It can blend in while also standing out

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We met up with Robbe Nelissen, the owner of Bobby Jewels, for a stroll through DIVA’s 20th Silver Triennial. Between silver spoons and silver linings, we discussed fulfilling creative needs, finding your medium and working with silver as a material, while Leonie Maerevoet, curator of the exhibition, added some background information and an interesting point of view to this conversation.

There were a lot of nice pieces in the exhibition, some rather traditional, others more contemporary, was there a specific one that stood out to you? Something that caught your eye?

Robbe: There was this piece with embossing, called Von Erinnerung, by a German artist named Natascha Frechen. It kind of looked like a blanket over 3 pieces of cutlery. I really liked that.

Leonie: Natascha Frechen is a young German jewellery designer who produces tableware and larger works in silver or porcelain. Her work reminds me of the vase by her peer and Korean jewellery designer JaeHui Jeong. That vase also looks like something pulled over another object. The cubes hide under the silver resulting in a very unusual but exciting design. Unlike Frechen's work which is pressed, Jeong has completely hammered (and not cast!) this vase which is not an easy job. She creates the illusion that the metal is as flexible and elastic as rubber. With this, she won the Hanauer Schmuckhalbzeug silver prize and the fourth prize in the young talent competition of the Silver Triennial 2023.

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The exhibition focuses mainly on silver as a material, which is also one of your materials of choice. What draws you to it?

R: Silver is an amazing material. I’m really drawn to its reflective surface, it makes it stand out. Of course, I also like gold, but I think it’s more biased, it already has a colour. Silver catches your eye, but at the same time, it also reflects the environment you’re in, and blends in. It can blend in while also standing out. I think this also reflects why I like jewellery in general; you can have a standard outfit, and then you put on good jewellery that can almost become your whole outfit. It’s more than just an accessory, it can be the main focus if you want it to be.

What are the difficulties of working with silver? 

R: It’s a heavy material, so sometimes the challenge is making something beautiful that’s still wearable while not being too heavy. It’s also very soft, making it difficult to add fragile details. You have to take that into account because it has to be durable enough for day-to-day use. My main focus is to make wearable pieces, not art.

L: It is precisely these properties of the material that several silversmiths in this Triennial are playing with and testing how far they can go. Winner Markus Pollinger had very thin silver sheets pressed at a car parts factory and then soldered those silver parts together. Belgian Helena Schepens hammers wavy bowls and pierces the silver afterwards without breaking it. Maja Houtman, on the other hand, looks at what she can do with silver wire; very fine silver threads woven together.

Artist in residence Gretal Fergusson also plays with those properties of silver. Silver is too soft to work with, so it always has to be alloyed with another material, such as copper. You don't see that in the end product, but during her residency, she will be looking for the exact limit in which you are still able to bring back that copper to the surface. On 05.10.2023, she will be explaining all that during a Diva talk.

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How did you end up gravitating towards jewellery as a medium? Was there a crucial moment?

R: I actually studied engineering first. Afterwards, I worked at an architecture firm, but I felt pretty out of place there. All my life I’d had this need to create, I wanted to do something more creative, so I decided to study product design. This was really nice, but everything had to be so functional. They would say that my designs should be in a museum rather than in a home. Everything was meant to be functional and practical and was quite futuristic-looking, which I didn’t like. 

It was around this time that I fell in love with jewellery. Not many people in my circles were wearing jewellery before, but we all started experimenting with it, which triggered something in me. There weren’t, in my opinion, many unisex jewellery brands in Antwerp - although everything can be unisex if you say so - and if I wanted to find some, I had to go online. 

Jewellery is also so small, you can actually make a piece in one day. That’s what I hated with architecture, you’d work on something for one or two years and only then you’d see the result. With jewellery it can go faster, I like that almost immediate satisfaction.

They would say that my designs should be in a museum rather than in a home

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Has having an academic background influenced your artistic practice at all?

R: Industrial engineering gave me a good technical base. For instance, I recently worked with Pommie Dierick, a fashion student from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. We made this long 3D-printed thing, and I had to electroplate it. Initially, I wanted to just give it to a firm to finish it for me, but nobody wanted so I had to do it myself. I prepared a bath with electrodes and stuff, so although my technical background didn't really influence me directly, it does help sometimes.

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It can go faster, I like that almost immediate satisfaction 

Finally, what are you working on right now? Can you give us a sneak peek into your next collection?

R: I don’t want to reveal too much about the concept, but it’s going to be really nice, that I can tell. I think every fashion brand and a lot of businesses, in general, work in a chaotic way. Everything has to go fast and it’s all bam, bam, bam. At Bobby Jewels, it’s only me with the help of my girlfriend. We’re trying to get more coherency and more efficiency into the brand, which is really important for us right now. It’s like our baby is growing up, we’re creating a more mature brand, but one that’s still very, very naughty. We love these sexy, almost BDSM vibes. We’re sexy people you know [Laughs].

We’re creating a more mature brand, but one that’s still very, very naughty

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<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @bobby.jewels / @divaantwerp <br/> DIVA presents the Silver Triennial, exhibition for contemporary design, from 26 August to 8 October 2023 <br/> 'DIVA talk 20th Silver Triennial', on 5 October 2023. Free for everyone,  reservation via this form <br/> </div></div>

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