The Rome-Based Designer Creating Mythic, Erotic Jewellery

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Joanne Burke_03
Courtesy of Joanne Burke

British jewellery artist Joanne Burke’s pieces are saturated with the rich cultural history of her newly adopted home

  1. Who is it? British jewellery artist Joanne Burke, who lives and works in Rome
  2. Why do I want it? Intricate, imperfect jewellery with classical inspirations
  3. Where can I buy it? MatchesAlex Eagle and Garnet, as well as Burke’s own website

Who is it? After an eight-year stint in the United States, self-taught British jewellery artist Joanne Burke found herself in Rome (the thought of returning to the UK, she says, “slightly depressed” her at the time). Finding it a suitably harmonious environment to hone her craft, she is yet to leave, the Italian capital now home to both Burke and her namesake brand. “I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to live among the art and history that I so much love to study,” Burke says. “It has given me space to discover myself and to have the time to teach myself the things I wanted to learn.” 

As such, the city – at once the birthplace of ancient civilisations and Renaissance artists of the 15th and 16th centuries – has been absorbed into her practice, the results of which can appear like recently unearthed antiquities. Hand-crafted in gold or yellow bronze, the intricate but imperfect pieces bear the mark of their creator, and might depict mythic scenes or bygone symbols. Burke considers three words pertinent to her craft – anthropomorphism (the treating of animals, gods or objects with human characteristics), eroticism and sovereignty. “I absolutely imagine that I’m making all of this for kings and queens.”

“Since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by the language of jewellery and what we communicate through the ornaments we wear and what we can learn about each other through them,” she says. “I’m obsessed with watching people on the bus or the street with weird jewel arrangements and trying to decipher a little about their life through it all. I think of my work jumping between both jewellery and sculpture.”

Why do I want it? Burke’s pieces are anything but ordinary – a “sea-sperm chain”, for example, is inspired by small-town mythology, the sort of stories passed around by teenagers (Burke grew up in the coastal town of Great Yarmouth). “When I was a kid growing up, the local girls used to think that all the boys masturbated into the sea and that we could all get pregnant by unknown local boys somehow just by going in the water,” she says of the name. “The chain is made of morphed spiral, sperm and shell forms that link together and represent the importance of making ideas grow into something physical; to kind of fertilise visions and make them real and living.”

Other pieces might be inspired by looking upwards towards ornate ceilings or cloudless skies, or pay tribute to obscure historical figures, like Bernardo Buontalenti, who created the intricate Boboli grotto in Florence’s Pitti Palace. A carved pendant, decorated with rice pearls and pink jaspers is “about the importance of keeping informed and open to other ideas and ways of being and seeing”. Inspiration, she says, can come from anywhere. “I guess I have a lot of complex feelings about navigating this super surreal time we’re living in,” she says. “I’m just processing it all through my work.”

Those wondering how Burke’s maximal jewellery should be worn need only to look towards the designer herself, who is rarely seen without her own pieces piled up around her wrist or neck, or around her fingers (completed with her signature tonal gold nail polish). “I see jewels as tools that enhance or exaggerate these beautiful and odd parts of our bodies and personalities, and vice versa, so I keep that in mind when working,” she says. “I’d hope that my jewels make people feel a little more regal, for sure.”

Where can I buy it? Joanne Burke jewellery can currently be found at MatchesAlex Eagle and Garnet, as well as on Burke’s own website.