Shenkar is one of Israel’s most prestigious art and design colleges, and its curriculum is unlike many other jewelry design schools. Uri Samet, head of Shenkar’s Department of Jewelry Design, encourages his students to innovate and think beyond conventional jewelry. Uri shared the history of the department on the latest episode of the Jewelry Journey podcast, as well as his thoughts on why Shenkar produces such successful students. Read the transcript below.

Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Uri Samet, head of the Department of Jewelry Design at Shenkar, one of the leading colleges in Israel. Shenkar is based in Tel Aviv and specializes in engineering, design and art. Today, Uri will tell us more about Shenkar and its innovative work, as well as about the Jewelry Design Department and what’s going on there. Uri, welcome to the program.

Uri: Hi, Sharon. Thanks for having me.

Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your jewelry journey. You have a background in design. You cover a lot of areas. How did you start focusing on jewelry?

Uri: I believe I was born with the attraction to jewelry. I’ve been infatuated by jewelry since I can remember. One of the earliest memories I have, from the age of four or five, is trying on my mother’s necklaces and rings. I have to say it got my parents a bit concerned, as most of my friends played with toy cars and action figures, but my parents soon found out that it was my fascination with aesthetics that attracted me to jewelry. It wasn’t the gender identity issue, not that that would have mattered, but in any case, my mother chose to enhance this fascination and use it to develop skills she believed I had, and she enrolled me in an after-school jewelry making class. This was when I was about seven years old. Needless to say, all my classmates were girls, but that didn’t bother me. I loved that afternoon course. I remember making my first ring there out of two thin silver wires intertwined together. I still wear that ring today. So this was always in the background: making things, building, designing, etc.

To make a long story short, after my obligatory army service that everyone must do here in Israel, right after I was dismissed, I enrolled in an academy of arts and design and got my bachelor’s degree in jewelry making. After that, I also spent time in Italy, close to two years in Florence. I took some jewelry design courses there as well and later completed my MA design degree at Middlesex University in London. At the same time, I opened my own studio and correspondingly began teaching at Shenkar at that point. This is something I really love to do, enjoy doing teaching, that is.

Sharon: I know you work with metals as well as other materials. What attracts you to metals, to silver, platinum, gold—I don’t know if you work in bronze—

Uri: Metal is an amazing material, any kind of metal. When you heat it enough, it turns into liquid. If you finish it properly, it shines and reflects. You can solder it. You can build amazing objects with it. You can connect it using rivets. You can hammer it and make amazing shapes. What’s not to love? Some of the techniques used in jewelry making, they haven’t changed for thousands of years, and I find that there is a heritage in that. It’s almost sacred, holy. I have a lot of respect for metals and techniques of fabricating them. In Hebrew, goldsmiths are called “tsaraph.” It’s an ancient name used in the Bible. The meaning of the word tsaraph in Hebrew, it comes from the word “to connect,” and that’s what we do as jewelry makers, we connect. I think that’s really nice.

Sharon: That’s interesting. Do you teach metalsmithing, or do you work with metals at Shenkar? Do the students work with metals?

Uri: Of course, we work with metals, but we let our students work with any material they wish. We don’t ask them to work only with metals. You can make jewelry from a lot of materials. It doesn’t have to only be metals.

Sharon: Tell us about Shenkar. I visited when I was there and it’s a fascinating place, with the emphasis on innovation and textiles and technology. What is Shenkar exactly?

Uri: Shenkar is one of Israel’s most well-known colleges, and by the way, it’s been recognized around the world. It’s a design school with under- and post-graduate programs. The Department of Jewelry Design is specifically one out of six other design departments in the faculty of design. The department was established a little over 20 years ago. We celebrated our 20th anniversary not long ago with a major facelift to the department, completed thanks to the very generous donation of The Gottesman Fund and especially thanks to Alice Gottesman, who visited the department just like you did about four or five years ago. She fell in love with it and with what we offer, and she decided to provide the financial support we needed to move us to the new and amazing building that houses us today.

Sharon: You were one of the co-founders of the Department of Jewelry Design, yes?

Uri: Yeah. As I mentioned, I always loved to teach as well as to create. There’s something magical about teaching I think, teaching someone something that he didn’t know, and then seeing this person’s eyes open up when he realizes that now he’s able to do something he didn’t know how to. Regarding the department, I was approached 22 years ago, to be exact, by Deganit Schocken. She was one of Israel’s most well-known jewelry artists at the time. She was appointed the first head of the department and asked if I could assist to take part in putting together a new curriculum for the launch of this new academic department in Shenkar. We were very small back then. We were just a group of four or five teachers that gradually grew to what we are today. The department was founded with an innovative purpose and vision of bridging the gap between art and industry, thus making it unique among other academic institutions in Israel. In fact, it’s the only department in Israel offering a bachelor’s and master’s degree in jewelry design.

Sharon: Wow!

Uri: You might have heard of Bezalel. They also have a department, but it’s much more arts and crafts oriented and accordingly, they give out a BSA degree, which is a fine arts degree in art design. Anyway, over a four-year period, the wide academic curriculum of the department exposes the students to past and present arts and design, broadening their horizons and reaching them as future designers. We believe that design is a language and our students must become fluent in that language, from its rudimental, formal underpinning to its most refined conceptual strategies. To this end, our students are also required to explore the very sources of this language, which is art and tradition, both past and present. On the other hand, we are also committed to giving our students a firm grasp of the workings of the jewelry industry, mass production techniques and marketing, as well as a thorough knowledge of both traditional and cutting-edge jewelry making methods. I would say that what makes the department unique is the wide-ranging skillset that our students receive and graduate with that prepares them for the world outside. I feel that I myself, for example, did not get these skills and found it much harder to adapt. The academy, for me, was more like a monitored greenhouse. We try to be more synchronized, boots on the ground as you say, and this is realized by conducting simulative courses with or in cooperation with valid local and international companies, where the student acts as the designer and the company as the client. These are very important skills that our students receive.

Sharon: Wow! It sounds like a fabulous education and foundation if you want to go into jewelry design. This year you’re speaking at SNAG, the Society of North American Goldsmiths’ annual conference in May—

Uri: Right.

Sharon: In Philadelphia. You’re going to be on a panel talking about the future of education in the field.

Uri: Yeah.

Sharon: What are some of the main points you want to make? What changes are you seeing in education in terms of design education?

Uri: In general, at Shenkar, we are always focused on innovation. Specifically, regarding the department, the constantly evolving field of jewelry and metalsmithing, as well as questions concerning its future, is a topic that is critically discoursed in our department. Jewelry designs in the department aren’t always conventional, meaning to say rings, bracelets or brooches. We have a very successful eyeglasses design course, for example. We regard eyeglasses as jewelry for the face. We’re conducting a course with a local fashion brand this semester, for example, designing buckles for the handbags sold in their stores. We have a fashion accessory design course, a watch design course, and beginning this academic year, I’ve also added an even more unique course to the already diverse curriculum in which students research the field of accessibility within the medical treatment and rehabilitation arena. This comes following a number of recent final projects presented by our graduates on the subject, demonstrating that the academic, technical and design know-how acquired in the department enables design opportunities far beyond conventional jewelry as commonly perceived today. The outcome of their projects actually helps people heal, not just decorate their body. This is just one example of the ever-growing and evolving curriculum of the Department of Design in Shenkar.

Sharon: That’s very interesting. It sounds pretty far afield from what you think of traditional jewelry design.

Uri: Right.

Sharon: Very interesting. You said you started with four or five teachers when you started. How many are you now in the department?

Uri: We have around 28 teachers. We have 100 students altogether. It’s a four-year program. We have between 25 to 27 students each year. It grew tremendously. At the beginning, the whole department was just two or three rooms, and now we occupy two floors in this new amazing building. We grew and I’m very happy for that.

Sharon: So jewelry design as a field in Israel, how is it viewed? Is it seen as something dilettantish? Does it have legitimacy? Is there a growing interest in the field?

Uri:  I don’t know if there’s a growing interest, but we’re very blessed with many applicants trying their luck to get accepted every year. I think that whoever wants to learn jewelry design in Israel naturally tries his luck with Shenkar, as it is one of Israel’s most prominent design schools that has also become widely accredited and recognized the world. The department is proud of our students’ amazing achievements. Most of our graduates find prestigious positions in Israel and abroad. They get admitted into talent competitions, winning first prizes and participating in local and international exhibitions. So we still have many come and try their luck to get accepted. They hear. We also use our social platforms to let everybody know what’s happening in the department. I think some of those links are below the interview—

Sharon: Yeah, definitely. Sounds fascinating. Uri, thank you so much for being here today. To everybody listening, we’ll have Uri’s contact information and some of the links he mentioned in our show notes. That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and you would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please review us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thank you so much for listening.