An art historian (BA) and furniture designer (MA) by training, Benjamin Lignel veered toward jewelry design just after earning his master's degree. Lignel describes himself as a designer, writer, and curator. In 2007, he co-founded la garantie, association pour le bijou, a French association with a mission to study and promote jewelry. He became a member of Think Tank, a European Initiative for the Applied Arts, in 2009, and was a guest teacher at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Nuremberg, Germany) in 2013. Lignel was appointed editor of Art Jewelry Forum in January of the same year. In 2015, he edited the first book-length study of jewelry exhibition-making, "Shows and Tales."
A large part of the extended AJF team (Rebekah Frank and Ben Lignel) and board (Susan Cummins, Liesbeth den Besten, Bella Neyman, and Tanel Veerne) has just dispersed back home from Munich Jewelry Week 2015.
This year’s crop of exhibitions did not disappoint, and delivered to the crowd of aficionados the usual mix of sensory pleasures and challenges (“intellectual” could be added to the mix, but that would just have made the sentence too long, and I have decided this year to write shorter sentences, starting with the next one). So. This letter is not going to be about Munich: I am not going to write about Eva Eisler’s selection for Schmuck, Toni Greenbaum’s excellent lecture at the Pinakothek, Junwon Jung’s magical minimalism, Eija Mustonen’s metal mittens, or the elegant displays at Hang and paper-plastic-metal-stone. I am not even going to hint at AJF’s commitment to participate in next year’s Munich Jewelry Week with a groovy, transnational, collaborative project (but you, dear reader, can spot a teaser when you see one, bless you). Some details about the shows have already started hitting our home page with this year’s staggered Best Of, courtesy of Bella Neyman and Ruta Reifen. Others must remain secret for a little longer, as you are probably holding a blowtorch and we wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.
Munich is a little bit like Christmas dinner for the contemporary field (certainly the bit about meeting with your extended family, talking nonstop, and going home dizzy with, well, whatever it is you had). So rather than discuss that, I would like to surf on this end-of-cycle spirit to look back at 2014, and whet your appetite for 2015.
2014 has been a propitious year for AJF. We expanded our pool of contributors, and had the privilege to work with 24 new talented minds who reported from all corners of the planet: Grace Cochrane and Susan Cohn (in Australia), David Beytelmann (in Colombia), Stephen Bottomley, Gemma Draper, V. Irene Cockroft, and Cat Rossi (in England), Monika Brugger (in France), Pravu Mazumdar (in Germany), Laura Rysman (in Italy), Mikiko Minewaki (in Japan), Morgane de Klerk, Benedikt Fischer, and Jeroen Redel (in the Netherlands), Moyra Elliott (in New Zealand), Amina Rizwan (in Pakistan), and Sarah Chiappelli, Garth Clark, Claire Finin, Christina Miller, Jennifer Navva Milliken, Edgar Mosa, Lindsey Snell, and Jessica Tolbert (in the US of A). We are delighted to have such a broad geographical base of correspondents, but this is not nearly enough: I would like to make sure that in 2015, the jewelry scenes in Latin America, Asia, and Africa get the attention and exposure they deserve (promising work and a fragile distribution network distinguish South Korea and Thailand, Chile and Argentina: don’t you want to hear more about them? I know I do).
We also increased our editorial output, published one book of interviews, kickstarted another into life (actually, you did that, and, boy, how generous you have been…) and presented several new article series. Looking at this past year in print, I would like to begin by telling you what we, at AJF, are most proud of. In return, I want you to tell us what you liked most (this, if you are a space cadet like me, is surprisingly easy: scroll down to the end of this little block of text, and use the comment box).
We are rather proud the seven-part Criticality series published last summer. It is an in-depth look at a question that is at the forefront of AJF’s collective mind (why is criticality important?). Its publication was necessary for us: our reviews, last year, were not always happily received, and it seemed necessary to ask ourselves why we believe that criticality is, in fact, vital for the contemporary jewelry field. Each person on the Publication committee seems to prefer a different one of these essays, and that is just it: the first five contributors offered very different perspectives on criticality, while the sixth very eloquently refuted criticism in favor of critique. Liesbeth den Besten enjoyed Pravu Mazumdar’s and Garth Clark’s, Bella Neyman favored Garth Clark’s, I found Moyra Elliot’s inspiring, and Susan Cummins approved of all of them. This series is the first that generated serious online comments and conversations: This confirmed that you, dear reader, like long, provocative essays as much as the next person. I will make sure that you are kept engaged, and given repeated opportunities to debate with fellow AJF readers.
Jewelry pieces are arguably the field’s raison d’être, but are actually seldom discussed in detail: The monthly One on One series was introduce in January last year, to provide readers with examples of how specific pieces of jewelry can be looked at, decoded, interpreted. There is a pedagogical aspect to those texts: They are meant to help us develop “jewelry-specific” themes and analytical possibilities. They also put up a form of resistance to the idea that the field is one by articulating how very different the criteria for success are between, say, a Lisa Walker neckpiece and a Cartier bracelet. We feel the One on Ones are important, and will pursue the series this year. We have also decided to expand the scope of these short articles outward from jewelry objects: A new series focusing on the social rituals that they are embedded in, or the narrative that they serve, has just started coming out. You have no doubt read Kiss the Rings, Bitch, Je suis #hashtag, Bling Those Wrinkles Out, Grandma, and The World’s First Rapper. If you liked them, you’ll love Stephen Mulqueen’s Men with Flowers (coming soon from New Zealand), Marilyn Zapf on the Rainbow Loom (she does not approve), or John Cussans on the chastity ring…
Alongside the criticality series and the One on Ones, a few stand-alone pieces were singled out by the publication committee: Deserving particular note are the in-depth interviews of Dorothea Prühl and Kadri Mälk—both interviews have that unique quality of unpacking and contextualizing the practice of educator-makers we thought we knew well. Meanwhile the reviews of Jean-Paul Gaultier by Edgar Mosa and of Lauren Kalman by Gabriel Craig received several thumbs-up from members of the committee: Mosa’s oniric prose and very subjective approach to the French fashion designer could not be more different, in style, from Craig’s informed analysis of the multidisciplinary American artist, yet both penned inspired reports and thoroughly enjoyable reads that bear witness to AJF’s rich range of voices.
Having diverse and occasionally conflicting views expressed on AJF is what we are about: The editorial plan for 2015 means to widen our reporting base even more, and continue to report on a field that never ceases to reinvent itself—with articles that are thorough, timely, and critical. We would also like to look at jewelry from a broader perspective, and report on culture as much as we do on objects. Marthe Le Van, who handled our vital social networks this year, reports that the phrase “Jewelry Is Having Its Moment” is itself having a bit of a moment. An (optimistic?) statement, originally uttered by who-knows-who, has been promoted to “catchphrase,” and may soon become popular knowledge. This is jewelry culture.
Come and get it.
 The publication committee meets once a month to discuss past and forthcoming articles, and offer the editor guidance, suggestion, and criticism. Its feedback is fundamental in keeping the quality of the content high, and in questioning the general editorial line. Sitting on the committee are: Susan Cummins, Liesbeth den Besten, Rebekah Frank, Marthe Le Van, Bella Neyman, Sienna Patti, and myself.