Olive in peaceful coexistence for millennia [silver 925/000 oxidized] At: A Box Project, (Accessed on 15.10.18)

Fig. 2. Demetrou, Stelios (2017) Swing necklace by Panyiotis Panayi [Silver 925/000 oxidized and wood], At: (Accessed on 20.10.18).

Figure 3. Casson, Lucy (2015) Bronze arm rests, Leeds city centre [Bronze] At: (Accessed on 20.11.18)

Figure 4. Coman, M. (2018) Southbank Centre [Wood] In possession of: Mihaela Coman: London

Figure 5. Laimer, Konrad (1995) “Gift from Africa, the spines spoon [Ag 925/ooo Au 750/ooo] At: (Accessesed 15.10.18) ……………………………………….Pag 6

Figure 6. Panayi, Panayiotis (2017) Nostalgia [Silver 925/000 and steel] At:

Figure 7. British Museum (1430-1530) Quipu [knotted cotton] At:

Figure 8.  Crisps, David (1995) Cynthia Cousens’ Neclace Studies, Winter In: Collection of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK

Fig. 9. Coman, M (2018) Map of the emotion states expressed by the narrative jewellers through their stories. A subjective narrative jewellery landscape

Figure 10. The Museum of Art and Design, NY (2016) Core Apple Necklace [Photograph] At:  (Accessed on 2nd October 2018)

Figure 11.  Adoráble Art and Design (2017) Nostalgia [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 26th December 2018)

[1] Contemporary School of Jewellery in Bucharest

[2] My fist collection was inspired by a novel I red at the time

[3] Author 2017- International Contemporary Jewellery Fair in Bucharest

[4] Why burnt wood, I asked Panayiotis Panayi. “After all this technology, new games tablets, smartphones … old school games are like been burned (sic), so this makes me feel nostalgic again and disappointed” (2018)

[5] During London Design Festival 2018

[6] “Visceral, behavioral and reflective” (Norman, 1998: 55)

[7]  Bianca teacher of “Jewellery Semiotic” and “History of Costume Jewellery” at European Institute of Design in Milan, who finds ‘particularly interesting the Laimer’s research’ and who had the kindness to answer my questions is also a teacher of “Jewellery History” at Galdus the professional public goldsmith school in Milan, coordinates and curates lessons and seminars in the History of jewellery for Art Academies and Universities; She is member of the Society of Jewellery Historians in London. She lives in Milan.

[8] Author – The International Annual Fair of Contemporary Jewellery in Bucharest

[9] “See (and sit on) Jeppe Hein’s witty reinvention of the park bench… to break our ingrained behavior in public space… encouraging interaction between those seated and those passing by.” (, 2018)