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ORBITAL RING of iron, steel, eighteen karat gold, black diamond, uncut diamond; 3.2 centimeters diameter, 2007. Photograph by Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

A Passion for

Discarded Beauty





Rob Jackson often keeps his eyes focused on the ground, searching for old nails, “road metal,” or any scrap of iron or steel with an intriguing surface texture. He transforms this debris into fine jewelry, presenting his precious bits of detritus as many jewelers present costly gemstones. His subtle work offers viewers the pleasure of discovering the exquisite charms of aged ferrous metals—pitted and scarred surfaces that suggest the otherworldliness of meteorites or the elegant striations of the grain of centuries-old, handhewn metal. Appreciating the understated beauty in his work takes time and requires a keen eye and sensitive touch. The rewards of this patient observation are not immediate, but they are deep and hint at the eternal continuum of time.

Jackson uses many forms of old metal—ball bearings, nuts, screws, washers, scraps—but he is drawn most intensely to nails. Once, in 1988, while hiking up Overlook Mountain in the Catskills, he found the site of a Victorian resort that had burned decades earlier. The ground was littered with hundreds of used, charred and weathered wrought iron nails that he collected, featured in his work, and turned to as inspiration for years. To him, they “looked like little Giacometti sculptures.” Now he has piles of nails in his studio, some neatly sorted by where he found them and others by size, from upholstery tacks to railroad spikes. Special ones he sets aside for extra consideration. Jackson does not rush—often he will keep an admired piece of metal within sight of his workbench for a long time before incorporating it into a work. He explains, “Some pieces I don’t know if I’ll do anything with them, I just like them as they are. Sometimes it’s a challenge to use them without taking away from what’s there, without losing the integrity of the piece.” The history of the objects—that a craftsman made them, that a worker hammered them to build a structure, that they served a purpose for decades or even centuries before he found them—captivates and enthralls him. He also finds humor in the act of transforming these forgotten functional items into wearable art.





Ashley Callahan
Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. She has written books and curated exhibitions on sisters Ilonka and Mariska Karasz, Hungarian-born modern designers based in New York, and Henry Eugene Thomas, a Colonial Revival furniture craftsman from Athens. She currently is writing a book on the history of chenille fashion for the University of Georgia Press. She interviewed jeweler Rob Jackson in his studio and left with a heightened awareness of the beauty of worn surfaces.




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