Local jewellery showcase promotes the craft, not the bottom line
Divia Harilela Updated on Jul 06, 2012

With its sleek white walls and glass displays, Hammer Gallery looks like any other contemporary art gallery in the city. But there's a twist. Rather than showcasing paintings or sculptures, it specialises in a more wearable form of art - jewellery.
"It's a common concept in Europe. It's where many designers sell their pieces. Retail stores don't necessarily care about the craft or promote the artist. For them it's about prices and selling large volumes," explains founder Sirkka Hammer. "I wanted to create a platform for different designers and bring this to Hong Kong."

The gallery is hosting "Hong Kong Calling", an exhibition that opens today. It features the work of 13 local jewellery artists handpicked by Hammer herself, a trained jewellery designer and goldsmith.

Born and raised in Stuttgart, Germany, she studied at the Goldsmith College in Germany's jewellery capital of Pforzheim. After training in cities such as Helsinki, Finland, she launched her own line, which she displayed in art galleries throughout Europe. In 2005 she moved to Hong Kong, where she noticed a gap in the jewellery scene.

"I stopped my own line when I came to Hong Kong," she says. "There was no support here, and I had no workbench or contacts. I moved into teaching at Polytechnic University, then into art direction and communications. Then I realised I really missed doing something that promoted art and creativity."

Hammer decided to open a gallery to showcase the designs of other jewellery artists. At the end of 2009, she opened a small space on Elgin Street in SoHo, making it the first jewellery gallery of its kind in Asia. A year and a half later, she moved to her current location near Po Hing Fong in Sheung Wan, an area that is fast becoming a hub for local designers and artists.

"In the US, there is a big community buying jewellery as an art object or collectable. But in Asia, people buy jewellery for material value, not artistic value," she says. "I wanted to change that and bring that aspect into Hong Kong culture.

"Because Hong Kong is so near to China, you see a lot of mass-produced, cheap jewellery. There's no individuality; it's not creative or personal. Jewellery is something you wear, so it should be an expression of yourself, an extension of you."

Using her contacts from school and her network in Europe, Hammer launched monthly exhibitions featuring individual designers or themed exhibitions.

While she started with designs made from precious materials such as gold and diamonds, as local customers became more educated and open-minded, she ventured into new territory.

"I added pieces made from new materials, like wood and silicon - pieces that are valuable in terms of artistic value," Hammer says.

"I see myself as an educator. People are now more ... courageous, which is exciting for me as a jeweller.

"They come to us because we present different design concepts. When I'm choosing a piece, I look not only at the quality but the concept, too. It's about what's interesting, what's new, what's upcoming and what's aesthetically beautiful in different ways."

As her customer base strengthened, Hammer launched an exhibition dedicated to local artists.

"I originally specialised in European design, because I'm not Asian. But I always wanted to do something with local artists," she says. "It makes me very proud and happy to support the local design scene. We had an open call using Facebook and put up posters around town.

"We also worked with the Hong Kong Design Institute. We've tried to avoid commercial designers. It's more about designs with a pure artistic aesthetic. The pieces are still sellable."

The exhibition features a wide variety of styles from conceptual and modern to fun and playful. Highlights include the work of Sheffield Hallam University graduate Hugo Yeung, whose sculpted silver bangles and rings play with geometric forms and structures such as overlapping or intertwined squares and circles.

Tricia Tang's pieces fuse East and West in items such as the 2012 necklace. Made from cut paper, it's stamped with images of stones and facets, using traditional Chinese seals. Zoey Mok's silver-plated necklaces are inspired by such non-objects as shadow movement.

Belinda Chang's copper and silver brooches and necklaces appear to be decaying - a commentary on the circle of life.

Cherry Woo's colourful Home Sweet Home aluminium brooch is inspired by Victoria Harbour with laser cut-outs of local buildings and other landmarks.

Hammer hopes for more such exhibitions. "We have trouble finding support and sponsors, but I want to keep moving on this ... We want to get their work out in Hong Kong and the rest of the world. I hope people will be proud of our talents and what they can achieve. The local community is so talented."a

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