Lizzie Atkins is a London-based jeweler, writer, and researcher. After earning a degree in English literature, she went on to study jewelry at Middlesex University under Caroline Broadhead. She is also currently involved in a number of projects with Galerie Marzee.
What’s so special about a box?
Jewelry, especially traditional fine jewelry, is almost always accompanied by a box (or at the very least a fabric pouch). It’s part of the deal, the drum roll to heighten the sense of anticipation and the sign that something special is contained within. The function of the box is both public and private. The often lavish interior protects the precious cargo, offering safe harbor from prying eyes and wandering hands. Yet it also acts as a means of presentation, something to focus the attention and elevate the significance of the contents. Without disappearing down a rabbit hole of romance, there is, undeniably, more drama to a ring given in a box than a ring wrapped up in tissue paper. With the jewelry encased in this way, the act of giving, receiving, and having becomes something altogether more momentous.
The boxes that contain Dorothea Prühl’s neckpieces are in themselves objects to be coveted. Each box is unique and each is constructed by hand from paper and cardboard by German artist Andreas Richter, a fourth-generation bookbinder and graphic artist. With his passion for paper, packaging is for him an autonomous art object, something that transcends the purely functional. On completion, Prühl passes each neckpiece on to Richter and with it all responsibility for every aspect of the box design—the form, the color of the handmade paper, the texture of the lining fabric. Such is the great trust and understanding between them. Labeled and dated by Prühl herself and cocooned in a protective, rigid black sleeve, Richter’s boxes demonstrate immense craftsmanship and act as an eloquent and sympathetic complement to the jewelry. Prühl’s work is marked by economy and reduction. Nothing is superfluous but, in size and choice of material, the pieces are extravagant. Like Japanese tsutsumi (the art of wrapping and packaging) the elegant, somewhat Eastern-influenced boxes, despite their ornate papers and richly colored linings, complement and respect the spirit of Prühl’s work. They provide a “gentle concealment,” allowing the beauty of the contents to unfold in the almost ceremonial act of opening, an act accompanied by that deliciously satisfying tug of tension you get when you open and close a well-made, well-fitting box.
Ornamental packaging is not as much a prerequisite of contemporary jewelry, and artists’ responses to it are various, often incorporating the box within the art object itself. British artist Maria Militsi takes discarded jewelry boxes as her starting point and conjures new pieces to sit in the fading indentations left in their velvet interiors. And for Bernhard Schobinger, the box is often an integral part of the work. Reusing junked packaging, he draws, writes, and uses images to imbue boxes, cartons, and tins with details that narrate the story of the jewelry object. The box and its contents are dependent upon one another. Sturdy, stackable, transportable, and easy on the eye as a means of storage, Prühl’s boxes are undoubtedly beautiful, but they are still, at their heart, practical. Just boxes.