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From the Bench: HEAVEN & HELL by Arabel Lebrusan at Lebrusan Studio

In our From the Bench series, we ask designers to take us through the workings and inspirations behind their beloved pieces

Sometimes my work treads a fine line between art and jewellery design. Merging traditional craft with modern-day narratives, I create one-of-a-kind jewels that serve as social commentaries, telling the stories that tend to fall through the cracks of our capitalist society. For decades, the international media has called for attention on conflict diamonds, unsustainable gemstones and dirty mining. Across the globe, precious metals and stones are continually linked to human rights abuses, insurgent groups, child labour, scrupulous governments and corporations alike. Though steps towards transparency and sustainability are being made, the global jewellery industry at large still illustrates a willingness to turn a blind eye to these issues, comfortably mesmerised by the calming sparkle of beautiful jewels.

  • In creating a pair of earrings identical in appearance but worlds apart in provenance and integrity, I hoped to symbolise the jewellery industry’s two facets: one much more deceptive than the other.

 

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  • The diamonds set in the left earring are of unknown provenance, whilst those in the right were mined sustainably at the Diavik mine in Northwest Canada. Through innovation, engineering technologies (including an on-site windfarm!) and partnering with Indigenous people, stones are mined here with minimal impact on local land, water and wildlife.

 

  • Identical in colour and durability, both earrings are cast in 18ct white gold. However, whilst the basis of the left earring is gold of unknown provenance, the right is crafted using sustainable gold from the Ore Verde Mining Cooperative in northeast Colombia. The miners at this cooperative show such initiative to use their trade as an active force for environmental and socioeconomic good, that they inspired the Fairtrade Gold and Fairmined movements. It was the first gold mining cooperative in the world to receive Fairtrade and Fairmined certifications.

 

  • I chose to model these earrings on the A-K47 rifle. This iconic gun is known as the ‘weapon of choice’ for child soldiers in Sierra Leone, a country that has suffered terrible social and economic costs as a result of its civil war over diamond control. Evocative and unmistakeable, this silhouette encourages the viewer to confront, head-on, the reality of conflict diamonds.

 

  • Not just passionate about ethical sourcing, I am also an advocate for upholding traditional craftsmanship. Filigree is the ancient art of manipulating tiny threads and beads of precious metal to create ornate pieces of jewellery. The intricate filigree in these jewels is the work of our master craftsman Lorenzo, who hones his skill in his family-run workshop in Spain.

 

  • The filigree sections were created using 18ct yellow gold, before being plated in white rhodium. 18ct white gold is too hard to be soldered using the traditional powder solder commonly used in delicate filigree jewellery, so our only alternative on this occasion was to use yellow gold and mask its colour with rhodium.

 

  • The shafts between the ear post and the filigree sections at the bottom were constructed like articulated tennis bracelets. As opposed to a stiff structure, tiny diamonds hang in rows facilitated by delicate chains, enabling a loose fluidity that mirrors the movement of the head and body.

 

  • These earrings appear as part of my photo installation named Heaven & Hell: The State of the Jewellery Industry. The backdrops behind the opposing models are extracted from The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1510), a triptych oil painting by Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. These panels work as a metaphor for good and bad, beautiful and ugly, heaven and hell.

By Arabel Lebrusan at Lebrusan Studio

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