When I first came up with the idea to The Jewelry Exchange and started "thinking out loud", the people that were listening all said "why would anyone wanna do that" and so for a bit I just sat on the idea, letting that stop me, other peoples perceptions of what is possible and what is not. But with time passing, I found myself revisiting the idea over and over again and finally late one night I found myself sitting in bed with my laptop, like I so often do and I decided to just give it a go, to see what would happen and that's when I made the call out on fb, right then and there. I thought 20 people would sign up and if I was really lucky, maybe 50, one week later, hundreds had applied and I had chosen 370 people...
Now came the hard part, matching people up two and two. I didn't want to be the one to choose "these two together", but also didn't want it to be completely random, as I wanted everyone to be sincerely happy with the piece they got and a traditional Goldsmith would probably not be too happy with a "piece of plastic on a string" from a contemporary artist, as another contemporary artist would be, so I started going trough one portfolio after another and dividing people into groups "traditional goldsmith" "contemporary goldsmiths" "art students" "established artist" and so on and in the end I had 6 groups that I then matched randomly within each group. That is how people were matched up together and when you look at the exchanges you will see that. A funny thing happened, with some of them it could almost be the same person that made both pieces and I kind of love that, because I really wanted everyone to be happy with what they received.
Now this has probably been the biggest learning experience of my life, some lessons harder than others, for one I've had to learn that not everyone knows what it means to take a professional picture of their work and contemporary diffidently doesn't mean the same to everyone and so the next time I do this, I will have to be more selective, I started out very trusting, trusting in the fact that everyone wold do what they said they would do and trusting in the fact that if someone said they could do something, they could... and I'll also have to harden up a bit, because otherwise it's simple impossible to work with so many people and get everyone to follow trough everything. There's also something strange that happens when you work online, there will be people that feels like it's ok to just write you private messages "ripping you apart" giving you their "peace of mind" and you just have to learn not to carry that with you, which is hard, but I've gotten better at it throughout this project.
Next time will be a little different, as much as I love the result from this exchange, it very much feels like a "trial run" and I can't wait to implement what I've learned in this exchange in the next exchange. I now know that email doesn't work, it has to be Dropbox and that each pair should send everything together, so that there's a bigger sense of commitment, not only to me, but to their match and that if you don't send me a good picture when you apply, then you probably won't send me a good picture in the end and that building a website, learning photoshop & indesign and putting a book together, are all full time jobs in themselves and that I have to take a participation fee, because it's an incredible amount of work to make such a big exchange happen... but I'm glad I didn't know these things upfront, or I might never have started.
The work has at times felt insurmountable, but has been worth every second of it, as I now see the results, which I feel speaks volumes. The exchange has exited all my expectations and turned into so much more than just the exchange of a piece of jewellery. It is a window into the maker and cultural differences of the way we design and make jewellery all over the world. Seeing the people behind the Jewelry is such a rare treat and it really brings us all together. This exchange has made me love my field even more and given me a whole new connection to it and I hope down the road, The jewellery exchanges will be a "time capsule" where we can look at each year on it's own and follow the changes in what we do trough time.
X Olga Raben