Episode 143 Part 2: The Theory of Jewelry: Why Do We Love to Wear It, and What Does It Mean?

Episode 143

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • How we can examine almost any political topic through the lens of jewelry
  • Why it’s important that jewelry be embraced by academia, and how every jewelry enthusiast can help make that happen (even if they’re not in academia themselves)
  • Why a piece of jewelry isn’t finished when it leaves the hands of its maker
  • How matt works with collaborators for their column, “Settings and Findings,” in Lost in Jewelry Magazine
  • How jewelry has tied people together throughout time and space

About matt lambert

matt lambert is a non-binary, trans, multidisciplinary collaborator and co-conspirator working towards equity, inclusion, and reparation. They are a founder and facilitator of The Fulcrum Project and currently are a PhD student between Konstfack and University of Gothenburg in Sweden. They hold a MA in Critical Craft Studies from Warren Wilson College and an MFA in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

lambert currently is based in Stockholm Sweden and was born in Detroit MI, US where they still maintain a studio. They have exhibited work nationally and internationally including at: Turner Contemporary, Margate, Uk, ArkDes, and Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden, Museo de la Ciudad, Valencia , Spain and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, US. Lambert represented the U.S in Triple Parade at HOW Museum, Shanghai, China, represented the best of craft in Norway during Salon del Mobile, Milan, Italy and was the invited feature at the Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece during Athens Jewelry Week. Lambert has actively contributed writing to Art Jewelry Forum, Garland, Metalsmith Magazine, Klimt02, Norwegian Craft and the Athens Jewelry Week catalogues and maintains a running column titled “Settings and Findings” in Lost in Jewelry Magazine.

Additional Resources:




Made in collaboration with Maret Anna Sara

Image credit: Talya Kantro

Pile Power

Pile Power is a new, elaborative section of Máret Ánne Saras bigger body of work: Pile O ?Sápmi. The project has developed into a multi prong exploration using the remaining material from Sara´s Pile O’ Sápmi as shown in Documenta 14. Sara invited matt lambert to enter a dialogue with the intent for finding methods to use all available material that was remaining from earlier pieces. Matt Lambert is recognized through international exhibitions in platforms such as craft, jewelery, performance, design, sculpture and fashion, and has been listed on the top 100 designers for jewelry and accessories by the Global Jewelry and Accessories Council as well as receiving the Next Generation Award from Surface Design Association.  Sara invited Lambert to collaborate using the materials remaining from the Pile O´ Sápmi project after finding a connection through a conviction for socio-cultural sustainability as well as minority comradery between indigeneity and queerness. The Pile Power collaboration is producing larger performative objects using the remaining jaws of the reindeer skulls used in Saras earlier work, as well as more wearable works from the remaining reindeer-porcelain skulls that Sara commissioned to her Pile O’ Sápmi Powernecklace shown at Documenta 14. Both of these veins of working promote the conversation around sustainable practices of indigenous  peoples. In Pile Power, body and material form a new basis for approach for themes addressed in the Pile O ?Sápmi project. Based on creative dialogue, a thematic jewelry collection will nomadically carry a new segment of an urgent discourse through bodies and humans.

the integumentary system as dialogical fashion

installed at  IASPIS Stockholm Sweden 2017

8 x 5.5 x 3 feet

Comprised of 15 wearable objects

temporal drag only accepting gaudy currency, saving for kitsch omega and sugar free nirvana

installed at  IASPIS Stockholm Sweden 2017

10 x 5.5 x 2.5 feet

Comprised of 55 wearable objects

Tools of Ignorance

As installed at Pried

The Society of Arts + Crafts

Boston MA USA, 2019


matt lambert doesn’t just want us to wear jewelry—they want us to question it. As a maker, writer, and Ph.D. student, matt spends much of their time thinking about why we wear jewelry, who makes it, and what happens to jewelry as it’s passed from person to person. They joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about the inspirations behind their work, why jewelry carries layers of meaning, and why wearing jewelry (or not wearing it) is always a political act. Read the episode transcript here.

Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is the second part of a two-part episode. Today, my guest is Matt Lambert, who is joining us from Stockholm. Matt is a maker, writer and performer currently pursuing a Ph.D. Matt’s jewelry journey has taken them from country to country. If you haven’t heard part one, please go to TheJewelryJourney.com. Welcome back. 

You’re still making though, right?

matt: I am. I am definitely still making. It has not left my bones. It will probably never leave my bones, but it is something I constantly question, like what does it mean to make? What are we making?

Sharon: Do you think about where you’re making your jewelry? Like you were just in a show in Finland.

matt: Those objects also push an interesting thing into play. I was having some hand problems because of Covid. I sleep in a very precarious position for my hands, and I was losing feeling in my right hand because I have an anxiety disorder. When I’m stressed, I basically ball up my hand, and I was pinching a nerve. I was thinking about Covid, the spike in the Black Lives Matter Movement, so many other incredible layers of politics and body awareness and attempts to consciously raise our awareness of what’s going on in the world. So, I started a dialogue with someone who’s trained in a lot of work but specifically in box making, which is a totally different skillset. 

We share knowledge of material, and I cast my hands in different gestures of resistance or solidarity. There are three that are new, which is the fist for resistance, the peace sign, and the opening/offering hand. I cast them, and I worked with the box maker to make jewelry boxes for my hands that are actually wearable on my hands. There’s a hole, and I can buckle a box around my hand. A lot of my work questions what jewelry is. Is this jewelry? Is my hand the jewel, or is the box that’s worn around my hand the jewel? I’m interrogating what a piece of jewelry is or what could it be. 

I also spoke at KORU7, the Finnish jewelry triennial, which was very meaningful to show and speak at because that’s the first place I ever went outside of North America. I told myself, “I’m going to be here one day,” and I got into the exhibition, so that was very emotional. Then they sent me an invite to ask if I would speak, and that was a proud moment. These are milestones in my career, and I have gratitude for the invitations. They mean something in that way of feeling herd, or at least wanting to be listened to for a moment.

Sharon: I saw the boxes on Instagram, and I thought, “Oh, those are beautiful boxes,” but I was going, “O.K., do you stick your hand in them or wear them around? What do you do with them?” The leather was beautiful. I thought, “Wow, gorgeous purse!” 

matt: Those are probably more theoretical and abstract works in jewelry, but it’s questioning self-care and preservation. When we make gestures, when we show someone the peace sign or we have the fist of resistance or we offer someone something, do we mean it? Are we trying to freeze it in time? When does a gesture become shallow? It becomes commodified. Through jewelry, when you just consume it, when does our body also become that? It was me saying, “Hey, jewelry can talk about this,” and a lot of my work now is saying jewelry can do this. 

I call it a not-so-solo show that will be going up in the spring at Bornholm, which is a craft center on an island that is technically Danish. It’s between Denmark and Germany. I’ll have a larger solo show, but it’s a not-so-solo show. It will talk about the different collaborations I have with Masada, who’s indigenous, Sámi. Our work is talking about the rights of indigenous people, and there will be new collaborations: one set I’ve already been doing, one of the hand boxes will be there as well, and the work I do with the choreographer Carl Berg. 

It’s me playing with the elasticity of what jewelry is. There’s always some sort of wearable thing, but then it’s like, is that the work? Is it a marker of the work? Does it represent my research? Is it a token of that? Is it a souvenir? It’s also challenging you as the wearer. When you wear my work, to me, you’re also carrying what I stand for, what I believe in or what I’m doing, so we share something together. When people ask, it gives you an opportunity to share the possibility of jewelry, and that’s also what I love. When you wear my necklace, I want to know what you tell people. The best part is when I’m with people and someone goes, “What do you do?” at a dinner party, and whoever I’m with that knows me usually loves looking at that person. They go, “What do I do?” 

Sharon: That’s not an easy question to answer. What do you say?

matt: I don’t. I literally look at the person next to me. I go, “What do I do?” And I love the multiplicity because my work exists. I teach now. I write. I will be announcing being an editor for publications. There are always 12 projects. I make wearables. I make unwearables. I work with dancers. I work with choreographers, so I’m a performer now. There isn’t an easy way, and that’s a challenge under capitalism. We want to define people by what they do, especially in a U.S. context. It’s not super common in Europe to be defined by what you do as it is in the U.S., so it’s challenging. I’m just me. I exist. That comes with its own set of consequences, but you’re talking about someone who wants to know. It’s also a very liberating space to be in.

Sharon: Yes, I can see how it would be the most satisfying answer if I’m asking what you do at a party. Let me ask you this, because you mentioned Lost in Jewelry Magazine. Is that only an online publication?

matt: Yes, that came out through Day By Day, which is a gallery in Rome. She approached me because she comes from a design background and has graphic design experience, and she discovered jewelry and became an addict like me. I think some people find it and it’s like the back of your head falls off, and you want to read as many books and info and see everything you can. I see you at all these events too, and there’s always something to learn. She wrote me and said, “Hey, you have a voice. What do you want to do with it? Could I give you space, and what would it look like?” So, I proposed a running column called Settings and Findings.

Sharon: What did you mean by that, Settings and Findings?

matt: It’s a play on words. There are categories if you go to purchase materials for jewelry. A setting is what usually would hold a stone, but it’s word play. You have a table setting.  What are you holding on to? What are you making space for? And a finding is a component in jewelry, but it’s also what you’re discovering. I write about different people that have different projects. I like research projects, collaborations or specific bodies of work, looking at things that aren’t in the main canon. I often give people a space to say, “What are you setting and finding for this particular moment or for this project?” It’s a way to also show that we are doing artistic research, whether we’re aware of it or we frame it as that or not. It’s become a tool for me to see how different people talk about their research. 

There are some coming up that are poems. Some people have written beautiful, long things, or sometimes I help them write it. It’s finding that balance, since not everybody writes, but it’s working with and taking time with someone or a group of people to talk about research in the field, about using the word research. It’s a thing to point to in my Ph.D. as well. It’s an investigative tool. Normally when you do academia, you do what’s called literature review. You say what exists in the books. It’s a way for me to say, “This is research that already exists. This is stuff that’s happening.” I’m not alone in this and people might not contextualize it in an academic way, but I’m using my position to contextualize in that way if they aren’t. I’m putting it in a space so they can say, “This is research. We don’t need academia to do research as jewelers, but we could frame it as that.” 

Sharon: I can understand the settings and what are you holding onto. The findings are what you’re finding out about yourself or the pieces you’re making?

matt: Really, whatever you want. I think there’s one article up by Viviana Langhoff who writes jewelry and adornment theory. She wrote a very beautiful, more poetic piece of writing about settings. She has built a platform to talk about equity and inclusion for diversity in the field, both in fine jewelry and in art jewelry, and she mixes the two in her space. She has a gallery in Chicago. The findings are about what you find when you do that. What is happening because you’re doing that? What are you discovering or what have you discovered through your work? She’s somebody who has created a space. So, what happens? How does the community respond? Who comes into that? If it’s an individual person, what have you learned by making this work? Where are you at now? You did this. You felt the urge. What are you holding onto? 

Your finding is what you find out there, where the setting is or what you could share. It’s purposely ambiguous because it’s to invite commercial jewelers and groups and galleries and spaces and art jewelers to share a space. There are some coming up where it’s like four sentences, and then there are people that have written me an essay. That’s what I think is beautiful, that we all can exist together in this one location.

Sharon: It’s interesting. As I said, I hadn’t ever seen it before, Lost in Jewelry. Let me ask you this, because in introducing you or when you were writing the introduction, I need a translation of this. You’re described as a nonbinary trans collaborator and co-conspirator working towards inclusion, equity and reparation. I don’t know that means, I must say.

matt: Yes, my body, as I identify, I am white; I am part of the colonial imperial system in that way. I identify as nonbinary, which is under the trans umbrella, as in transgender. Primarily, from where my body stands, I don’t believe in the gender construction. Like I said, my original background is in human sexuality and the psychology of it. It’s not a conversation I’m interested in defining, which then leaks into jewelry and gender and who wears jewelry. As we’re talking, that’s probably a big reason why jewelry also interests me. Co-conspirator and collaborator—

Sharon: I get collaborator. Co-conspirator—

matt: Co-conspirator, I’m interested in working with people that have goals or missions or focuses that are towards equity and decolonizing. I’m for reparations, and so I work, like I already mentioned, in the fight for indigenous rights in Scandinavia and Norway. The co-conspirator, that’s a goal. It’s conspiring to say, “This is what we need to do.” I’m on the equity train, and people that are seeking to find that and use jewelry as a vehicle, I want to co-conspire with those people to figure out what projects need to happen, what happenings need to happen to do that. I want to see jewelry do that, and I want to selfishly keep it in jewelry and see what happens when we do that through jewelry, because I think it’s where the potential is. I think jewelry’s the best from where I sit, and with my knowledge of these things, I want to see that happen.

One of the other pieces for Settings and Findings is by SaraBeth Post, who’s a Penland resident in glass who is making necklaces out of simple glass pendants, but she was auctioning them off to raise funds for certain court cases or for other notable movements within Black Lives Matter. That’s a way of using more commercially-driven, wearable work to move to a different area. There are so many incredible ways to use jewelry. It disrupts and it challenges, and that’s why I’m excited about jewelry.

Sharon: Do you think everything you’re saying about jewelry and how it affects people, the connections—the mining and the metal and all that—do you think it’s more accepted where you are in Europe? Are you in an environment where people talk about this, or do people look at you like, “What are you talking about?”

matt: The United States, as far as talk about equity and those conversations, is very ahead of where it is, but that’s also because the U.S. is founded on imperialism and slavery, so it has no mechanism of denial. There are places in Europe that have that, and there are other places that do not. So, yes and no would be the answer. It depends on whom I’m speaking with or where we’re at. It is challenging because in the U.S., these are more contemporary conversations than we’re having where I’m based now in Sweden. 

They also exist differently because their history and involvement in colonialism and imperialism is different. It exists. That’s actually what I wrote my thesis on for my critical craft master’s. I was looking at examinations of the history museum in Sweden and representation within it. It’s a different conversation, so that’s been a challenge, but it’s a great learning experience for me because not everybody has the same knowledge. I think these conversations add an academic level. You see jewelry in a room and academics are like, “Wait, what? You want to play with jewelry?” Sometimes I find myself in this weird gray space, because you’re fighting a different wave, like, “Yes, let’s do this.” How do you make it make sense for everybody? 

I’m excited to see more people do what they love to expand the field so all of us can home in on exactly what we love doing. But it is a challenge right now because the conversations, there’s a lot of potential we could say in them. They’ve been going on, but I think there’s still a lot of potential. I think that’s the amazing thing with this idea around jewelry. Is it a field? Is it a format? What is it? What can we do with it?

Sharon: As you’re making things, are you thinking about how you can express some of this through what you’re making? I’m thinking about the laser-cut leather necklace. To me, it’s a fabulous necklace. That’s why I say I’m fairly shallow. It’s a fabulous necklace; I don’t look at it and go, “What does it mean in terms of equity?” Do you think about those things? Are you trying to express these things through your jewelry?

matt: I think I’m more in the camp of my body lives, breaths, eats and sleeps this, so whatever I make, it’s already going to be there. I don’t make things with the idea of “This going to be about this.” It’s more of, “What do I feel in my body and is this going back to being a craftsperson?”

Sharon: You’re saying that because of who you are and because it’s what you live and breathe, it’s in your jewelry. You don’t have to say, “Oh, I think if I braid the leather this way, it means A, B, C.” 

matt: Yeah, no. I think there’s a lot of talk in the world now about being authentic and living your authentic life and going down those rabbit holes, but I think there are many different ways to be a craftsperson. I think you could love a material and use it throughout your whole life; I think there could be people that can stretch across them. I think we need everybody to sustain and talk about it as a field. I have a deep concern about jewelry being a field and how we continue that. I think how we broaden that is the biggest thing, not coming from a point of scarcity. 

I’m at a point in my career where I trust my body. It’s the same as trusting your gut. Also, sometimes, it just makes you feel good. There’s nothing wrong with art if it just makes you feel good. When I made that leatherwork, I knew nothing about computers. I had briefly worked and tried to be a woodworker. It was not for me. I like my fingers. I don’t like getting up at 4 a.m. I tried to work for a prestigious cabinet making company. I have a lot of respect for woodworkers; it’s just not a frame of craft that I can make or produce in. 

When I went to Cranbrook, they were like, “Oh great, you can go work in the woodshop then.” I worked in the library—you know me; I read everything—which I loved, but then they were like, “Great, woodshop,” and I was like, “Oh, O.K.” and then they were like, “You’re going to be the laser cutting technician.” I’ve made it a point in my whole career to use things that don’t plug in. I grew up half my life in the woods where the power went out easily, and I wanted to be able to make my work without an electrical cord. So, that was a challenge, but that series also developed. 

I was sitting there and thinking about the simple sash chain you get at the hardware store. It’s like one-on-one aluminum link, a very affordable, cheap, go-to chain, and then my brain was like, “What if I tweak it and do this and this?” If you look at the leather, it’s not mathematically proportionate; it’s hand-drawn. It comes from that. Then I was speaking to friends and all of a sudden, it was like, “This is what it could mean.” You see meanings after you do it when it’s done. 

What I also love about that work is that I can’t tell you how long it takes, because those pieces are family for me. I would lay out patterns, and then I would buy everybody pizza and beer and call my friends and I would prepare them. They have to be soaked in certain things, and other things we were figuring out the best way to weave. Everyone would sit around in a circle and weave necklaces. For me, it’s about family and community and the linking of things. That’s for me, but if you like my work because of something else, there is nothing wrong with that.  

That’s the research I’m interested in now. It matters why we make, but it also matters why we wear and why we buy. How do we talk about all of that together? That is what I think of as the work. As craftspeople, yeah, the work is the object we make, but even after we die, the work continues. How do we think about or frame what it means to you, then, to wear my necklace, and what do you get out of it? What fulfills you could be totally different than what I do, but that adds to what the work is. 

I think my jewelry is so beautiful because it could have this life. After you wear it, what happens to it? Does somebody else wear it? Do you give it to somebody? That adds another stratum of meaning, so over time, you continuously compress different meanings. Even if it goes behind a museum case—I’m not saying my work will do that—but when people’s work goes behind a museum case, when you see it and when a five-year-old sees it versus a 70-year-old, versus someone from one country and another, that’s another meaning: how they relate to it, how they could think of themselves wearing it, what they think it’s about. It just piles more and more meaning. 

It all goes back to someone’s body, not the body or a body, but all of our bodies. So, all of a sudden, you have objects that have this compression of people. If that doesn’t allow you to have a point to talk about equity and humanness and labor and class and all those complex things, that’s jewelry. It ties directly to us as people. It’s important what you get out of wearing my necklace, why I made it, but it also almost doesn’t matter in a way, because we’re contributing to the pile.

In theory that’s called thickening, the thickening of a history. There isn’t one history of something; it’s historiography. It’s the multiple possibilities of something. When you see jewelry, you can project yourself onto it. You can say, “I’m going to wear that to this party. I’m going to wear it to this thing, to this wedding, to a christening, to a birth, to this grocery store.” That’s a potential history when you see it, and what if we tied all of those together? Even when you look at an object, that’s why I love jewelry. 

Sharon: matt, thank you so much. You gave us a lot to think about. I could talk with you for another hour. Thank you so much for being with us today.

matt: Yes, it’s a super pleasure again. Like I said, you’re one of my very first collectors I ran into in Stockholm by happenstance. 

Sharon: It’s a great happenstance. Thank you so much.

matt: Thank you, Sharon.

Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.

Sharon Berman