learning about jewellery

What is ‘research’?

Jumping straight in here: searching online for half an hour is not ‘research’. Because as I wrote earlier, your online search results are first of all determined by the language you use to search in (see more about that and how to navigate languages here). Second, the results shown to you are filtered themselves, based on popularity…so you see how that is scratching the surface of everything there is to explore. Research is the many years spent comparing, finding parallels, diving deep into the cultural background of adornment, speaking with original wearers, learning vernacular names and oral histories, understanding how adornment functions in the world that it comes from. Don’t get me wrong, the digital world is an excellent place to start! After all, that is where you found me, and there are many platforms and sites that we can all benefit from. My point is that this beautiful online world should be a starting point, there is much more out there. So, here are a few pointers.

Museums and galleries. If you can at all, visit museums and galleries. This is a great way to see many different pieces, from the perfect to the ordinary, and to study techniques and materials used. An advantage of galleries is that many owners will let you handle pieces, so you can get a feel for their weight and execution. I have learned so much sitting on gallery floors! (it’s not that they don’t offer chairs….somehow I always end up sitting on the floor, surrounded by jewellery) Another excellent way to learn is to visit other collectors: nothing beats a shared passion for jewellery.

Read. Reading articles and books is so incredibly important, especially scholarly ones. Now these latter are notoriously hard to get by, although more and more academic publishers are seeing the benefits of open access publishing. Look for sources on sites like academia.edu: with a free account, there is much to be found here. Check your local library, and if you are living near a university, see if their library offers access to a reading room – they probably won’t let you take books home, but some universities actually welcome a larger audience. Museum libraries are a great resource, too!

Read about more than just jewellery. Bear with me: reading about more than jewellery does make sense. After all, jewellery is part of the society that produced it, so diving into its world will help you understand your jewellery better. When I was preparing my online courses, I found myself reading everything from micro-economic developments to ancient stargazing, and from ancient history to marriage dynamics.

Talk with people. Attend lectures, workshops, seminars….and ask questions! There are so many possibilities these days, both online and offline, to speak with experts in the field of jewellery. Attending talks by curators, historians or other experts can provide valuable insights, and if these are live-events, you get to meet other jewellery enthousiasts, too! But even more important is to talk with people from the communities that this jewellery is part of. Ask, listen, and learn what this jewellery means to its original community.

And yes…do use online resources. That’s what they’re here for! My advice however would be to be aware of the credibility of the source you’re using: who is the author? Is there any form of reference backing up claims? Do you keep finding the same tidbit of information over and over again? That almost certainly points to copy-paste behaviour to fill a blog quickly – you may want to dig a little deeper.

Finally, research is an ongoing process. It literally never ends. Your views may change as new information surfaces, and your understanding of jewellery may shift continously. But that, in my view, is the beauty of it: I’ve been in this field for over 25 years now and still learn something new every day!

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Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.

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