In fine art there is the model of the maker, the message, and the viewer [fig.1].  In jewelry, there is a fourth element, the wearer, which can complicate the message [fig.2]. 


To quote art historian Liesbeth den Besten, “The viewer and the wearer are not necessarily one and the same person.  The moment the wearer wears an ornament, they become an intermediary between the maker, the piece and the viewer.”[1] Logical questions arise when examining this model: where should the message be positioned in the model, is it between the maker and wearer, or the wearer and the viewer?[2] When is jewelry most heavy with meaning?[3] Is it when the maker is at his bench? When the piece is worn, when depicted, or when viewed? To den Besten there are two moments when meaning is created: “‘The first involves the author, but is no more “original” or “primary” than the second, whose subject is the reader.’…The narrative is in the piece, but it has to be stirred up by the viewer, who will complete it.”[4] 

The wearer in jewelry is the conduit that transmits meaning to the viewer.  The wearer often activates the piece, it is the wearer who places the ring on their finger or pins the brooch on their lapel.  The maker cannot always control the intent, the meaning, of an object after it is handed over to the wearer to then be seen by the viewer. The wearer has the power to take control and change the meaning of a piece.  Historian Elizabeth Goring writes, “Jewelry can convey its message as brazenly or as subtly as its wearer chooses[,] the wearer has an intrinsically adaptive role in the process.  Factors such as the way the jewelry is worn […] can all profoundly affect its message.[fig. 3]”[5]


[1] Liesbeth den Besten, On jewellery:, (Stuttgart: Arnoldsche, 2011),  62.

[2] Liesbeth den Besten, “Reading jewellery. Comments on narrative jewellery,” Klimt02, accessed April 22, 2014,

[3] Lena Vigna, “Narrative Illusion: Jewelry from Painting,” Metalsmith, 2012.

[4] den Besten, On jewellery:, 104.

[5] Elizabeth Goring, “Jewelry and Communication: Breaking the Code,” Metalsmith, 2006.

Illustrations by Jennifer Lee Hallsey.

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