We interviewed the ‘architectural jeweller’ Ute Decker, a leader in the ethical jewellery movement and a multi-award winning designer. Described as a ‘future icon of jewellery art’ (Didier Haspeslagh), we discussed with her the influence of growing up in the wine valleys of Germany, the importance of provenance throughout her work, and the joy she receives through the authentic connection of sharing ‘sparkly eyes’ with her clients. Read the full interview below:
Q: Do you have a first memory of jewellery?
A: Going for walks when I was a child in Germany, I would make myself a little garland or a ring out of something I’d found along the way. I would carry them around as talisman or totems for a little while, and then place them on a beautiful stone further on the walk, for somebody else to find.
Q: Do you have a single piece of jewellery you wear all the time?
A: I wear my ring all the time – it lives on my hand – on occasion that I forget it I feel totally naked. I wear other jewellery depending on where I’m going and what I’m doing but this piece, she lives on me.
Q: Where do you think the desire to adorn comes from?
A: Playing with nature or found objects and using them as body adornment is a basic human instinct and a way of communicating – for example I am very tired at the moment, but I’m going to put my ring on and go out and then all will be good again!
Putting jewellery on makes me feel better – I hold myself differently and I feel I am viewed differently. Some of my pieces have been called ‘conversation starters’ and I think there is a very good reason for that – even when I feel shy or awkward with conversation my jewellery will always be my saviour.
“Even when I feel shy or awkward with conversation my jewellery will always be my saviour”
Q: Is it important to you to share that connection with your clients?
A: Yes incredibly so – I sell most of my work to direct clients, which means the connection is more authentic and as such gives us both such great joy. The smile, the sparkle in the eye when we meet and when they then take out that piece of jewellery to wear is something very special and wonderful.
My parents were wine makers, and with wine comes the concept of ‘terroir’ – the smell of the earth and the weather. The idea of stewardship in wine-making is something that I feel I have carried into my work and I think how I came about using Fairtrade gold.
Using materials with provenance is similar to the recording of specific land or a specific grape – it makes it special – and so for me, the best wine in the world is the wine that my brother makes, because of that connection.
“My parents were wine makers, and with wine comes the concept of ‘terroir’ – the smell of the earth and the weather. The idea of stewardship in wine-making is something that I feel I have carried into my work and I think how I came to use Fairtrade gold.”
Q: Is the provenance of your materials also important to your clients?
A: I wouldn’t say it necessarily brings on a big conversation or is a particular selling point. They acknowledge it, but I think because the concept of Fairtrade gold is relatively unknown, most people don’t see it as a big deal. I think that they care more about connecting with the jeweller than the connection to the origin of the materials.
Q: You’ve had a very varied and global career before becoming a jeweller, would you say experiencing different cultures and travelling the world has impacted your work?
A: I was always drawn to Japanese calligraphy and visual arts. Tribal forms have been around for so many years, and it’s a certain essence in the shapes that inspires me. The Japanese enso circle for example, so simple yet people train for years to become masters in the form.
My work looks incredibly simple and when I form it by hand it has that kind of effortless nature, as if it just naturally happened. I like the effortlessness – a certain calmness you get by looking at one of my pieces.
I like the surprise of not necessarily knowing what one of my pieces is or where you will wear it – I’m giving the wearer the canvas and the brushes and they can rearrange it so that it’s new every day.
Q: Do you ever use gemstones in your work?
A: I love uncut, rough stones, but I would need to know exactly where they came from. I went to Namibia last year and bought some rough stones from women who were selling the stones their husbands had mined. I wrapped them up in Namibian newspapers, and wrote on them the names of the families who dug them out of the ground. We met, we shook hands, we spoke and now those stones are sitting on my mantle piece at home – we chat – we communicate and eventually I will make something with those stones – we just need to communicate a little more.
“I like the effortlessness – a certain calmness you get by looking at one of my pieces”
Q: What do you think the future of ethical jewellery holds?
A: By using Fairtrade Gold I’m supporting something, but I’m also protesting against something else by not purchasing certain things.
We are creatures of convenience, and the world is so complex that it’s hard to find out where our clothes and jewellery are really made. But the more of us that offer Fairtrade, the more people have the choice. There are plenty of jewellers who do so many different styles using ethically sourced materials that when you hear abut the issues you can make an informed choice without compromising their style or taste – I see this expanding in years to come but mainly through the stubbornness of jewellers – not necessarily because of a demand from consumers.
“We are women – we are creative and intelligent, and we are going to wear our jewellery and rock it”
Q: And finally, if your jewellery were a person, how would you describe them?
A: They would have a mind of their own and be multi-dimensional. They would have different perspectives that only appear if you get to know them – and then they would change with your mind. My work is very confident and my clients are very confident people. We are women – we are creative and intelligent, and we are going to wear our jewellery and rock it!