The Studio – Jewelry Blog by Rio Grande

Beyond Adornment: Functional Jewelry

Dec 2, 2010

It happens to me all the time: A loved one hands me a velvet box. I open it and discover something dazzling inside, like a diamond-encrusted pendant featuring a sapphire the size of a chicken egg. I force a smile, but what I'm thinking is, "Sure it's pretty, but what does it do?"

All right, the truth is that no one has ever given me a giant sapphire. It's also true that most of us don't expect our jewelry to be functional; we usually appreciate it for its beauty alone.

Sometimes, however, jewelry surprises and delights us by doing something more than simply being beautiful. An aunt of mine has a ring that was given to her by her father back in the early 1970s. She adores the ring, partly for the sentimental connection it holds, but also because its a show-stopper!

The ring was designed by Norman Teufel, and has two gold, diamond-studded hoops attached to the shank. The hoops spin independent of each other, and Teufel used tiny ball bearings so that they glide smoothly around their axis. Because the hoops are different sizes, and are each anchored at their corners, they have an undulating motion that makes them appear to dance.

It's lovely. Take a look:

More wonderful still: On the Teufel website, I learned that Teufel rhymes with joyful.

Jewelry that does something is fun! Imagine a ring with a tiny compartment for a lock of hair (or a dose of poison!) or a heart locket, for example.  And who doesn't have a soft spot in their heart for a secret decoder ring?

My favorite piece of functional jewelry, however, is the wedding ring that conceptual artist Luke Jerram designed for his wife. It has a tiny glass lens, and is loaded with itty-bitty photographic slides of he and his wife together. If you hold the lens up to a candle flame or a small light, the images in the ring will project onto the wall, as a slideshow.

(Photo credit:

Now there's a functional piece of jewelry! On top of being an impressive union of science and art, it serves the function of making Jerram Husband of the Year.

For those of us who are not Luke Jerram's wife, I guess we'll just have to be content with diamond-encrusted sapphires. (Chicken-egg sized please.)

Comments (11)
  1. Love it. People don’t think about beyond the pretty much. I have in a few pieces myself, and try to get interesting bits in to my work when possible. The way I see it; if your not pushing yourself, you just doing the same things every time, and that is boring.
    For example:

    I have to say that lighting is my favorite type of ‘wow factor’ though. It takes a bit to hide the wires and make it look good; but once it’s set up and hidden there is no wear like with mechanical and movements, and just battery replacements when needed.

  2. That is a super awesome idea for a wedding ring. It would be cool if you could switch out the photos but I guess that would be hard to design and implement. On another note it awesome to see Rio Grande Blogging!

  3. Demzon,
    Thanks for sharing your awesome photos! The light-up piece is impressive, but I’m a sucker for a poison ring, and yours is lovely. I especially love the side view.
    Luke Jerram’s wedding ring is an absolute marvel! My impression, from reading his site, is that the photos actually CAN be changed out. From Jerram’s site: “A selection of miniature slides were made of different family portraits and can be inserted into the edge of the ring for projection. As Jerram’s family grows, photos of his children can be added to the ring. The ring was inspired by 19th Century Stanhopes.”

    Thanks for your comments! We’re all really excited about the blog around here, and we love feedback, so keep reading and saying hello!

  4. @Molly,

    That is some really great metal work! The blog is looking like its getting a good start. My only suggestion would be to more internal links to relevant posts and more outbound links to other blogs.

  5. Thanks, Silverdrops. It’s true that we need to look for and *find* more opportunities to link, link, link. We want the blog to be a conversational place with lots of visitors. I appreciate the feedback.
    Thanks again!

  6. I would love to see ideas on alternative materials for jewelry.

  7. very cool

  8. Hi Ximena,

    Do you mean unconventional materials, like paper and fabric, for example? You should check out the recent post by Shelby Chant, that features Saul Bell Award-winning artist, Haley Holeman. Haley uses a wide variety of media in her work (including glass, leather, clay, and enamel), with amazing results. Very inspiring!
    We appreciate your idea and your comment. If featuring artists who think “outside” the box, provides inspiration to others, we will definitely consider exploring that more.


  9. I love that Rio is doing this! Yeah!

  10. Thanks for the support, DMBakke! We love that you’re reading, and so appreciate the feedback!

  11. Oh my gosh, I love the sound of the Luke Jerram ring. I’ve got to check out his site because that picture ring has to be one of the most cleaver and “functional” jewelry I’ve ever seen.

    I know what you mean about wanting your jewelry to do something. Growing up my grandmother had a pendent or locket that has spring loaded opera glasses. I loved that thing but rightfully so they wouldn’t let me play with it.
    Locket’s have a long history of usefulness like holding powder and a puff, holding hair, perfume even letters. Lockets are a great place to look “functional jewelry.” Maybe that’s why I love them so much.

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