School of the Arts, English and Drama

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Roberta Bernabei

Photo of  Roberta Bernabei


Roberta Bernabei is a jewellery maker and historian whose work has been exhibited at various national and international venues, including Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; Victoria & Albert Museum; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and the Museums of Decorative Arts in Berlin and Turin. In addition to institutional hosts, her jewellery has been featured in various private and commercial galleries, as well as entering both private and public collections; the latter including Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery; Bilston Craft Gallery; Museo del Gioiello, Padua, Italy and Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Since 1989, she has shown her jewellery throughout Europe; largely exploring body decoration issues through a wide range of media. Her recent studio practice has shifted emphasis to explore digital technologies and how they may be seamlessly united with traditional goldsmith techniques, including the manipulation of CAD/CAM, rapid prototyping, precision photo etching and digital embroidery. Attempts are currently being made to humanise the ‘perfection’ of digital manufacture through hand finishing, subverting intended materials and incorporating visual and tactile illusions.

Roberta has chaired several exhibition panels and conferences including the annual Conference of the Italian Association for Contemporary Jewellery in Trieste; Juror of “Eine Handvoll Glasperlen” jewellery competition organised by Museum fuer Weltkulturen, Frankfurt; and most recently, as a member of the selection panel for LUSTRE, the Contemporary Applied Art fair held at Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham.

  • SAB937 Non-Verbal Communication: Body Adornments and New Technologies,
  • SAP205 Design and Research
  • SAA801 Visual Research in Practice


Roberta's theoretical research into the history of contemporary jewellery has enabled the recent publication of her first book: Contemporary Jewellers: Interviews with European Artists in July 2011. The text aims to provide insights into the practices of 25 of Europe’s leading contemporary jewellers by exploring the creative, conceptual and technical working practices that underpin the aesthetic of each practitioner's work. In addition, the dialogs shed new light on these jewellers’ sources inspiration and their ideas relating to functionality and the human body. Major jewellery artists presented include Giampaolo Babetto, Gijs Bakker, Otto Kunzli, Ruudt Peters, Mario Pinton and Tone Vigeland.

Roberta's current research entails undertaking a second batch of interviews towards a second volume of interviews exploring jewellers from the Americas, Asia and Oceania. This will be complemented by a chapter in the following book of edited essays, Tchotchkes in the White Cube: Exhibiting Craft and Design in the 20th Century. Her chapter, Jewellery Can Be Worn Toowill investigate jewellery’s dual existence in that despite being made to wear, it can spend much of its life not being worn. The text explores how the relationship between contemporary jewellery and the human body it adorns has developed in the exhibition setting from the 1980s onwards, and the extent to which jewellery artists have challenged and transformed traditional modes of display to expand the language of jewellery.

Roberta has also written book reviews, articles and papers for conference. As a maker, she is currently investigating the possibility of using rapid prototyping in combination with transfer printing to create substrates for the application of enamel and enamelled imagery that hopefully reinvigorate the so called technique of Bilston enamel. This research has culminated in a body of work entitled Reinvigorating Bilston Enamel in the Twenty First Century Souvenirs. Some pieces of this research are shown next to the permanent collection as part of the Craftsense exhibition at Bilston Craft Gallery from September 2012 until September 2013. 

Current PhD supervisions: 

  • Johnny XuColour Identity in Urban Environments, co-supervised with Rob Harland. 
  • Yueyang Sun
  • Zelal Basodan

Roberta welcomes applications for doctoral studies in contemporary jewellery, design and crafts within a practice-led research framework.