Natural textile fibers in contemporary Brazilian jewelry


The present study discusses the use of textiles in the contemporary production of jewelry in Brazil, highlighting the application of natural fibers. Manual weaving of natural fibers is closely linked to traditional handicraft just as metallic interlacing is used in jewelry production since antiquity. Bibliographical and scientific literature review were carried out as well as consulting collections of Brazilian creators, artists and designers, currently working with jewelry and employing natural fibers. Reflecting on the use of natural fibers in the Brazilian contemporary jewelry, this study has as its reference, in order to make a broad discussion, the work of artists and designers from different regions of the country, whose expression is different regarding natural material available and applied on the works and the productive techniques originated in regional traditions. Considering the search for innovation in the use of materials, it can be observed an intense renewal in Brazilian jewelry, which is impregnated by both unusual natural elements and traditional values of the culture of the country.


The accurate observation of the jewelry elaborated by contemporary artists is evidently the result of the vestiges of thousands of years of history of adornments and their use, rituals and customs. In the reports found and linked to this artistic expression, we can observe the description of the humanity trajectory has gone through, its discoveries and the evolution of social groups, among other aspects. Therefore, jewelry has a trajectory ranging from the noblest to the most common materials, from the initial brilliance of gold to that of current natural fibers, from body adornment to artistic object.

The discovery of metals—mainly of gold—and of the casting process and alloys allowed the inhabitants of Mesopotamia to develop new weapons and tools. This discovery, combined with other advances, such as the invention of the wheel, enabled the sedentarization of social organizations and influenced decisively on the evolution of society in that region [1].

Primitive civilizations associated gold with the splendor of the sun and attributed divine powers to it. During the Middle Ages, the fascination of this beautiful, flexible and durable material turned the guild of goldsmiths into one of the most respected and superior to others [2]. The ancient jewels, found intact by anthropologists and researchers, were almost exclusively made of gold [3]. Therefore, the history of adornments is intrinsically linked to the history of the art of goldsmithing.

The artifacts found in archaeological sites, which have withstood the action of time and allowed its study, are those manufactured with unalterable materials. Among these objects are ceramics, stones, bronze, horn, ivory, silver (deposited in protected places) and gold. Since gold is an incorruptible material par excellence, the earliest pieces made with it go back to the beginning of the third millennium BC and are in perfect condition after 5000 years [1]. These studies also show the huge gap left by artifacts made from perishable materials such as plant fibers, fabrics, leather and wood. With the exception of Egyptian wood, which survived due to favorable weather conditions, samples of artifacts produced in those materials such as Egyptian garments made from linen, cotton or wool fiber were described by researchers [4].

From the end of the Middle Ages and along Renaissance, with the rise of monarchy and bourgeoisie, the promotion of appearance would include luxurious expenses with clothing and jewelry, among other decorative luxuries [5]. In the Florentine Renaissance, following the important advances of research in all artistic expressions, goldsmithing achieves great refinement in the handling of metals such as application of enamels or in the use of precious stones [6]. Since then, the split between the ancient sense of adornment is established and the concepts that emerged in the fifteenth century remained impregnated in the art of jewelry until the middle of the twentieth century.

Since the 1950s, by overthrowing the paradigm of preciousness of materials—metals and gems—jewelry has detached from its stigma of elite product and has become more democratic, also for the artist, who is free to determine new arrangements of materials and shapes. As the ornaments took on the status of luxury objects, indicating power, they gradually distanced themselves from their magical or symbolic significance. However, the ancient notion of its origin survives until our days once people still wear adornments.

After being considered, for a long period, as an object of investment, jewelry is rediscovered and their other roles branch out to increasingly diversified performances [7].

The rupture in Brazil—new jewelry for the country and for the world

Until the mid-1960s, the concept of traditional jewelry, with the use of gold and precious gems, followed the models produced and marketed in European countries. Siqueira [7] observes that the Brazilian jewelry production of that period was directed to the external consumer, whose preference fell on the colored gems. Special pieces of jewelry were handmade by Brazilian companies, while jewelry produced on an industrial scale, aimed at the internal public, did not have a variation in terms of design [8].

One of the pillars of the rupture with this tradition that prevailed in the country until the 60’s was the artist Caio Mourão. He applied his knowledge of painting, drawing and history of art to the art of jewelry, connecting it to the ancestral techniques of goldsmithing and materials considered less noble such as iron, copper and steel, among many others. “It’s not the material that matters,” says Caio Mourão to the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo [9]. Mourão understands that “using gold, rubies and diamonds, we can achieve a less esthetic effect than with a simple brass. What matters is the shape we give to it. And this function, in my opinion, is to be an ornament and not ostentation or a proof of economic status as it was formerly. By modifying the concept and esthetic pattern of the jewelry produced in the country, Caio Mourão projects the Brazilian jewelry art internationally. In 1963, as a protagonist of history once more, Mourão suggests artistic jewelry as a category to be included in the VII Biennial of São Paulo. The Gravetos necklace (Fig. 1), created and produced by Caio Mourão [10], receives the International Jewelry Award in that edition.

Fig. 1

Gravetos Necklace, 1961. Polished silver. International Jewelry Award at the VII São Paulo Biennial, 1963. By Caio Mourão [11]

In 1967, aware of the scientific research that would take man to the moon in the following year, Caio Mourão’s creation in jewelry was in tune with the collection presented by Pierre Cardin that year in Brazil. This meeting sets an important partnership between the two artists in Paris, in 1968 [12]. In Fig. 2, Galaxy necklace, created and made by Caio for Cardin’s collection of garments. The jewel was conceived based on studies on the space race.

Fig. 2

Galaxy Necklace, 1968. Polished silver. By Caio Mourão [11]

Being an untiring researcher, Caio Mourão studied the techniques used in the art of Portuguese silverware during his stay in Portugal, in 1969. From this experience, upon returning to Brazil in 1970, the artist developed the technique of organic casting by replacing the wax model, traditionally used in foundry, for an organic element. When implementing the technique, the artist tested the casting of small objects, flowers, fruit peels and insects, among others [13]. In the Crista de Galo necklace (Celosia cristata) (Fig. 3) a cockscomb flower was used as a matrix in the foundry.

Fig. 3

Crista de Galo Necklace, 1970. Silver. Pendant produced in the organic foundry technique. By Caio Mourão [11]

Caio Mourão has maintained close relationship with the Brazilian artistic avant-garde since the 60’s and his research and development continue to influence the new generations of artists in the country. Mourão expressed himself through other media such as sculpture, drawing, painting, set design, literature, besides promoting actions related to the preservation of the memory of art in Brazil [14]. The artist’s Joia-anti-Joia necklace (Fig. 4), one of his last creations, shows the revolutionary vigor of the young man who definitively changed the history of Brazilian jewelry. The necklace was fusion welded, “trimmed with fire, using a hammer instead of a laminator.” The stone was set by making holes on the plate and turning the claws back, without the use of rivets. “As in the old times”, as written by the artist. [11].

Fig. 4

Joia-anti-Joia Necklace, 2002. Bronze, silver, 18-carat gold and not stoned specularite. By Caio Mourão [11]

“The avant-garde artist is not restricted to producing artworks” [15], he wages a struggle to impose his ideas, which are not exhausted in the aesthetic field. Although Caio Mourão did not employ natural fibers as a final resource in his jewelry, the artist used organic matrices originated from different elements of nature. In the case of the necklace of Fig. 1, he recreated in noble material, polished silver, wood sticks, precious raw material abundant throughout the Brazilian territory. In this case, as in many other creations of the artist, it is the use of well-known references, reorganized and presented in singular poetics. Thus, it was through his innovative perception that other alternative materials have been included in Brazilian jewelry since the 1960s. Jewelry, as well as art and fashion, is linked “[…] in some way to the aesthetic currents of its time” [16].

Structures in metals and natural fibers

From the earliest Egyptian dynasties, flexible bracelets and bracelets are structured by a kind of fabric with small enamel drops and gold paste [1]. During the medieval period, the development and improvement of metallic meshes was directed to the production of military armor with the purpose of protecting and making invulnerable the medieval knight [17]. In jewelry art, knitwear made of precious metals, such as gold and silver, has been used throughout history. Initially, these meshes were materialized through chains, which are intertwined in large links, as in the necklace made with rings in solid gold for Psusennes I [18] (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

Collar of Psusennes I. The solid gold ring beads are strung tightly on cords whose knots are hidden by the sheet-gold clasp which bears on both faces the king’s nomem and prenomen cartouches [18]

The meshes were also elaborated by means of delicate links intertwined in gold or silver chains, similar to the chains used in the making of the Persian glove, in 1000 BC [2] (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6

Persian Glove, 1000 BC. Gold made of a diamond-shaped net, with a double chain covering the palm [2]

Other types of meshes, similar to the ones commonly found in traditional basketry or folk craft, have also been used in sophisticated pieces of jewelry at all times. The bracelet by Arline Fisch, woven in yellow gold in the year 1976 [19] (Fig. 7), is one of these jewels. The fabric has delicate and malleable interlacing, similar to artifacts handmade with silk or cotton yarn in a technique known as crochet.

Fig. 7

Bracelet, 1976. 18-Karat gold. By Arline Fisch. Private Collection [19]

In Brazil, new parameters for jewelry were established since the conceptual revolution led by Caio Mourão. It is observed, especially in pieces created by contemporary artists and designers, a profusion of unusual mixtures resulting from both, research and technological developments, as well as the valuation of natural raw materials and renewable sources. As Brazilian jewelry retook its role of adornment, it also recuperated traditional manufacturing techniques, re-establishing relations with other sectors of the society such as handicraft. In Brazil, the approximation of design with handicraft began in the 1980s and was extended to jewelry, with greater expressiveness, in the 1990s. Especially since the 2000s, innovation in Brazilian jewelry modifies the perception of the international audience, resulting in a great number of international awards [7].

In the 21st century, Brazilian artists and designers have mixed natural fibers with traditional jewelry materials such as gold, silver and precious gems. The continental extension of the country, the climatic peculiarities that gave origin to the different biomes with diverse flora and fauna, constituting immense resources and potential for innovation. This innovation in Brazilian jewelry is materialized in the presence of different materials and new solutions for aesthetics and use, which was employed by Caio Mourão on the development of the new foundry processes, applying them to the creation and production of his jewelry.

Considering this scenario, in contrast to commonly employed materials (such as metal, stones and others), the present study aims at discussing the use of natural fibers handcrafted and applied in Brazilian contemporary jewelry.


Few references were found that specifically addressed the use of knitting or weaving by jewelry art and none of them was concerned with the application of natural fibers in jewelry produced in Brazil. Thus, this research aimed at consulting collections of creators, artists and designers, currently working with jewelry and employing natural fibers. This list includes the collections of Adeguimar Arantes [20], Maria Lucia Barbosa [21] and Ivete Cattani [22].

Results and discussion

Brazilian jewelry

Until the 1960s, in Brazil, the traditional concept of a jewelry was the one that used gold and precious gems, as the jewelry produced and marketed in European countries. Siqueira [7] observes that the Brazilian jewelry production of that period was targeted at the external consumer, whose preference fell on the colored gems. Special pieces were handmade by Brazilian companies, while jewelry produced on an industrial scale was targeted at the internal public and did not vary much in terms of design [8].

Also, until the 1960s, traditional production processes such as casting with lost wax, as well as the reproduction of jewelry already consecrated were used. The earliest jewelry artists trained in the country were the ones responsible for introducing new construction and casting techniques of metals. New pieces of impacting jewelry, both in shape and choice of materials, appear in the Brazilian jewelry production. The gemstones polished by Harold Burle Marx had bold shapes [23] and Caio Mourão’s jewelry turned silver, copper, aluminum and bronze into materials of desire [24]. This is how Brazilian jewelry begins to be designed.

In this context of changes, several Brazilian artists and designers were engaged in a movement to re-establish traditional culture and the value of the country’s natural heritage, associated with new materials and new technologies. In the process of cultural restoring and innovation, the jewelry of Adeguimar Arantes, Maria Lúcia Barbosa and Ivete Cattani sought to re-establish the link between the different elements of nature—natural fibers, metals and gems—commonly used in the adornments of primitive times, resignifying them in the contemporary movement.

These three artists, who are from different regions in Brazil, with distinct biomes (Fig. 8), have in common the use of natural resources in the composition of their jewelry.

Fig. 8

Biomes in Brazil: Amazonia, Cerrado, Mata Atlântica, Caatinga, Pantanal and Pampa [25]

The first artist, Adeguimar Arantes [20], was born in the State of Goiás and her art is deeply influenced by the local biome, the cerrado. In her jewelry, the application of natural elements mixed with gems and precious metals is recurrent. The ring Colheita (Fig. 9) combines small branches of jabuticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora [Mart.] O. Berg) [26] with the fruit aroma in wood, pearls and recycled yellow gold. The ribbons, in polished gold, are riveted creating drawings and cutouts similar to those used in the local basketry of the region.

Fig. 9

Colheita Ring, 2013. 18-Karat recycled gold, pearls and Jabuticaba wood. By Adeguimar Arantes [20, 27]

In another jewelry by Adeguimar Arantes, the bracelet Buriti Aguado (Fig. 10), the base structure was made in a manual loom with buriti fibers and recycled newspaper. The fabric was embroidered with tourmaline spheres in many shades. The bracelet’s clasp received a channel wire in recycled yellow gold, prasiolites and faceted tourmalines. The gold channel wire, a unique piece, was designed to involve the ending part of the buriti fabric. Inside this channel, 10 thin wires were welded in the place where the buriti weaving was inserted. These wires were cut and bent into cotter pin shape in order to maintain the fabric fixed to that narrow metallic finishing. This fabric was handcrafted by Córrego do Ouro Association, Goiás. The buriti fiber (Mauritia flexuosa Mart.), used in the structure of the bracelet was removed from the young leaves of the palm tree. The buriti is widely found in the Brazilian territory [28] and its soft fibers and textiles are used in handicrafts in all the regions where the palm is found [29,30,31].

Fig. 10

Buriti Aguado Bracelet, 2008. Buriti fiber (Mauritia flexuosa Mart.), Paper and 18-Karat recycled gold, prasiolite and tourmaline stones. By Adeguimar Arantes [20, 32]

The second artist, Maria Lucia Barbosa [21], is from Rio de Janeiro, a state with one of the most biodiverse biomes in Brazil, the Atlantic Forest. Since her education in Escola Mineira, a goldsmith school founded in the 1980’s in the state of Minas Gerais, the artist produces her jewelry with gems and other natural elements from all regions of the country. According to Valadares [33], it is in nature that Maria Lucia learns the meaning of the beauty of creation. In Ritmo necklace (Fig. 11) the artist used silver, coconut bandoleira (Cocos nucifera Linn.) [34] and Brazilian bird feathers collected by the Ticunas Indians of the Alto Xingu. The Xingu Indigenous Park is in the northeast of the state of Mato Grosso, in the south of the Amazon biome. The bandoleira is a kind of armband used by the natives to produce sound during the dance rituals. The silver structure of Ritmo has the shape of the coconuts originally set in the bandoleira.

Fig. 11

Ritmo Necklace, 1994. Coconut bandoleira (Cocos nucifera Linn.), silver and feathers of Brazilian birds collected by the Ticuna Indians of the Alto Xingu. By Maria Lúcia Barbosa [21]

The bracelet from the collection Mãos da Freguesia (Fig. 12) is another creation of Maria Lucia. Its structure is woven in macramé with a specific vegetal straw (Raphia vinífera) [35], and its finishing are in silver and agate cabochon. In this bracelet, the silver channel was folded in order to fasten the woven fiber. The macramé technique, employed in the bracelet, consists of manual weaving of yarns through braids and knots, without the use of machinery or tools. This technique, originated in the Middle East and introduced in Brazil by the Portuguese colonizers [36], is widely used in the country’s handicrafts. On the other hand, it should be mentioned that the fibers of this palm are very important in rituals of Afro-Brazilian religions, such as Candomblé de Ketu [37]. The macramé applied to the bracelet was woven by women of the Freguesia da Escada association (city of Guararema, SP, Brazil).

Fig. 12

Bracelet from the Collection Mãos da Freguesia, 1965. Straw fiber (Raphia vinífera), silver and dyed agate. By Maria Lucia Barbosa [21]

The third artist and author of this study, Ivete Cattani [22], was born near the border of Brazil and Argentina, in the extreme south of the country, where the Atlantic Forest and Pampa biomes are found. The use of different materials, both from nature and from technological developments, characterize her jewelry production. According to Hortmann [38], the search for innovation and combination of elements of nature is a recurrent feature in the work of the artist and her jewelry presents a singular imaginary. In the Legends collection (Fig. 13), the artist involved the fruit of Arapari—Macrolobium acaciifolium (Benth.) Benth.—in a fabric made of chains and oxidized silver balls. In this collection, the small oxidized silver channels were folded so to contain the fruit, according to their size. Inside each channel, a pin, which passed through the fruit, was welded. The finishing of the fixation was done with the use of horn hammer. The lashing of the chains resembles drawings used in indigenous body painting. The species Macrolobium acaciifolium (Benth.) Benth. is found in the Amazon floodplains [39].

Fig. 13

Legends Necklace, 2004. Rusty silver and arapari fruit—Macrolobium acaciifolium (Benth.) Benth. By Ivete Cattani [22, 40]

Another creation of Ivete Cattani is the pair of cufflinks Ciranda (Fig. 14), made of plated silver, rutilated quartz and golden grass fiber (Syngonanthus nitens Bong. Ruhland) [41]. This fiber is distinguished from the others by the golden glow specific of the species and only found in a small area of the Cerrado biome. The plot, typically used in native basketry, was prepared by the quilombola (former-slave) community of Mumbuca, located in Jalapão, in the eastern state of Tocantins (Brazil). The harvesting of the golden grass occurs only in September, so that the fiber achieves the best coloration and, also, to avoid the removal of the roots of the plant. After harvested, the golden grass fiber is woven slightly moist and stitched with buriti flax [29]. In this jewelry, the fiber woven was attached with pins to both the box containing the spiked rutilated quartz and the base of the cufflink.

Fig. 14

Ciranda Cufflinks, 2011. Plated silver, rutilated quartz and golden grass (Syngonanthus nitens Bong. Ruhland). By Ivete Cattani [22, 42]

For the three natural fibers used in the jewelry described above: buriti (Mauritia flexuosa Mart.), coastal straw (Raphia vinífera) and golden grass (Syngonanthus nitens Bong. Ruhland), the main mechanical, physical and chemical characteristics are presented (Table 1).

Table 1 Tensile values (expressed by average, standard coefficient and variation coefficient) and holocellulose (cellulose and hemicellulose) and lignin concentrations and crystallinity for buriti linen, raffia and golden grass

By presenting the main properties of the lignocellulosic materials of the jewels shown in this study in Table 1, they could be compared in future studies with those of other materials commonly used in jewelry (such as metal, stones and others).

Although the employment of natural fibers is not exclusive of Brazilian artists, they have become a reference in relation to the contemporary development of jewelry and fashion. Nations endowed with megadiversity, as is the case of Brazil [45], also have an important collection of knowledge resulting from their historical formation [46], whose information is applied in art, crafts and industry.

The combined binomial of creativity and innovation manifested itself in Brazil from the end of World War II. The reconstruction policy stimulated consumption in all social spheres in various areas, as a reflection of the New Era. In painting, Antonio Dias and Hélio Oiticica; in landscaping, Burle Max; and in differentiated jewelry, sculptures, objects and tools, Caio Mourão, Reny Golcman, Ulla Jonshen, Ricardo Mattar, Renée Sasson and Salvador Francisco Neto [47].


In recovering its function of adornment, contemporary jewelry experiences unusual materials in technical arrangements and interlacing of metals used in knitwear since the earliest civilizations. In Brazil, the approximation of design with handicraft began in the 1980s, and was extended to jewelry, with greater expressiveness, in the 90 s. With the skill of the goldsmith and the wisdom of the artist, Caio Mourão was an agent of the democratization in the country. By breaking the hegemony of the use of gold and precious stones, he returned to jewels the most intimate and true meaning. In this way, Brazilian jewelers surpassed the last frontiers established by the power and preciousness of the materials.

The analysis of the jewelry created by the artists analyzed in this study, Adeguimar Arantes, Maria Lucia Barbosa and Ivete Cattani, shows that the relationship between elements of the Brazilian nature and goldsmithing acquires new forms and meanings, especially in the case of the jewelry in which natural fiber weaving is a special feature. Originated in different biomes, these fibers have particular characteristics, both regarding their physico-chemical composition and their technical possibilities of weaving. Another relevant aspect is the fact that artists have in common the use of elements of nature. The specter of these combinations is widened, mainly, by the differences found in the conception of jewelry.

Therefore, jewelry produced from the junction between traditional goldsmithing and natural fiber weaving, when proposing this typology, brings forth a jewelry impregnated by the Brazilian culture, in harmony with the contemporary and with different meanings from those usually found in the market.


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Cattani, I.M., Leite, E., de Held, M.S.B. et al. Natural textile fibers in contemporary Brazilian jewelry. SN Appl. Sci. 2, 55 (2020) doi:10.1007/s42452-019-1860-y

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  • Natural fibers
  • Brazilian jewelry
  • Contemporary
  • Innovation
  • Biome