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40 years of New Zealand jewelry


Fingers Gallery in New Zealand is observing its 40th anniversary with an exhibition in Objectspace, an exhibition area in Auckland both openly and privately funded. Through the years, Fingers Gallery has witnessed and participated in the evolution of New Zealand jewelry. Finn McCahon-Jones, the curator of this exhibition, gives us its history.


Finn McCahon-Jones: I come from a family of makers and observers, and for the past decade have worked at Auckland Museum, primarily with the decorative art and design collection. I am currently employed as a curator working on renewals of the permanent galleries. During this time I also have been involved with non-profit arts organizations and artist-run spaces.


In November this year, Fingers turns 40, making it one of the oldest still-running jewelry galleries on the planet. It’s also the earliest still-running craft gallery in Aotearoa New Zealand. The show at Objectspace is going to be an important one for jewelry viewers, since it will bring together largely unseen works from personal collections, and supply an overview of jewelry history in this country, centered around Fingers.
Please provide us a short history of the gallery and the way it fit into the growth of contemporary jewelry in New Zealand.
Finn McCahon-Jones: Fingers didn’t start its life as a modern jewelry gallery. When it started in 1974, it was a jewelry store selling alternative function. It was from the 1980s that Fingers developed what many people recognize as a”house design”–that the generous use of organic materials, and a stylistic and conceptual reference to Pacific adornment. Fingers stocked”jewellery for the beach, not the penthouse,” and became famous for jewelry made from materials such as bone, shell, and coconut, together with an awareness of European aesthetics and valuable metals. These jewelers made wearable objects with a definite feeling of belonging to Aotearoa New Zealand. The critique of preciousness had a huge impact on jewelry manufacturing in Aotearoa New Zealand. This shift in considering value opened up new possibilities and methods to reconsider our local materials. Is the jewelry persistent over the years or has it changed a lot?

Finn McCahon-Jones: The jewellery which has come out of Fingers has shifted considerably over the last 40 years, although their mission is still fairly similar. After the store first opened, Fingers hoped to promote a”New Zealand atmosphere for modern jewelry.” Reviews in the time explained the work in Fingers as having a folkloric feel. There were many pieces of jewelry using talismanic qualities, determined from the alternative hippie culture in New Zealand. The Fingers partners stated they made jewelry to catch the creativity of a possible buyer, something that suited their personalities instead of a conventional diamond ring.


At the end of the 1970s, the punk aesthetic had struck Fingers. Guaranteed Trash (1978) found an attack on adornment, where you’d have seen that a $2000 necklace made by a McDonalds thick shake carton, a brooch made from a toothbrush with fake toothpaste and diamond, and a slab of fish onto a cord. This series triggered a series of themed set shows that participated with social problems of the day, also revealed that Fingers was considering pushing the limits of what jewelry might be. The show took the substance that has been often associated with”crap” souvenir products and turned it into a valued substance aligned with national identity. This show tapped into the zeitgeist of the time, representing a social movement toward turning into a nation more correlated with being part of the Pacific rather than a colony of England. Through the 1980s using local production techniques and substances flourished, evolving to what’s known as the Bone Stone Shell motion.


In the 1990s and 2000s, the number of jewelers coming out of jewelry and craft courses improved. It’s in the last 20 years that you can really see a change in materials–the use of found objects and new materials, in addition to distinct conceptual approaches to making that look to be more in line with an international clinic as opposed to a regional one. And among the most obvious changes is that jewelry has come to be physically larger compared to what was produced from the 1970s.