Ancient textures, modern hands: jewelry artist Dejan Jovanovic

Born in Serbia and educated in both Serbia and America, Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association jewelry artist Dejan Jovanovic merges ancient textures and forms with a forward-looking sensibility. Following the break-up of Yugoslavia and years of war, Jovanovic won international awards in open competition for grand-scale monuments. Since his move to the United States in 2002, his fabrication and metalworking skills have been in high demand. He’s created new works for Tiffany & Co. and worked on pieces for the Smithsonian, and his restoration projects include the famous Liscum Bowl for the U.S. Army, a gilded statuette for the White House, silver candlesticks for Washington National Cathedral, and crucifixes for local churches.

We recently talked to Jovanovic about his work at the Torpedo Factory, where he’s reshaping the very idea of what jewelry can be.

 On his eye for ancient and medieval metalwork:

“Rome”: sterling silver, 18k vermeil, diamonds

I grew up in a small town at the crossroads of central and southeastern Europe, a place of ancient history, architecture, and culture, where every corner has a story. A few miles from my hometown are the ruins of the Roman imperial palace at Gamzigrad, where I used to participate in summer archaeological digs. The local museum has an extensive collection of small-scale objects, mostly jewelry, uncovered from this Roman town. I became fascinated with the messages they carried from their ancient past.

“Spanish Steps III”: sterling silver, 18k
yellow gold and black patina

After spending time in Italy and becoming increasingly interested in medieval architecture and art, I was reminded of the historic traditions of jewelry and metallurgy and also of the timeless beauty in worn and broken medieval structures, especially Roman walls and church floors. This triggered memories of familiar historical motifs from my native Serbia. The mimicking of heavy textures and reliefs of these massive objects contribute to the sensual and tactile experience of my tiny pieces.

How monumental sculpture inspired him to “work small”:

“Aurelian”: sterling silver, 21k gold, diamonds

My sculpture work frequently entailed making small-scale models to visualize and test shapes and ideas without incurring the cost of producing the full-scale work. As a result, I was often surrounded by small sculptures and invested a lot of creative energy in making them. They took on sentimental value and became meaningful in their own right. Their tactility encouraged me to hold them; touching and rotating them in my hands. I kept them in my pockets, turning them around and feeling their shape. I began thinking about them as wearable objects.

“Wedding Band III”:
18k yellow gold,
diamonds, sapphire

On seeing big ideas in small objects:

The word “jewelry” conjures up certain preconceived images. I explore ways to challenge long-established design and to transition from traditional perceptions of jewelry towards making wearable sculpture.

Jewelry interacts with the body of the wearer, following its contours, utilizing the relationship between the animate and inanimate to create new movement. The person wearing my jewelry becomes a sculpture by wearing my work.

See the full range of Dejan Jovanovic’s wearable sculpture at the Torpedo Factory. Through October 2012, he’s in studios 337 and 339. After November 1, 2012, look for him on the first floor in studios 15 and 32 or visit his website,

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