Contemporary jewellery goes to the people

A major award for contemporary jewellery has made a move to increase public engagement with a people’s choice award.
Contemporary jewellery goes to the people

2015 Award Winner Christel VAN DER LAAN / Eureka (detail) 2014 / brooch – ceramic honeycomb, oxidised silver, gold, onyx, mirror, paint / 9.0 x 10.0 x 2.5cm / Toowoomba City Collection 2121 / Reproduced by kind permission.

In Australia there are few awards for contemporary jewellery designers so the Contemporary Wearables’ Biennial Jewellery Award & Exhibition held by Toowoomba Regional Gallery is very important to the art form.

The award, which has become a premier event that showcases the cutting edge in contemporary jewellery, is now calling for entries and includes up to $20,000 in awards and acquisitions.  The award specifically recognises and promotes innovation in design and use of materials in the creation of contemporary jewellery.  A jury of arts professionals, including jewellers and academics, assess the entries for inclusion in the award exhibition and the appointed Judge selects the winners and makes recommendations for acquisitions into the Toowoomba City Collection.


View the call out here

In 2015 the Toowoomba Gallery Society Inc. introduced the Mathias Richards People’s Choice Award worth $4,000. Putting a decision in the hands of the public is an important step for the biennial award, which broadens the perception of jewellery design as an art form.

Contemporary jeweller and 2015 judge Sabine Pagan said the lack of awareness around contemporary wearable design in Australia is also why the biennial award is important.

‘Contemporary jewellery is an art form as much as sculpture or other art practices. The opportunity to showcase selected contemporary jewellery pieces through the biennial award means that we can educate the wider public about the meaning of jewellery as an art form,’ she said.

‘Jewellery in general is an ancient art, but contemporary jewellery is most interesting to only a very niche market. In Australia the wider public best relate to jewellery through jewellery brands and jewellers that offer very similar work.’

Pagan said the award exhibition showcases the strength of contemporary jewellery in Australia and New Zealand.

‘There is a tendency to see Australian and New Zealand contemporary jewellery as an activity that takes place at the fringe of European and North American centres of excellence. The fact is both Australia and New Zealand are home to some of the most exciting contemporary jewellery practices in the world.’

'[Contemporary Wearables Biennial Jewellery Award and Exhibition] is a great opportunity to show that diversity, but we need to ensure that enough people seize that opportunity. As a judge in the past I don’t think us jewellers take enough pride in doing that locally, as opposed to in Europe or America.’

One of the conditions of entry is that the jewellery design must be wearable. But this doesn’t mean the piece has to be conservative. In the case of the 2015 winning work by designer Christel Van Der Laan, Pagan said it was the clever use of material that set the piece apart.

‘She used the honeycomb ceramic matt on which we generally solder as the principal material with which she constructed her work. The overall composition of the work, its material, scale and wearability together contributed to the merit of Van Der Lan’s winning piece.

‘Everyone develops his or her own style and this award is a great opportunity to showcase one’s unique approach to designing and making wearable contemporary jewellery. I would encourage contemporary jewellers, from emerging to established artists to be a part of it, especially given that it is one major award of only three in Australia.’

Contemporary Wearables’ 17 Biennial Jewellery Award & Exhibition Categories

  • Winner $5,000
  • Runner up $3,000
  • Student Award $1,500
  • Mathias Richards People’s Choice Award $4,000

Award prize money is sponsored by the Toowoomba Gallery Society Inc. Acquisitions are funded by Toowoomba Regional Council.

Entries close 19 May. To view the conditions of entry visit

Brooke Boland

Thursday 30 March, 2017

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.