Geometry and spirituality: the jewellery of Melanie Eddy

“They weren’t the maths books I’d had in school,” says jeweller and academic Melanie Eddy. “They showed maths as an applied subject…I started to see how in our world, a man-made world, the structure is maths and geometry and how we create systems to understand and navigate the world around us.” Curator and writer Rachel Church traces the rediscovery of mathematics in Melanie’s jewellery and the spirituality that underpins it.

In the author CP Snow’s famous division between the arts and the sciences, mathematics and jewellery design would find themselves on either side of an almost unbridgeable divide. London jeweller Melanie Eddy’s work proves the fault of this approach. Her rings, bangles and necklaces are marvels of three-dimensional geometry, a careful calculation of lines and angles, creating jewellery which seems almost effortlessly balanced and has a great sense of serenity.

Jewellers have always needed skills in arithmetic in order to calculate the materials needed for their pieces, the ratios of alloys in metals and to work out the cost of a jewel in metals and gemstones, including the time taken to work it and the final profit margin, but Melanie was surprised to find that the direction of her work led her to a new appreciation and understanding of geometry. Although maths hadn’t been a favourite subject in school, her post-graduate jewellery studies led her to research medieval architecture and art and the maths which they were based on. These geometrical shapes became a great influence on her work and led her to read up on maths and re-evaluate her feelings about it. ‘They weren’t the maths books I’d had in school, they showed maths as an applied subject…I started to see how in our world, a man-made world, the structure is maths and geometry and how we create systems to understand and navigate the world around us.’

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“Rings are my favourite thing to make – I love the challenge of designing completely in the round and having to think about all the angles. We move our hands around so much that I want my rings to be interesting no matter what angle they’re viewed from. I took a while before designing rings that incorporated gems as I wanted to get it right. I’ve always loved looking at antique rings and all the detailing that was incorporated into and around settings. So I wanted to modernize the gallery – the area between your stone/s and the main hoop of the ring (which we call the shank); it often includes the basket and stems that connect to the prongs. I often incorporate different details onto different profiles of the ring so the gallery corresponds to the facet arrangement of the shank.”

The beryl ring (below) is a recent creation which follows this principle. It combines her trademark gold faceted hoop with a high gallery made open, asymmetric sides to hold the five-sided beryl. It is on view at Force of Nature at the Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery opening 19 November, 2021. The way in which Melanie uses gemstones in her work is also inspired by the traditions of medieval jewellery, in which gemstones are chosen as much for their talismanic importance as for their financial value, and irregularly shaped stones are combined in interesting ways to create a vibrant design.

Melanie’s design process begins by creating paper templates which allow her to play with different combinations of triangles to achieve a dynamic yet balanced effect. Each ring or bangle can be designed using two circular templates, layered or rotated to create the final composition. Another method Melanie uses is to draw a rectangle on paper and then divide it into smaller rectangles and triangles from which arcs can be drawn. The paper polygons created by this process are cut out and matched along their short edges to create three dimensional shapes which can be assembled into pieces of jewellery. The process is further complicated when the jewels are intended to be worn as a set – a pair of rings or bangles must be designed so that each element has its own integrity but the pair can sit together to make a coherent whole. Once she is satisfied with the design, Melanie carves it in wax, a process which allows for an element of spontaneity and manual adjustment. She describes it as imagining the piece trapped in the block of wax and waiting to be uncovered. Within this structured system, she aims to keep the possibility of intuition – ‘I wanted to allow space for the hand and the tacit knowledge of object making to intervene with the plan.’

The completed wax model is cast in the chosen metal, a choice of silver, white gold or gold, to allow the jewels to be accessible to a wide range of buyers. As Melanie explains ‘I want people to be able to access the shapes and forms, I don’t want it to be elitist. I liked jewellery even when I was a student and had no money.’ Although the choice of metal or gemstone can affect the price, every jewel is a unique design which is created to suit the lifestyle and tastes of the wearer and requires the same time to plan and make, the size and weight of the finished jewel carefully calculated to suit the body of the wearer.

i Finalising the setting of the gemstone using wax

This use of templates to guide rather than completely dictate the work echoes their use by medieval masons who used a template which could be altered to create the different shapes required by the arches and columns of the great cathedrals. Melanie’s Bermuda childhood also exposed her to stone workers – her grandfather came from a family who owned a quarry and built part of her family home. When her parents wanted to extend it, the necessary blocks were quarried from the limestone hillside at the back of the garden. The simple, white-washed buildings of Bermuda, lit by the stark light of the mid Atlantic, influenced both Melanie’s approach to jewellery as well as the artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Winslow Homer who visited Bermuda and painted its landscapes.

The triangles which often form the basis of Melanie’s designs are created through a dynamic deconstruction of the ‘golden rectangle’, known by ancient Greek mathematicians as the ‘golden ratio’ or ‘divine proportion’. This ratio denotes the relationship between the sides of a rectangle creating a shape which is perceived as aesthetically satisfying and which echoes the mathematics found in natural structures. First described by the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, it was also used by Renaissance thinkers and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci.

i Melanie at the bench

The ‘divine proportion’ is a key element in the architecture of sacred spaces, another important influence in Melanie’s work. She was born and raised in Bermuda, a series of islands in the Atlantic which were the stopping off point for the first British colonists to Jamestown, Virginia and have been a meeting place for traders, artists and settlers since the early seventeenth century. Alongside the influence of the landscape and architecture of Bermuda itself, her Bermudan mother and New Zealander father took the family for an extended trip most years, which gave Melanie the opportunity to see the wider world and exposed her to the Gothic architecture of the great cathedrals and the world of medieval art and design. Her interest in this area had already been sparked by visits to Bermuda’s Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity and the stained glass and arches of her childhood church as well as the opportunity to learn how to make stained glass during her school art lessons – the basis for her earliest experiments in jewellery.

Gothic architecture was, perhaps inevitably, one of the first things which helped Melanie feel at home when she first moved to London to take courses at the Royal College of Art, followed by a Jewellery M.A. at Central St Martins College of Art and Design. ‘The first place that I was living was a little tiny room in Camden on an estate…in my little room which could only fit my bed and a little desk, from the window…I could see the rose window of this church, and to me, I thought that must be a sign that I’m supposed to be spending time in the UK.’ This rose window became a direct inspiration for a very early ring which took the detail of the window and included the phrase ‘A moment’s pause’ engraved directly into the wax model, referring to the practice of following the pattern of a rose window as a prayerful, meditative process.

I want people to be able to access the shapes and forms, I don’t want it to be elitist.

The influence of architecture in these early works gradually became more abstract as she delved into the geometry of contemporary sacred spaces, creating objects which are less obviously architectural but which retain the sense and resonance of a sacred space. Travelling in South Asia and Afghanistan also exposed her to Islamic architecture and its use of geometry, taking her back to her studies of the medieval period and the influence of the Islamic world in preserving and transmitting the science and mathematics of the classical world.

Her early training in a commercial jewellery firm gave her a great appreciation of the technical skills required to make a good piece of work, but also a desire to create work which had meaning, as she explained: ‘If I’m going to join this conversation, if I’m going to add my voice to this space, what am I bringing to it? What tools do I have at my disposal to create these pieces that will resonate with people in a certain way?’ Her research into maths and medieval art gave her a way to find her own voice in jewellery, a way to make forms which people could understand and resonated with them but that she felt ‘tied back to something really primordial about how we measure the world that we’re in and how we understand it. And that appealed to me because I was trying to find a way to create this meaning that I saw in the historical jewellery and which I hadn’t necessarily seen in the jewellery I was used to.’

Melanie’s career also shows the importance of mentors and teachers. She had the luck to have a school art teacher who encouraged her early work in stained glass and jewellery, followed by a fortuitous shopping trip for her mother which took her to the Gem Cellar, the Bermuda shop of Chet Trott, one of the few Black jewellers in Bermuda. He invited her to bring her jewellery in to show him and offered her space at the bench for her weekends and school holidays. Even though ‘art was one of my favourite subjects at school, and I even spent a good amount of my free time painting in my room. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but when it came to applying to go to an arts programme for university I chickened out. I didn’t think I had what it took to make a living from my art.’

The call of jewellery proved too strong to resist though and after a degree in English and International Studies, she decided to try to make a career in jewellery. Much of Melanie’s work outside her jewellery practice has been aimed at making sure that other young people can see a place for themselves in the art and jewellery world and feel that it is a world that they can flourish in and be welcomed. She has been active in sector development throughout her career, working with students at Central St Martins and the Goldsmiths Centre, creating a pioneering programme with the jewellers and goldsmiths of the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts in Kabul, Afghanistan and with jewellers across South Asia, and working initially with fellow jeweller Kassandra Lauren Gordon as part of the grant giving panel of the KLG fund to support Black jewellers and then later through the Jewellery Futures Fund.

Most recently, she was selected for the Sotheby’s exhibition ‘Brilliant and Black: a Jewelry Renaissance’ which opened in New York on September 17, 2021, the catalogue of which is still available to view online. Curated by Melanie Grant, it was a selling exhibition showing the work of 21 Black jewellers, from the mid twentieth century works of Art Smith and Winifred Mason, to the most exciting established and up-and-coming contemporary jewellers. The pair of bangles and amethyst ring which Melanie exhibited, brought her sculptural, spiritual jewellery to a new audience, proving that the impulse which led her to jewellery at 17 and her persistence in following this path was well founded.


Author: Rachel Church | Photography: Julia Skupny and Melanie Eddy

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