Behind the Workbench with Emma Gregory

 
Emma Gregory, 26-year-old Master of Fine Arts student in Antwerp, merges her two passions for music and linguistics in her craft of creating contemporary jewellery pieces. Emma talks about her childhood hobbies, her several exchange studies, and her next steps after graduation.

Emma Gregory, 26-year-old Master of Fine Arts student in Antwerp, merges her two passions for music and linguistics in her craft of creating contemporary jewellery pieces. Emma talks about her childhood hobbies, her several exchange studies, and her next steps after graduation.

Emma Gregory’s desk is not like the others. Above every workbench in the Master’s studio sit empty white styrofoam boards. Emma’s board is an organized mess filled with printings and sketches of musical notations, a paper book on experimental writing for electronic dance music, and dainty pins each holding a piece of her jewellery creations. Every bracelet, necklace and ring looks similar in shape and style but just like a snowflake, no two are exactly the same. 

“I translate music into jewellery,” says Emma. She does this by reading musical notations, takes inspiration from the shapes that arise, and uses thin steels of wire to create the shapes. 

At the communal desk in the centre of the grand room, sits Emma, in thin framed, rounded glasses and a relaxed red and white striped turtleneck, wearing a pair of wired diamond shaped earrings, hand-crafted by herself. She lays out a ruler, measuring lengths of each wire and pieces them together according to her sketches. Her designs are similar to the shape of a diamond, but with an added dimension. Each shape placed together creates a flow in an article of jewellery, mimicking the movement of music she designed from her sketches.

My desk is covered in examples of experimental musical notation,” says Emma. “Traditional musical notation is the one we all recognize with the lines and dots, but I always found it quite unintuitive to read.” That’s why she moved to reading experimental musical notations that look more complex and show more movement.

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Emma is studying in Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Art Master’s program in Jewellery Design and Gold and Silversmithing. But her journey to this point was never so straightforward. “I was always off in my own world,” says Emma.

She never knew what she wanted to be when she was older but she was sure of two things; she enjoyed working with her hands and loved music and its linguistic components. Emma’s current project combines those two aspects.

“My mom used to sign me up for a lot of craft lessons after school or during vacations because she realized how much I enjoyed working with my hands,” says Emma. Beading and miniature crafting classes like making doll houses were two she participated in at a young age. Alongside her classes, she also had 12 hours of extracurricular music practice each week, from choir, band, singing lessons, and orchestra where she played the clarinet. “I even joined the percussion team for a concert because they needed a pianist,” says Emma.

Throughout her years of experimenting in fields, she finally found a happy medium.

“When I was applying for my bachelor I was looking at product design or maybe art or graphic design and a jewellery course seemed like it would be an interesting combination and it really was,” says Emma.

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Born in Toronto, Canada, and Belgian raised, Emma is cosmopolitan, having lived in several cities around the globe and learning multiple languages.

For her Bachelors degree, Emma went to Glasgow to study Silversmithing and Jewellery Design. That’s when she was introduced to contemporary jewellery, in a first year introduction lecture in the Glasgow School of Art.

“Our professor showed us pieces of jewellery that I had never seen before, that were really works of contemporary art, that really questioned the role and concept of jewellery,” says Emma. “One was a necklace made from locker keys from the concentration camps of WW2; would you wear that?” 

Since her introduction to contemporary jewellery, Emma’s fascination grew and she started to think more critically about contemporary jewellery in the sense of questioning its role as either an art pieces or jewellery that must be worn. How others react to contemporary jewellery also differs, especially in the sense of where in the world they are located.

“I think it's quite a personal reaction,” says Emma. “I often wonder if it would be better if more people knew about it, or if it maintains some magic by being such a secret society kind of world.”

Though there isn’t one definition of contemporary jewellery, Emma defines it as jewellery with purpose that is either directed from self-expression or is used to ask a question.

After her bachelor’s degree in Glasgow, Emma moved to Germany to do a technical goldsmithing course for three years, which was entirely taught in German. Aside from learning German in high school, Emma had to start taking German classes in the evening alongside her studies in Scotland to prepare herself for when she moved to Germany.

“I made friends with the only other international student who was from Taiwan and we both suffered a bit learning the language,” says Emma. “But now I speak German fluently and that's pretty cool.”

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During her time in Germany is when she decided to come to Antwerp and further her studies in the jewellery design and crafting field, especially focusing on contemporary jewellery. Not only did she want to be closer to her family in Belgium, but she also says she thought Antwerp was well located in Europe and has a great program at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

“It’s close to Paris and Amsterdam and London and Dusseldorf but it's still quite small, it's not too busy, and it's not as expensive as, say, London,” she says.

Emma has one year left of her Master’s program and what’s next to come is still up in the air, but she’s keeping doors open for opportunities. For now, she says she’d like to go into teaching or furthering her education by studying a PhD in arts. Her PhD would be flexible allowing her to study any arts she would want. Her interest is to look at writing systems, languages, and codes of music. “How to create a manifest of music into jewellery, that’s what my proposal would be, not that I've thought about it,” says Emma.

Adding to her international experiences, Emma wants to study her PhD abroad in a country like South Korea. “The language and alphabet there is very interesting to me and that's part of my research,” says Emma. Her interest for linguistics ties into Korea’s culture and would open up a new world of exploration in contemporary jewellery.