Jewelry Design Challenge: Communication

The final concept on the Self-Representing Artists in Jewelry Design blog challenge for the month of August is “communication.” We could design jewelry around anything “that gives the impression of communication. Reading, telephones, storytelling, writing, symbols, body language, signs, etc.”

I was initially going to design with signs. Road signs, to be precise. I planned to make resin coated charms with stop signs, yield signs, speed limits, etc.  Then, as the deadline approached for the challenge reveal, I started leaning more toward symbols. 

I like the idea that an object can symbolize different things in different contexts. And that the objects themselves can be used to represent an idea, concept, emotion, or quality independent of their literal meaning. Communication is all about the meaning of our message and how it is received. Miscommunication happens when the receiver infers a different meaning than the sender intended.  The symbolic meaning of objects, and even colors, can vary among cultures, age groups, gender, etc. That can lead to some interesting miscommunications.

For my jewelry design, I used a collection of objects that can communicate a mixed message, depending on how you interpret them. These earrings have revolver-shaped charms, charms shaped like doves, heart-shaped beads, chain, and glass beads in red and turquoise blue.  I call them “Peacekeeper.”  I don’t always give my jewelry designs a name, but this one spoke to me.

Picture of earrings with pistol, dove, and heart charms

“Peacekeeper” antiqued copper pistol charm earrings.

Until seeing a recent conversation among jewelry designers on a Facebook group, it didn’t occur to me that using guns in a jewelry design could be controversial. I bought these antiqued copper charms, which came with rhinestone studded spurs and larger antiqued silver pistol charms, earlier this year. They were labeled as “steampunk” and hanging next to other “steampunk” charms from the same company in the shapes of clocks, gears, octopus, etc. I don’t know what guns and spurs have to do with steampunk, but I thought they would make fun southwestern-style jewelry.

Picture of gun and spur charms in package

The charms that inspired the earring design.

Revolvers, especially the “six shooter” variety, are icons of the “old West” and the western genre. For some, revolvers, or any kind of gun, are a symbol of violence and evil. For others, they represent authority and protection.  It all depends on how they are used. I didn’t set out to create controversial jewelry when I bought these charms. But I am now aware that is what they may represent.

I paired them with doves, which are often a symbol of peace. They may also represent mourning, love, divinity, and comfort. In some southwestern Native American cultures, they are associated with rain and water.  In the desert, finding water means life.

Picture of dove charm earrings

“Peacekeeper” earrings with antiqued brass dove charms.

Is it incongruent to pair guns with doves? That depends on what those symbols mean to you. What about hearts and chains? I think it’s safe to state that hearts – which are themselves a symbol of an organ they look nothing like –  are a symbol of love or affection. Chains can represent strength, confinement, oppression, loyalty, joining together, and more. What do you think of when you see a heart with a chain around it? What about a heart dangling from a charm bracelet? If someone is wearing jewelry with a heart and a pistol, does it mean they love guns?

The final elements in my design are the colors of the accent beads. Red is a very strong color. And it can provoke strong feelings. For some, red means love or desire. Think of the red hearts all around on Valentine’s Day. Or red roses given to a loved one. For others, red means anger. Did you know some shades of red can make you feel hungry?

I was going to add white beads with the red. White can symbolize purity and innocence.  In some cultures, it’s the color of wedding dresses. But did you know that in other cultures, white is a symbol of death and mourning? Given those opposing meanings for red and white, I thought they would go well with my design theme. Alas, the white beads just didn’t work with the earrings. So, I went with turquoise blue. Because I like turquoise and red together, especially for my southwestern designs.

What does turquoise blue mean? I’ve never actually thought about it. You may have read – more than once – that it’s one of my favorite gemstones and colors for jewelry. You might notice it’s rather prominent in my logo.  I know gemstones are assigned meanings. But for this design, I looked into the meaning of the color itself.

Here’s what one site about color meanings says about the color turquoise:  “It radiates the peace, calm and tranquility of blue and the balance and growth of green with the uplifting energy of yellow. ”   Whereas seeing red, literally or figuratively, causes our heart to beat faster, shades of blue have a calming effect. I have a natural tendency to mix red and turquoise blue in my jewelry. I wonder what that means?

Picture of earrings with doves, hearts, and gun charms

“Peacekeeper” charm and beaded dangle earrings.

This combination of symbols and colors reminds me of my home in the southwest I wonder what these symbols and colors, alone or together, mean to you.

The challenge themes for the month of September are based on fairy tales, starting with “Sleeping Beauty” next week. I hope you’ll stop by next week to see how I translate that story into a jewelry design. To be sure you don’t miss it, or any of my other jewelry design adventures, subscribe to this blog by RSS feed, email subscription, or feed servers linked in the right column under my photo. You can also follow me on Facebookjoin me on Google+, and tune in to my Twitter feed to get updates on my newest jewelry designs, new listings in my Etsy shop, and other design challenges and adventures from Paisley Lizard.