A new generation of Israeli designers is looking beyond traditional materials of gold, silver and precious stones, to create unique jewelry out of a range of unusual materials, from concrete to polymers, and even nuts and bolts.

For jewelry designer Hadass Shaham, the rock on her finger isn’t a diamond but a tiny building block. Shaham takes classic fleur-de-lis patterns inspired by the Moorish-style floor tiles seen in old Arab houses and recreates them in modern form, from gold or silver and concrete.

Shaham is part of a group of Israeli jewelry designers who shy away from traditional jewels, gold and silver, and look to new materials instead. Working out of a store-studio in Jaffa that she shares with her furniture restorer father, Shaham has raised concrete mixing to an art. Her trade secret combines concrete and other materials to achieve jewel-like strength and polish.

She was initially attracted to her material of choice because of its monochromatic nature. “It’s matte, calming, and not showy. It goes well with silver and gold. I find it convenient to work with and integrate with other materials. It has associations of architecture, innovation, urbanism, but it also has warmth,” she tells ISRAEL21c. “I’m always seeking that contrast – hot and cold, geometric and soft, old and new.”

The old city of Jaffa informs her work. “I have a piece made of four small blocks tied together in a square that is directly inspired by the floor tiles from the old Arab houses,” she says.

Shaham isn’t averse to using jewels – so long as she can set them in concrete. Her newest collection plays with the tension between low and high class, placing a single small diamond in a minimalist dark bed framed by gold. She’s also looking into making non-conventional use of fiber for her next collection.

Plastics Man

Moshe “Moshiko” Botzer got his initial training 20 years ago as a jeweler at the diamond bourse in Ramat Gan, working for one of Israel’s leading luxury jewelers, but over a decade ago decided to eschew the precious stone in favor of polymers.

The decision was not merely artistic; Botzer feels the diamond market is as artificial as zircon. “Look at what’s happening right now on the world commodities markets. Rice is going up, gold is going up. Only the price of diamonds is going down because they have no true value. A lot of people who make art jewelry are really protesting against conventional materials. The minute you start looking at materials for what they are, you see the beauty within them and your creativity is limitless.”

Botzer’s designs encase graphic or ready-made elements – ranging from the image of a Buddhist monk at prayer or African-inspired primitivist motifs, to printed motherboards and computer chips – in polymer resin to create wearable sculpture.

“The minute I found this material I was intrigued, I’d find pieces in the garbage, take it home and try to melt it, dye it, saw it, polish it – it provided an artistic breadth that I didn’t have before. I realized that it was a fantastic material to work as a jeweler.”

As he became expert in working with acrylic, pouring, casting and setting it in silver and gold, Botzer began to find an audience for his work. He has participated in several solo and group exhibitions, including at the Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. One of his works will appear in an upcoming Larkbooks publication, The Art of Jewelry – Plastic and Resin.

Over the past two years, Botzer expanded his range of polymers from acrylic to plastic to polyurethane – which can be made hard or rubbery, clear or opaque – and created a series, entitled “Bracelet Is Just An Excuse”, of wearable art pieces. The purpose of his sort of jewelry, Botzer says, is not to proclaim the wearer’s material worth, but rather, their cultural values. “People want to say something about being current, contemporary, different and creative.”

Nuts About Bolts

For Gal Barash, the local hardware store has just about the same cachet as Tiffany’s. Barash uses the familiar shape of nuts and bolts, screws (flat and Philips head) and springs, in creating jewelry with an industrial flair.

While studying industrial design at the Center for Technological Education – Holon (CTEH), Barash was given the assignment of creating a wearable object out of common items. “I loved to work with machinery and I always saw the beauty in these things. Nuts and bolts are among the most brilliant things ever invented.” His first pieces, made of springs, bolts and plumbing parts, got great feedback from students and teachers. But it was a semester in Chile that truly opened his mind. “I saw people living in poverty who were creating beautiful things out of nothing, things that no one pays attention to and no one values.”

Barash’s jewelry combines actual hardware, such as bolts and chains, with parts fabricated to look like hardware together with silver chains, gold and silver beads. He’s very fond of stainless steel, “which not many people in Israel use. They haven’t understood its worth yet here. I use the same advanced materials used in machinery – they’re perfect in their precision, symmetry and finish.”

Barash’s work has been exhibited at Tel Aviv’s Periscope Gallery and is for sale in the US and Spain. He still mans a booth twice a week at Tel Aviv’s Nachlat Binyamin Arts & Crafts Fair. “It’s nice and sunny. I have friends there. Plus, it gives me direct contact with customers. It’s a chance to meet them, and keep a finger on the pulse of what they like.”

As for his preferences, Barash says, “I like junk. I’m not afraid to touch junk. No one fights over it. There’s no jealousy about junk. And it’s better for the earth to use these materials.”