Article by Jean Johnson, C.M.

“The diamond ring has become one of the most powerful, sought after and recognized symbols in contemporary culture. It has come to define individuals and relationships, measuring and indicating the extent of one’s love, commitment, status, power and/or wealth. By presenting this familiar object in a new light, my work explores and questions the meanings and myths surrounding the conventional diamond ring.” -Greg Sims

“Greg Sims creates a cultural critique of socio-economic status and personal relationships through a deconstruction of the ubiquitous diamond ring.” – Stephanie Cormier, The Conative Object, York Quay Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, January 29 – March 29, 2005.

J
ewellery has traditionally functioned as an ornament for the body, as a means of displaying wealth and good taste. In the sixties, a period characterized by social revolt, radical questioning began to take place in the Netherlands, followed by England in the seventies, and the traditional notions of jewellery were pushed to the limit. The use of non-precious materials in work that expressed innovative concepts was an offshoot of this re-evaluation, and it paved the way for metalsmiths and jewellers today. While traditional jewellery may still be found, new ideas are prevalent worldwide, supported by art schools and metal societies.

In his work, Greg Sims comments on the objects created by our contemporary society, exploring familiar articles and cultural signs for meanings other than the obvious. His functional jewellery glorifies everyday items by reproducing them in silver: a “band-aid” becomes a silver ring, or “stainless steel push pins” become silver earrings.

In a recent solo exhibition at the Anna Leowens Gallery in
Halifax, NS, Sims played with the idea of the ring, questioning
its form and cultural context as a non-functional object.
For example, a diamond ring is created by an outline of silver
wire, or a bracelet is made of silver and corrugated cardboard,
or an engagement ring – 18kt white and yellow gold, with
diamond– sits in a flocked silver box, and the whole thing is
designed to be worn on the finger.

Ornamentvm asked Greg Sims a few questions on themes
that recur in his work: jewellery as a commodity, as an indicator
of the market economy and a target for consumption.

Your Ring Box Rings are wonderful. That precious moment
when someone “pops the question,” and the excitement
and expectancy that surrounds it, is of course symbolized
as much by the box as by the ring itself. Where did the idea
for this series come from?
I am fascinated with the diamond ring as a symbol within
our society. Many of the customs and traditions surrounding
the wedding proposal were invented by the diamond
industry itself in an attempt to sell more. By creating a
strong assocation between object (the ring) and emotion,
the diamond industry ensures continued demand.
The Ring Box Ring illustrates this point by packaging all of
these components into one wearable showpiece.

Could you explain the idea behind the Wire Frame Diamond
Ring, where the facets of a diamond are suggested by a wire
structure? Is this a parody on the traditional precious gem?
This piece relates to myths perpetuated by the diamond
industry. The size of a gemstone has long been equated with
how successful, powerful, wealthy or loved a person is. The
wire frame reduces the traditional ring into two transparent
forms while grossly exaggerating its size. This caricature of
the original playfully wobbles on top of the finger.
What about the Salary Diamond Rings, made in “Canadian
currency, resin and sterling silver”?

The Salary Rings play on the 2-3 month salary guidelines
suggested by the industry. The currency represents an
income bracket ($10=$10 000, $20=$20 000, $50=$50 000,
$100=$100 000) and the corresponding size of diamond that
one should afford. The colours of the “diamonds” (and their
sizes) tie in with the colours of Canadian bills. They also refer
to coloured diamonds (blue=10, green=20, pink=50, yellow /
brown=100) that are often more valuable and sought after
than standard white diamonds.

Greg Sims is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design,
Toronto, and the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, UK. His
work has been exhibited both in Canada and abroad. His awards
include the “Award of Excellence,” Metal Arts Guild Juried
Exhibition (2000), “One of a Kind Award for Best Jewellery,” Craft
Studio at Harbourfront Centre, Resident’s Annual Exhibition
(2000) and the “Aaron Milrad Decorative Arts Award,” Toronto
Outdoor Art Exhibition (1999). He is also Assistant Professor at
the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University, Halifax, NS.

Jean Johnson, C.M. is the Manager of Special Craft Initiatives at the
Harbourfront Centre, Toronto.

Image: Wire Frame Diamond Ring,
laser welded 18kt gold and platinum, 2.5 x 4 cm, 2003