A long narrow piece of jewellery I saw on exhibition in London intrigued me for years. I recalled words under glass domes whose hinged covers invited concealment. Was there a political or a philosophical message there ?

 Who made it?  I couldn't remember.

Recently, determined to find out, I  contacted the British Crafts Council, but to no avail.   Later when randomly researching 1960s jewellery on the internet, suddenly there it was- the brooch.     Mystery solved – see  Figure 1

Silver brooch with enameled decoration and glass. 1966/7

Figure 1. Silver brooch with enameled decoration and glass. 1966/7

This brooch  is the work of the German born Jeweller Helga Zahn (1936-1985), who made London  her home in 1957.

She came to study, and  initially did so  at Leeds College of Art and later at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London.

The words in the brooch read as follows:

 The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

– Karl Marx, Theses On Feuerbach: Thesis 11 (1845)

The use of a piece of jewellery  as a medium for a message  was a surprise, and completely new to me.   Interesting too  is the  control  given to the wearer, by Zahn, to choose which words to display–  layers and secrets.

Zahn describes her work and process as follows:

…. to explain why I hate also making jewellery …… and I do, not only because

the actual period of creation is very short, and the process of  making  very

tedious, but because of its limitations in self expression and materialistic

overtone the word “jewellery” carries.

I tried once to break that rule with a brooch I made, with a quotation by

Karl Marx inside it. I failed miserably. The piece in itself is a contradiction,

so is the quotation, . and the way I exhibited … another…

While I experienced no  sense of  these frustrations in viewing her work,  Zahn’s  perspective  is revealing.

With the exception  of the articulated pendant, Figure 2,  the style of the brooch appears unique in Zahn’s overall output.

Figure 2.Silver and amber articulated pendant

Figure 2. Silver and amber articulated pendant

She  is known, instead,  for works combining  metals  with natural materials such as pebbles, shells, and bones.   These were exploited for their colour and tactile qualities

A wonderful  example is the dramatic silver neck-piece set with Cornish blue pebbles in Figure 3.  Another example of pebble set jewellery  is the silver articulated pendant in Figure, 4.   This also shows some  influence with the colour choice in the work of Scandinavian jeweller Torun(1927-2004) – Figures, 5.   

Figure 2. Blue Cornish Pebble set silver neckpiece. 1966/7. Collection Victoria & Albert Museum . M7-1991

Figure 3. Blue Cornish Pebble set silver neckpiece. 1966/7. Collection Victoria & Albert Museum . M7-1991

Figure 3. Silver pebble set Pendant on handmade linked chain. 1960s

Figure 4. Silver pebble set Pendant on handmade linked chain. 1960s

Figure 5.Pebble set silver linked pendant on neck torc.1948

Figure 5. Pebble set silver linked pendant on neck torc. 1948

Zahn's work  was well respected, beingrecognised in 1973  with a solo exhibition mounted by  the Crafts Advisory Committee (British Crafts Council).

Ralph Turner, Curator, writer and critic of applied art. Head of Exhibitions, Crafts Council, 1974-1989, commented that from the outset Zahn   “ questioned accepted values of jewellery and  made decisive and often defiant statements.”   

He believed her to be one of the first of the .." important jewellers of the period who took contemporary jewellery beyond the traditional into the territory of experimentation and expression of feelings"

 Now that I know about it I  appreciate Zahn's  legacy of  clarity, skill and originality.

In fact, the period  between  the 1960s and 1980s in the UK was a very fertile time for creative, innovative, and exciting jewellery.   Many examples of which are  displayed  in the  Victoria & Albert Museum  – London.

Further information:

The Victoria & Albert Museum – London-  Jewellery collections:

Information  and work re Helga Zahn:         http:

The British Crafts Council-  Archive on line:  http:// www


Figure 1   Source: image of Brooch -Helga Zahn :

Figure 2  Source: image of pendant- Helga Zahn- British Crafts Council website:


Figure 3   Neckpiece: collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum:

Figure 4   Source: image neckpiece- Helga Zahn:

Figure 5  Source: imageneckpiece- Torun: http://http//

What this will be about....

Welcome to my journal I look forward to sharing my stories and passion for jewellery with you.

I want to start a conversation around the history and culture of Irish and international jewellery and design.  I welcome all feedback and suggestions.

While not strictly necessary, Jewellery fulfills us in so many ways- as fun,  as fashion, as a badge of identity, or as status with expensive materials and gemstones.

It also  touches us personally at various times in our lives, as a wedding ring, an amulet or good luck charm, regalia, and as a very precious Gift.

I will discuss many aspects of  personal ornament here.  This will  involve its place  in Irish cultural history,  from  the  elegant gold objects in the National Museum of Ireland, on to the present as jewellery continues to reflect our world and embody our values,

Today too it often encompasses  personal  expression or makes a commentary.  I will discuss examples and their makers .

Design is the thought process as  how ideas are brought on their journey to a material place in our world.  Therefore it is  how  the combination of  metal, gemstones, leather, textiles or plastics are brought together by  human intervention  to give  us  a piece of jewellery

Design primarily focuses on both the conscious and unconscious needs and desires of whomever a object is intended for.  This may be a simple functional item, or one imbued with the emotional value of a brand.  Well known jewellery brands include the long established Cartier and Tiffany.

My recent MA in Design History and Material Culture, completed in NCAD, has expanded my awareness of design- its power and its function in our environment.