Marble that looks like concrete, oxidized silver casts and penetrated diamonds – the jeweler and artist Karl Fritsch plays with the use of material and with the common perception of jewellery. By using different techniques, he challenges his profession’s tradition and the notion of value.
What makes a ring valuable? How does it need to look and feel to be wearable? Having these questions in mind, Karl Fritsch interprets jewellery-making in a new way through unusual combinations of different material. For example, in contrast to the process of marbleizing, where artists try to paint a surface that looks as close to real marble as possible and even go to special schools to learn the techniques of painting faux marble, Fritsch doesn’t want to achieve a look that is familiar to our eyes. Instead, he works with real marble and leaves it in its raw state.
Karl Fritsch, RING 2008 coll. Stedelijk Museum
The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam displays five rings and one brooch of Fritsch that perfectly illustrate his unconventional approach. One striking piece is a ring made out of silver, sapphire, quartz and marble. On first glance, the materials used seem crude; however, when you look closer, you notice the materials are actually real marble and precious stones. Fritsch plays with conventional ideas of what a material should be in the jewellery world. When we look at high end jewellery we tend to expect perfect finishes and nicely polished stones with smooth surfaces. However, the marble of the piece seems more like concrete and the silver doesn’t have a shiny but dark surface due to the oxidation.
Karl Fritsch, RING 2003 and BROOCH 1994 coll. Stedelijk Museum
Karl Fritsch is known for his unique working methods and techniques, ignoring social conventions and traditional standards. Precious stones like diamonds are usually finished in a specific way. The treatment of the surface – the special cutting and sanding of the material give diamonds their value. Nobody would dare to ‘destroy’ the surface since the gemstone would instantly lose its value. However, Fritsch does exactly that – he penetrates diamonds, sapphires and other precious stones. By ‘destroying’ the value through damaging the surface Karl Fritsch is able to give the pieces another layer of value. His pieces are unique and blur the line between common conventions of jewellery-making and fine arts. His former professor Otto Künzli described his rebellious works “as if [he] repaired the broken ring[s] with a golden chewing gum”. His interpretation of jewellery turn rings and brooches into wearable pieces of art.