Preview: Unexpected Pleasures at the Design Museum

WHICH of your possessions do you hold as the most valuable? Or, put another way, if you had time to take one thing in a house fire, what would it be?

I guarantee that for 90% of you, the item in your mind right now is some kind of jewellery.

But just what is it that gives it this ‘value’? Is its value purely monetary, or does it lie in the memories and associations engrained into it?

This fundamental question of ‘what is value?’ lies at the heart of the Design Museum’s new (and first ever) jewellery exhibition Unexpected Pleasures.

Unexpected Pleasures

Unexpected Pleasures at the Design Museum

As head curator Susan Cohn rather poignantly stated, “jewellery becomes valuable when someone loves it.”

This is certainly evident in her somewhat democratic exhibition, whereby precious metals lay side by side with chewing gum.

The exhibition itself comprises of an impressive 186 pieces of contemporary jewellery, with the aim of making the viewer question the purpose of jewellery is in their life.

Expertly curated by Cohn, who also exhibits some of her own work, Unexpected Pleasures is new ground for the Design Museum, and is perhaps therefore a step towards the acceptance of jewellery as a true form of design.

[Show as slideshow]Gijs Bakker – Dew Drop, 1982 Camilla Prasch – Mega, 2009. Photography Dorte Krogh David Bielander – Scampi, 2007 Blanche Tilden - Speed, 2000. Photography Marcus Scholz Caroline Broadhead - Veil, 1983. Photography David Ward
Felieke van der Leest - Yellow Kelly, 2008. Photography Eddo Hartmann Karl Fritsch – Steinhaufen, 2004 Susie Ganch - Yellow Dust, 2010 Karl Fritsch - Screw Ring, 2010 Kiko Gianocca - Who Am I?, 2008-11. Photography Jeremy Dillon
Esther Knobel – Warrior Brooches, 1983-5. Photography David Ward Tiffany Parbs – Blister-ring, 2005 Photography by Terence Bogue Tiffany Parbs – Extension, 2008 Photography by Terence Bogue Shari Pierce – 34 Sexual Offenders and 2 Sexual Predators from within a 5 mile Radius. Photography: Mason Douglas Hans Stofer -Pearl Bracelet, 2000

There is a real sense that this exhibition has been something of a labour of love for Cohn with its ingenious structure and impeccable organisation.

Standout pieces from Unexpected Pleasures include Camilla Prasch’s Mega: an extravagant ring fashioned of silicone disks and thread that defies our social expectations of jewellery.

Felieke van der Leest’s Yellow Kelly necklace captures the playful element that is so essential to contemporary jewellery. The selection of photographs in the Worn Out section is also particularly strong, allowing visitors to assess how jewellery can be the focus of a compact between two people: the maker and the wearer.

The preview debate itself was surprisingly fiery for a cold December lunchtime, with heated words exchanged between Cohn and author Stephen Bayley.

Big words such as “taste” and “mass production” were dropped.

But, the conversation was dominated by questions of value, and predominantly Bayley’s rather out-dated opinion that anything mass produced is essentially worthless.

Perhaps it is no wonder then that his new book is entitled Ugly…

Despite some sweeping sentimentality at times from Cohn, Unexpected Pleasures is definitely not to be missed.

You will leave the room with a refreshed awareness for any jewellery you might be wearing, and perhaps an elevated love for those most prized possessions.

This personal value jewellery holds is what Cohn believes gives it such power as a design medium: Mass production is irrelevant in Unexpected Pleasures.

What does matter, however, is that jewellery is finally given the attention it deserves in this fabulous exhibition.

Unexpected Pleasures is open until 3 March 2013 at the Design Museum. Find out more at

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