Ever wonder what your jewelry does when you aren’t wearing it? This brooch by the British art jeweler and goldsmith Kevin Coates demonstrates Coates grappling with this question. When Coates creates a piece of jewelry he often also designs an elaborate and beautiful housing for it to live in when not being worn, allowing the piece to exist almost as a sculpture when not adorning a body.

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Brooch; ca. 1998; Kevin Coates (English, b. 1950; Gift of Linda Lichtenberg Kaplan, 2011-15-1. Photo Matt Flynn

The brooch depicts a scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a text made for souls to navigate through the Underworld, which would have been buried with the wealthy recently deceased in Ancient Egypt. The weighing of the heart is a moment, much like a last judgement, in which the soul is judged by the Court of the Dead. The ceremony involves the weighing of the soul’s heart against a feather, which symbolized truth and justice, on a scale. If the heart was lighter than the feather, then the deceased had a light soul, unburdened by regret or immoral actions committed during their lifetime, and they were allowed entry into the Afterlife. The brooch features a fragment of an ancient sculpted Anubis, which Coates was able to restore and integrate into this piece. The holder features symbols that complement the themes on the brooch. The hieroglyphs on the left trace the worldly, chronological passage of time and on the right, they connote eternity through reference to the Egyptian Snake of Time.

The brooch addresses time, which is a constant theme and driving force in Coates’ work. Coates, who has been fascinated by the concept of time since his youth, makes work that can be seen as an exploration or examination of the ideas which preoccupy him. In discussing his practice, Coates has stated: “This extensive ‘palette of absolutes’ is something to which I am constantly drawn, to express the ideas that continue to haunt the different stratas of my mind: a search for the music within the silence, the movement within the stillness, and the eternal moment within the restless dynamic of time. It is always a pursuit of the metaphor which will first ‘connect’, then enshrine, the meaning to provoke that essential journey of response in others – and like that of the alchemist, it is a quest for the transcendental, one where the Stone’s achievements lies in the ensoulment of the object itself.” [1]

Kevin Coates’ work often carries rich symbolic meaning. Trained as a musician (specialized in Baroque mandolin) and a mathematician, an array of sources inform his jewelry work. Coates’ craftsmanship has garnered renown, and his work can be found in museum collections worldwide.


Danielle Johnson is a summer 2016 Peter Krueger Intern in Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department. She studied art history as well as urban design and architecture studies at New York University.


[1] “Kevin Coates.” Mobilia Gallery. N.p., 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 July 2016.

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