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Jewelry as a Way to Transfer Wealth


Namita Gupta Wiggers published this short essay in the book Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective, by Damian Skinner.▲

Jewelry has long served as primary evidence of wealth and status throughout global cultures. From a dowry delivered by a father to secure his daughter’s future to polite Victorian-era references to male genitalia as the “family jewels,” connections between jewelry and inheritance are gendered and familial. Each successive generation bears the responsibility of stewardship, as proclaimed in recent ads by a luxury watch company: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.”

Contemporary jewelry challenges long-held traditions of intergenerational transfers of wealth through jewelry. Contemporary jewelry isn’t necessarily created with traditional luxury materials and collecting such work can be highly subjective. “Investment” in such works is contingent on the artist’s status and reputation, which is developed and maintained through specialized galleries and art fairs, modeled after contemporary art markets. The value of private collections, therefore, isn’t necessarily apparent from generation to generation. If the next generation doesn’t appreciate the work for its aesthetic qualities and can’t justify caring for it for sentimental reasons, where will it go?

As a relatively young form of jewelry—and of visual production—there is no secondary market for contemporary jewelry, as there is for contemporary art, decorative arts, or even mid-century design. This leaves current jewelry collections at risk of being lost as collections scatter between generations.

Hartog & Henneman, Me and My Friends, from the Are You Nuts series
JISKA HARTOG & MICHIEL HENNEMAN MAKE WORK THAT IS LIGHTHEARTED, PLAYFUL, AND INSTANTLY UNDERSTANDABLE. COLLECTORS OF ART JEWELRY LOVE IT, BUT WILL THEIR KIDS AND GRANDKIDS VALUE IT? HOW WELL WILL IT FARE ON THE SECONDARY MARKET?  Hartog & Henneman, Me and My Friends, from the Are You Nuts series, 2021, brooch, walnut shell, walnut wood, magnet, 60 x 100 x 70 mm, photo courtesy of the artists and Galerie Door


  • Namita Gupta Wiggers

    Namita Gupta Wiggers is a writer, curator, and educator based in Portland, Oregon. She is the director and cofounder of Critical Craft Forum, an online and onsite platform for exchange (Facebook group@critcraftforumwww.criticalcraftforum.com). Wiggers teaches in MFA Applied Craft + Design, coadministered by Oregon College of Art and Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art. From 2004–2014, she served as the director and chief curator for the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, Oregon. She contributes to online and in-print journals, books, and catalogs, and serves as the exhibition reviews editor for The Journal of Modern Craft and on the editorial board of Garland. Current projects include: Across the Table, Across the Land with Michael Strand for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, and forthcoming exhibitions for the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Seattle, Washington, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Miami, Florida.

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