Can philosophy really influence jewellery?
It definitely can and does.
I am Alexandra, the maker behind VON W FINE JEWELLERY. Welcome to the background of my making.
While I do not have the same depth as some of my studied philosopher friends, I have been interested in philosophy since secondary school. Thoughts that have most guided my making range from Heraclitus to Aristotle and the Peripatetics, from the Stoics to the existentialists.
Heraclitus and his idea that a (hu)‘man cannot step into the same river twice, as he is neither the same man, nor is the river the same river’ is really the basis for VON W’s philosophy: We are forever in flux, forever becoming. I create my jewellery not only to change and become with you, but also to be the obvious canvas to chart this becoming and to invite reflection on these changes. Eventually, you can pass it on to the next generation, together with your life story ingrained in it.
Considering that everything is forever in flux also helps to reconsider our attempt to be in control of so much in our lives. So much of our stress stems from worries over things we cannot control but change is the nature of the world. The Stoic reminder of what is in our control (very little) and what is not (almost everything), can help to worry less.
This idea is expressed in my process of melting and fusing metal. I have very little control when melting and the results are often a surprise. What I love about the process is the individuality, the organic textures and beautiful shapes it produces.
When making, I often enter the state that the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘Flow’: I am in my element, decisions are implicit and I let myself be guided by what the fire and the metal decide to do. It is an incredibly liberating state to be in and great for your mental health.
As a practising Neo-Stoic, my life partner practices indifference towards all things and strives for virtue. While I also strongly believe in the importance of eudaimonia, i.e. finding meaning and purpose in life, I do also care about things of beauty. Making jewellery that means something to the wearer, that charts their life and gives them joy, helps them reflect and consider that they will be heirlooms one day, that our life is precious and short, creates a strong purpose in my life. I am also an educator of young people, a career that is inherently meaningful.
Heraclitus’ idea that has sometimes been shortened into ‘panta rhei’, everything is in flux, leads me to my recent rereading of Simone de Beauvoir and the reminder that humans have the ability to transcend their ‘facticity’, their inert selves, and that we can create our selves. Of course, she means everything about us including our opinions and values. However, this also concerns our exterior and jewellery is all about semiotics, the messages we are communicating about ourselves via signs such as jewellery.
VON W JEWELLERY pieces do not shout ‘Look what I can afford’ but communicate ‘I value individuality and embrace change. I recognise our selves as unique humans and I am curious about the becoming of us all in the world. I believe in the beauty of the individual - accidental or curated - and the imperfect.'
When I contemplate my pieces, the process grounds me. I also know that any heirlooms give me a security that I will one day pass on to the next generation together with my story after a life well lived.
VON W’s philosophy is therefore encoded in the three verbs
become | bequeath | behold