If you’ve passed by Kilkenny on Nassau Street in Dublin recently you’ll have seen an enormous rotating daisy in the window. This moving flower is a tribute to jewellery designer Alan Ardiff, who celebrates 20 years at the store this year and who credits Kilkenny with much of his success.
Craft jewellery designed to move: The kinetic designs of Alan Ardiff
A Dubliner by birth, Alan now lives in Mayo with his wife and three daughters. He is known for his “kinetic” pieces of jewellery, particularly his pendants, which incorporate moving elements in their design. As he explains, the pieces do not move all the time, rather, the elements move or rotate intuitively with the movement of the wearer thus creating an element of novelty to the wearer and of surprise to the observer.
“It only moves when you turn your head, so people do a double-take. It gets people to focus on the piece. The movement is a great ice-breaker between people too - it’s a conversation-starter,” he says.
There’s his famous Daisy Chain pendant with a rotating flower, the Butterfly Kisses pendant, the wings of which open and close, the Sail Away cufflinks in which the boat moves on the waves and the Wise Owl whose eyelids blink knowingly. These are not just pieces of jewellery - they are mini-sculptures imbued with sentiment which provide flashes of delight in silver and gold.
Alan graduated in 1989 from NCAD where he studied Industrial Design and Metals and says that he realised he wanted to “do his own thing” rather than working for another company. He says that his mother and siblings were very supportive of his life as a “poor starving artist”. “Every so often in families, I think, one person is allowed off the hook, I was the one that was given the space not to have to put a wage on the mantelpiece each week.”
He says that his mother, who passed away some years ago, was a great early marketer of his brand. “She created a market for my work before there was a market,” he laughs warmly. “She would go into shops and ask them if they stocked Alan Ardiff! I was blessed with her support. The success of artists involves a whole matrix of support around them. It’s a team effort,” she says.
Alan also credits his business partner, Siobhan Riordan, for successfully running the Alan Ardiff business. He says that he always knew that he wouldn’t be able to run the business. “You have to be your own best critic. Knowing my own capabilities early on was an advantage. I understood early on that running the business was not something that I was able to do.”
“I think it happens a lot with creative people - they can get absorbed by the other parts of the business. The amount of things you’ve to juggle as a sole trader is challenging - accounts, social media, marketing, online sales… you’re expected to be all departments in one.”
A multi-award-winning designer, Alan has also worked on larger scale sculptural pieces and says that he finds working at scale a liberating experience. His small and large scale objects have been shown at galleries and exhibitions globally and he has worked on many private and public commissions.
“It’s like micro to macro. It’s good to work on different scales, to move around more while working instead of being hunched at the desk. It’s also better for the eyes,” he jokes.
His most well-loved piece, is, he says, his Heart of Gold pendant. “I think that there are a lot of reasons why people are given, or buy, my work. It’s in the design, how it’s presented, the name of the piece. If someone gives you a Heart of Gold it’s a powerful sentiment. It’s within that sentiment where the power of the work lies I think.”
“It’s humbling to think that my jewellery really means something to someone. The fact that it’s handmade and that the card that comes with the piece is handwritten, speaks on a subconscious level to people - it communicates the integrity of the jewellery to people and that’s very important.”
Alan Ardiff says that he doesn’t follow trends, though some of his pieces have become smaller - ironic, he jokes, as his eyesight gets weaker.
“I don’t follow trends. I’ve developed my own language. People who buy my work are buying into how I see things and how the piece moves. There’s no one else in the world who does what I do.”