Creative Jewellery Making

The intention of the What’s In My Stuff? project is to engage the public and raise awareness of the chemical elements used in our everyday objects and to explore whether an emotional connection between people and high technology devices can be created through the making of contemporary jewellery objects. This creative work is being carried out by Maria Hanson an established Designer Maker and Reader in Metalwork and Jewellery at Sheffield Hallam University.

Visit the Creative Jewellery Gallery


When we purchase food, beauty, healthcare and pharmaceutical products a list of ingredients are printed on the packaging. However when we consume most other materials based products there is no requirement for this information to be provided!

‘Seeing the potential in materials, their meanings and associations is something that artists and designers have long been accomplished in.’

The field of contemporary studio jewellery has for more than 40 years pushed the boundaries of established definitions of what a piece of jewellery/body adornment can and should be. From the late 60’s jewellery designers and makers in Europe and North America began to exploit the material characteristics of non-precious, discarded and overlooked materials and to re-appropriate found objects. As the field became more radical and expressive designer/makers also began to use jewellery as a means to provide public commentary about social and political issues, conventions and social taboos.

The intention of the What’s In My Stuff? project is to engage the public and raise awareness of the chemical elements used in our everyday objects and to explore whether an emotional connection between people and high technology devices can be created through the making of contemporary jewellery objects.

The Jewellers Approach

Working with researchers from material science has enabled me to rethink how I approach the creative process. Gaining knowledge and understanding about objects and materials from a new perspective has changed the way that I look at everything that is around me.

As a non-scientist it is challenging trying to understand the complexity of chemistry. Through the creative process of designing and making I have searched for ways to visualise and articulate the complex ideas and knowledge that surround the chemical elements needed to make the materials used in the manufacture of high technology devices. I hope that the work made engages those who see it in a way that helps them to understand the inherent value of their mobile phones and to consider in a more thoughtful and responsible way what they own, use and consume.

Creative Method One

‘Reuse – Revalue’: Necklace No. 2 - Detail

‘Reuse – Revalue’: Necklace No. 2 - Detail

I have reclaimed, deconstructed and re-used fragments and components from mobile phones. By investing time and labour in reworking these recycled materials the individual aesthetic characteristics have been exploited in a way that emphasises their intrinsic preciousness.

A series of jewels called ‘Reuse – Revalue’ have been made to highlight the beauty to be found within these technological devices; giving the overlooked and discarded a second life and new value.

Creative Method Two

Jewellery and craft objects are used as a device for engaging the audience in a commentary about the growing concerns related to the scarcity and ethical sourcing of some minerals and materials. Data gathered from the SEM analysis, and current statistics about materials consumed in the manufacture of this technology have been used as conceptual springboards.

'Element Rings'

Element Rings

Element RingsAt least 40 chemical elements are commonly found in mobile phones. What are they? What do they look like? How precious are they? These rings visually represent some of them in either pure form or playfully in materials that contain them.

I was astonished to discover that mobile phones contain at least 40 chemical elements. Discovering what they are, what they look like and how precious they are has taken me on an incredible journey. It has raised my awareness about the complexity of our material world and how much we take for granted. The ‘Element Rings’ began as a quest to use each of the 40 elements in as pure a form as possible to make 40 individual rings using craft making processes. It didn’t take long for me to realise this would be an impossibility so those elements to dangerous and volatile to handle have been visually represented in playful ways using materials that contain them. For example many people know that bananas provide a rich source of potassium so a slice of dried banana has been used for the ring (K – 19). Displaying these rings using an adaptation of the periodic table highlights the context of this work and enables the viewer to discover something important in a non-scientific way.

Issues connected to sustainability and recycling feel so enormous that as individuals we often think that the little things we do can’t possibly make any difference.

The growth of consumption of mobile phones and other technological devices over the past 20 years has been phenomenal and is continuing to rise. Despite technological developments that have made our gadgets smaller the global demand means that the quantity of material needed on an annual basis is enormous. In 2011 the global manufacture and shipment of mobile phones reached 1.6 billion. Each phone contains very small amounts of some of the most precious and critically endangered elements to be found on our planet. Individually the quantity and value of these elements are insignificant but when multiplied by 1.6 billion it is a different story.

'3680 Kilometres'

The ring ‘3680 Kilometres’ is a visual representation of the amount of gold used in 1.6 billion phones. A map showing two rings joined by a 1mm gold wire connects Sheffield in the UK to Cairo in Egypt; a distance of 3680 kilometres. This amount of gold wire would weigh approximately 56 tonnes and be worth more than £1.9 billion and that’s only one of the 40 elements needed to make a phone function. This level of precious material resource use cannot be sustained indefinitely unless we all take some responsibility.

The Challenge


I hope this evolving exhibition of work will provide the audience with a way to rethink and re-value the stuff they carry around with them every day.