Forensic Jewellery

Forensic Jewellery is a current doctoral research project at The University of Dundee by Maria Maclennan; funded by the Economic and Social Research council (ESRC).

This blog is a place for me to jot down notes about my research and ramble about the PhD process - enjoy!


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Fingerprint Wedding Rings

I’ve just come across Jeweller Andrew English’s ‘Fingerprint Wedding Rings’, which are handmade wedding/engagement rings made to commission and engraved with the fingerprint of each lover’s fingerprint, making them “completely unique to each couple”.

As Fingerprint Rings, and indeed, Fingerprint Jewellery are actually generally quite a common type of jewellery design, I don’t usually take too much notice despite my research field, however these particular rings caught my eye. As the fingerprint (ring) of the individual in concern is not actually worn by they themselves but instead, by their partner, the rings intrigued me as to their potential use in DVI. If recovered after a disaster, would these rings be more or less useful in identifying their owner due to the fact the fingerprint engraved is not that of the person whom it is/was worn by? Nevertheless, it could still be useful for linking the individual to being the partner of their loved one - in addition to the fact that the rings are handmade to commission and thus potentially highly traceable both to the jeweller and the original customer (as may be the case with all ‘fingerprint’ jewellery, however). 

Just a thought, really. The literal/physical identification possibilities of ‘Fingerprint’ jewellery is yet, to the best of my knowledge, to be tested practically. Whether it would be a worthwhile avenue to explore or not remains to be seen. 

EuroSciCon International Forum for Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)

 

A few weeks ago I was asked by Dr. Shara Cohen to be a guest speaker at the upcoming EuroSciCon International Forum for Disaster Victim Identification in London on 29th June. Needless to say I was most honoured and very excited about the prospect, as this will be the first conference that I will have presented at (other than presenting research posters), let alone as an invited speaker, (although I did think that she must have made some sort of mistake what with the additional 7 guest speakers all being either ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’ so-and-so)! 

I’d never heard of EuroSciCon (European Scientific Conferences) before this: EuroSciCon was founded in 2001 after “identifying a need for communicating Life Science research between academia and industry”, a value I believe is increasingly important within not just life sciences but with research in general.

The conference abstract states: “The procedure of identifying victims of disasters either major (such as terrorist attacks or earthquakes) or smaller (such as aeroplane crashes) cannot rely on visual recognition alone. Comparison of fingerprints, dental records and / or DNA samples with ones stored in databases or taken from victims’ personal effects are often required to obtain a conclusive identification. This inaugural networking event will gather together experts in DVI to discuss current legislation and techniques involved in DVI.” (Note: “Experts” in DVI - eek!)

I’ll be giving a talk on my PhD Research and some of its surrounding areas, which is provisionally titled ‘Identity vs. Identification in the 21st Century: The Forensic Use of Jewellery in Disaster Victim Identification’: “The increased occurrence of mass disasters in recent years means forensic experts have had to become more adept at utilising alternative means of identification should traditional methods fail. Primary methods of identification such as DNA, odontology and fingerprinting are crucial weapons in establishing identification, but can often be diminished in an extreme disaster environment. Jewellery has long been a signifier of personal identity, marking its wearer as a member of a particular religion, cultural group or life stage. This talk will discuss how design research can assist in utilising jewellery as a method of forensic identification in a Century where our individual personal identities are increasingly under attack.”

The website for registering for the conference can be found here, with a brief outline of the day detailed here. One of my PhD advisors Professor Sue Black will also be giving a talk entitled ‘The role of forensic anthropology in Disaster Victim Identification’, so it will be nice to have a little bit of company at my first ever conference!

Updated PhD Proposal

Thesis Title: ’Forensic Jewellery Identification: A design-led approach to establishing identity in Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)’


Research Context

The V&A at Dundee will be an international centre for championing design excellence throughout not only Scotland, but on an international level. It will become an indispensable resource to makers, teachers and industry alike, housing four galleries which will fulfill various functions: from hosting major exhibitions to showcasing and contextualizing the very best of contemporary Scottish design. The V&A at Dundee will become renowned nationwide as a place for the cultivation and exchange of knowledge, opportunity and design innovation. 

The ‘Knowledge Exchange Hub: Design in Action’ (KEHDIA) will be a shared research initiative within the V&A at Dundee facility, which will aim to introduce design as a strategy and system for thinking for the sharing and developing of design skills and knowledge. The belief is that design is currently not sufficiently understood or recognized for what it could contribute beyond being simply a function of marketing or a means of beautifying a product.

The aim of KEHDIA is to be a ‘voice for design’, pushing design into areas it has not traditionally been associated with, reinforcing the idea that design is not just about a beautiful product, it is something that can effect change in wider society. It is the impact of this ‘knowledge exchange’ and ‘design-led innovation’ that this research study will aim to pioneer: specifically, pushing design truly cross-disciplinary into the field of forensic science, by utilizing jewellery as a methodology through which to explore design’s potential as a tool in the arsenal of Disaster Victim Identification (DVI).


Research Problem

Research suggests the fluid nature of identity in the 21st Century post-modern age is a reflection of the era of constant change and disposability within which we currently live. The nature of ‘identity’ itself has become increasingly complex, particularly due to the evolution of the technology-led dimension that characterizes our contemporary society.

Consequently, research suggests there is an ever-increasing threat to our individual personal identities in the 21st Century; from identity theft to unreliable and counterfeit identification, coupled with globalisation and a significant increase in international mass-disasters and terrorist threats.

In attempting to combat these fears, the shift in identity to having that of a persistent and ‘fixed’ status is a notion being pioneered in particular by Governments’, with an increased interest and investment being made into biometric indicators as a means of establishing identity due to their perceived greater stability. These initiatives have experienced a heightened interest post-September 11th in particular; the increase in mass-fatality incidents in recent years means both Government and forensic experts alike have had to become more adept at utilising innovative methods of identification, should traditional methods such as DNA be compromised as the result of a disaster environment.

Whilst traditional forensic identification procedures such as DNA, fingerprinting and dental records are crucial weapons in establishing identity, recent cases have brought to light the extent to which we are experiencing a loss in previous levels of certainty with many of these tools. Often, there are extraneous forces at work that can make identifying a victim a long and laborious process: In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, a substantial amount of vital DNA information was lost through the prolonged immersion of bodies in salt water. With more people striving to achieve the perfect ‘Hollywood’ smile, there is an increased lack of diversity between our teeth as we become better equipped to care for them. Even the reliability of fingerprints as evidence has been brought into question, as was the case in the recent Shirley McKie investigation.

There is therefore an increasing reliance on emergent and largely biometric identification technologies in dealing with and potentially preventing these phenomenon in advance. 

Recent developments in these technological methods of identification have focused primarily on their potential for commerce and trade purposes, or for their increased security features. Whilst well suited to the business world due to their efficient and reliable nature, these technologies can often be somewhat lacking in the more personal and emotive qualities that are important in making up one’s identity. These initiatives too, are coupled with increased security fears and a dramatic, largely negative public response to what are interpretably ‘invasive’ and duplicitous ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Mark of the Beast’ technologies and potential government initiatives.


Research Intention

Despite this, there remains a continued need to sustain innovation in forensic fields, with increased research being conducted within creative areas, notably forensic art. Whilst much research has been invested in the fields of forensic art, little consideration has been given to what design can contribute to the field of forensic identification. 

Building on the success(es) of the softer, creative approaches of forensic art, this research proposes that there exists an opportunity within the emerging context of this research area, to embrace research rooted in design. By proposing a change in focus in emergent identification methods from being largely technology-led and market-orientated, this research intends to establish a shift to design-led innovation as a more humanistic method of helping to establish personal individual identity, bridging the needs and desires of the individual with that of the authorities’.

By utilising contemporary design research in its truly humanistic and cross-disciplinary form, this research will aim to square the fluid/fixed identity paradox, placing emphasis on the need to look wider at other tools to triangulate data, and aid current identification methods and processes without simply resorting to technological and biometric-heavy methods to establish identity. 

Jewellery in particular offers the perfect methodology by which to explore the approach of a more personal and emotive method of identification. Jewellery has both extensive historical associations with personal identity rooted in design, and, whilst jewellery too is suffering from the general cultural trend towards homogeneity due to mass-manufacture and commercialisation, as a discipline it is faring well due to the hand-made contemporary jewellery scene and jewellery’s roots in its ability to individualise and personalise. Jewellery is becoming an increasingly heavily accepted means of forensic identification due to the rich diversity of jewellery forms and styles: where other forensic techniques are losing their diversity, individual distinctiveness is still possible through jewellery. 


Research Approach

Within a market-orientated world focused on consumption and consumerism, we are experiencing a great loss in the more symbolic and imaginative forms of identity. As the world is becoming increasingly more digital, identity is becoming much more ubiquitous and permanently ‘switched on’. There are many dimensions to an individual’s identity, and one of jewellery’s past strengths in forensic identification is its inherently symbolic nature; jewellery has personal, emotional, religious and cultural dimensions, it is connected to place and to geographic region.

This research proposes using jewellery as a design methodology through which to explore the ‘who we are’ fluidity of our personal identity, as well as how we choose to forge and define our identity in contemporary society, in juxtaposition with the never-changing ‘what we are’ which so many new ‘fixed’ identification initiatives focus on.

This research looks to explore how human-centred design can assist in empowering authorities in harnessing the rich personal information regarding an individual’s identity that is associated with their jewellery. In turn, it will consider how this knowledge can be harnessed and transferred in both a humanistic and holistic way post-mortem, that may enhance jewellery’s potential as a connected method of forensic identification: to assist in the identification of human individuals without compromising the acceptable level(s) of intimacy the public may perceive biometric technologies as having with the body. 

Integral to this study will be the exploration of the connection(s) between jewellery as a means of identification and how it relates to/is distinct from other existing tools, assessing what jewellery may provide that other tools do not, and how this may enhance the holistic picture of forensic identification. Evaluating jewellery against new and emergent identification technologies such as biometrics will also be crucial in contextualising this study. The concept of proxemics will be a key methodology within this research in order to explore public taboos around identity objects and technologies and in order to assess the acceptable degree(s) of intimacy that people are looking for, and under what circumstances.

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It is important to note that this research does not propose jewellery to be an infallible method of identification capable of encompassing an individual’s entire identity. Nor indeed, does this research propose jewellery to be a comprehensive alternative method of identification during the current crises faced through traditional procedures. Instead, this research maintains that there are many dimensions to an individual’s identity in addition to the fixed ‘what we are’ of our biometrics, and that it is becoming increasingly important to consider as many of these aspects as is possible in order to achieve a holistic view of identity. Jewellery is just one of these many such aspects which holds extensive identification potential within that of a design context, and yet is significantly under-researched within the field(s) of forensic science.

PhD / Update

After a significantly longer-than-planned break from the blogosphere (6 months, to be precise), I have finally returned with a new-look blog on a new platform. After 5 years with Blogger, I have decided to migrate over to Tumblr, having transferred over all of my previous Master’s posts that are still relevant, and deleted my old ‘Forensic Jewellery’ blog. This will now be the only blog I write to.

A lot’s occurred in the past 6 months, which largely accounts for my absence from the blogosphere, however that’s not to say I haven’t had a lot to write about - quite the opposite, in fact. I have since finished my Master of Design degree and commenced my PhD journey at The University of Dundee, all the while still in pursuit of pioneering the field of ‘Forensic’ Jewellery. I’ve recently commenced an ESRC-funded CASE PhD Studentship at DJCAD in partnership with The University of St. Andrews, and will continue to work with the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) on my research. My research is supervised by Dr. Louise Valentine, Dr. Sandra Wilson, and Professor Sue Black, and I’m part of a cohort of PhD students in the V&A at Dundee’s ‘Design in Action’ group focusing on the concepts of ‘design-led innovation’ and ‘knowledge exchange’.

You can find out more about this at my new-look website here (I’m currently in the process of setting up a website for ‘Forensic Jewellery’). This blog will be a place I use to document and reflect on my PhD progress as well as my research into Forensic Jewellery.

Here’s an overview of the past 6 months’ adventures to bring you up to speed:

July 2011

My last blog post to my old Master’s blog! After July, everything became a bit hectic what with the final few hurdles of my Master of Design degree: not only did I finish my ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification System’ project with my project partner Ruth Watson, but I had to start AND completed my own personal Master’s project - a written ‘guidebook’ entitled ‘Forensic Jewellery Identification: A written Introduction to UK Law Enforcement and Disaster Victim Identification’. 

I interviewed several more experts and concentrated on tying up any loose ends to my project. I also begun my final Master’s viva which I worked on until the middle of August. (This, and I turned 23 and moved flat 3 times in the space of 1 month)

August 2011

I was offered a place to study a PhD in Design at The University of Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand. Unfortunately it was an unfunded offer which left me seriously considering a Career Development Loan or something similar in order to move to NZ…

Received my Master’s results and discovered I would be graduating with Distinction, which was lovely!

Was interviewed about Forensic Jewellery by a reporter at Police Review magazine and had an article feature in the August issue

The Master of Design degree show opened, and I presented my work with Ruth as well as giving a ‘Pecha Kucha’ public presentation on the opening night.

I submitted an application to DJCAD for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded PhD to commence in October.

Ruth and I awarded funding to trial research at the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) via The UK Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) Steering Group and (our friend) DC Duncan McGarry MBE

September 2011

Moved back to Inverness for around 3 weeks and begun the most depressing job in the world whilst applying for other jobs, internships and PhD places.

Found out I wasn’t successful in receiving an AHRC PhD scholarship, but was instead called to interview for an ESRC-funded CASE PhD at The University of St. Andrews.

Attended PhD interview in St. Andrews which was terrifying… and was told straight after the interview that I’d been successful in gaining the scholarship! Cried a bit, then drove 30 miles “back to Dundee” in the wrong direction before I realised I was going the wrong way…

Quit my job!

Had my jewellery appear in VOGUE magazine!

Completed a training programme with Ruth in London as a Team Member with Kenyon International Emergency Services.

Was a Finalist in the Hit Reach Web Design and SEO Graduate Scholarship [£2,500]


October 2011

Begun flat-hunting in Dundee and found the flat of dreams

Attended my second academic conference - The British Association of Human Identification (BAHID)’s 12 scientific conference. Presented a research poster by myself.

Started some preliminary PhD reading… and became very scared indeed!

Had work featured in several press releases, blogs and websites

November 2011 - Current (January 2012)

Got the keys to my new flat and moved back to Dundee to live by myself for the very first time.

Completed a second training programme with Kenyon International Emergency Services in London and met some more fantastic people

Met with my PhD supervisors for the first time, and slowly begun reading for my PhD.

Have been developing my research proposal and reading list(s) ever since!

The above really is a summary of what’s been happening over the past few months - it’s been an incredibly hectic and stressful time, but also incredibly exciting. I’ve also realised that although I have a great passion for New Zealand and would still very much like to move there for a while one day, it perhaps wasn’t the best place to conduct PhD research by myself for three years… I’m already beginning to experience just how lonely the PhD process is going to be.

I’ll be updating this blog over the next couple of days with more work such as my research proposal(s), and will be using this blog as a place to reflect on PhD work from now on. All posts prior to this one are archived Master’s posts. I also need to work out how to use Tumblr properly!

Research Poster

I thought I’d post the recent research poster I presented at the British Association of Human Identification (BAHID) 11th annual scientific conference on the theme of ‘The Found’ in Manchester in October - 'Forensic Jewellery Identification: Recent case histories and contemporary advancements in technologies wherein jewellery has proved integral in assisting with the forensic identification of the dead.'

'Forensic' Jewellery Valuations and Appraisals

What is a Jewellery Valuation?


A jewellery valuation is a highly detailed and informed report on a specific item of jewellery, undertaken by an experienced and professionally qualified jewellery appraiser or gemmologist. Jewellery valuations may be used for insurance, probate or personal purposes amongst having numerous additional benefits, and possess the potential to be incredibly beneficial when identifying a specific item of jewellery.

Based upon many years of experience allied to formal training, jewellery valuations encompass formal training in areas such as gemstone identification and metallurgy, combined with other specialist areas of product knowledge and substantial experience within the jewellery industry. Within the UK, jewellery valuations should be undertaken by a Registered Valuer of the National Association of Goldsmiths’ Registered Valuer Scheme. There are currently approximately 350 N.A.G. Registered Valuers throughout the United Kingdom.

Most jewellery valuation reports include an expert description and valuation of each item, a comprehensive portfolio of digital images of the item, as well as proof of ownership of the item. The report may also include information regarding the piece such as the type of metal, type of gemstone(s), age of the piece, estimated cost of the piece, and often even the specific country or place of origin of the piece itself.

Although there is also no national standard in place from which jewellery valuators operate, each independent valuer or valuation company will operate from their own consistent standards in place to describe items of jewellery; an essential for insurance, claims or replacement purposes. This means that if a specific item of jewellery that was valued by a particular jewellery valuator is returned to the same valuator for identification purposes further down the line, the same standard of description will always apply.


Relevance within Forensic Identification 

In examining items of jewellery at incredibly detailed, often microscopic levels, jewellery valuators often have the opportunity to discover unique aspects of a piece that may perhaps be otherwise unknown or not visible to the naked human eye. In an identification context, this may be an incredibly worthwhile avenue for exploration in identifying the unique idiosyncratic elements of a specific item of jewellery.

Where a jewellery valuation report exists on an item of jewellery suspected to belong to a missing or deceased person but whereby post-mortem deformity has removed or interfered with a hallmark, texture or engraving, jewellery valuators may be able to utilise specific techniques to assist in either the positive identification or ruling out of a piece. Where a piece suspected to belong to an individual may differ to the piece originally noted in a valuation report as a result of deformation, it may be possible to study alternative aspects such as the weight of a piece or the dimensions, quality and inclusions of any gemstones which are present to determine whether they are a match.

Utilising the information contained within a jewellery valuation report combined with the information regarding a missing person provided by loved ones may hold vital clues in establishing whether or not an item of jewellery could be corroborative to identity.


Damage Reports 

The condition of an item (i.e. damaged, broken, old, scratched, etc.) can be an integral part of utilising a jewellery valuation report within a forensic context. Damage reports effectively reverse engineer what happened to a piece as opposed to how it was made. Is damage at fault of the alloy? Percussion damage? Often, what has happened to a piece can inform a valuator much about the many tortures it may have endured in order to present itself in its current state: is damage the result of a natural occurring fault within a gemstone, or is it as a result of impact damage the piece may have sustained?

Where a jewellery valuation has been carried out on a piece prior to its owner’s death, damage to an item which is noted ante-mortem as part of a jewellery valuation report (i.e. ‘wear and tear’ damage or a noted gemstone inclusion) could potentially offer more important information than simply noting the item’s current condition, as the condition of a piece may alter at any time; i.e. post-mortem as the result of disaster or homicide.

The condition and unique aspects of a piece of jewellery noted in a valuation report ante-mortem may enable jewellery valuators to differentiate between the damage incurred to the piece both prior to and as a result of it being involved in crime, homicide or disaster. This may be especially useful if a piece has particularly distinctive or recognisable ante-mortem characteristics which may be recognised by relatives of a missing or deceased person as having belonged to their loved one.


Gemstone Identification

The examination of a piece’s gemstones is an integral part of the jewellery valuation process. Gemstones possess the potential to be reliable indicators of identity just as much as an item of jewellery itself, as gemstones can inform much about their origins - even as much as from which region the stone originated. In theory, if a gemstone is “legal”, it can and should be traceable back to its origins and even the mine itself from which it came.

Diamonds in particular have a great affinity to collect DNA such as skin cells, therefore the likelihood of obtaining a swab from them is generally relatively good. This combined with dirt which can sometimes accumulate in the various crooks of a piece of jewellery can often eventually solidify, often requiring the need to be burnt out. There are various methods which exist for identifying gemstones which may also be applicable within that of a forensic context.


Gemstone Inclusions 

Gemstone inclusions are small imperfections which appear inside a gem in both natural and synthetic stones: genuine, man-made or treated, of a variety of value(s). The presence (or absence) of various inclusions is regularly used by jewellery valuators and gemmologists to determine the various unique characteristics of the gem’s identity; how it formed, and even the source locality.


Gemstone Plotting 
Gemstone or diamond ‘plotting’ is a technique used to plot the inclusions present within a gemstone. Gemstone plotting effectively ‘maps’ out both the internal and external characteristics of a stone. In theory, a jewellery valuator may be able to utilize gemstone plotting to determine or rule out inclusions as having belonged to a particular item of jewellery. As a relatively new process, a large problem associated with gemstone/diamond plotting is that it is often not noted as standard within a jewellery valuation report as it is usually a specific or requested service. The benefit of having both the original plot and the gemstone itself would be required in order for a comparison to be made.


Laser Engraved Gemstones 

Particularly valuable gemstones – diamonds in particular - can often be laser-engraved or inscribed at the very edge of the stone with a personalization which cannot otherwise be seen unless under magnification. Each engraving is both unique and specific to the particular gemstone in concern. The engraving is usually positioned on the girdle (the widest part of the gemstone) and usually represents a diamond grading report number from the Gemmological Institute Of America. A gemstone may also be laser engraved if a gemstone is a branded cut, i.e. a particular style of cut or series of gemstones that a company has either designed themselves or had trademarked. Personal inscriptions or messages may also be engraved into gemstones providing unique identifiers, however similar to gemstone plotting, this information is not always officially recorded and therefore would only be of benefit in an identification context should both the record of the inscription be known and the gemstone itself be present to examine.

Similar to identifying gemstone inclusions, a jewellery appraiser, valuer or gemologist may be able to examine the stone under miscrope to identify the inscription and thus the gem is often traceable back to the company, brand or manufacturer, and often further still to the location of sale, date of purchase, and often even the purchaser themselves. In addition to damaging the integrity of the cut diamond, however, it has sometimes been found that laser inscriptions can be erased or changed by thieves. Laser engravings in gemstones may therefore need to be utilized as evidence along with other idiosyncrasies such as gemstone inclusions. 


Gemprint® 

Gemprint is a unique computerized identification system for diamonds whereby a laser-based scanning device fires a flash of light into a diamond to create a unique scattering of spots. Gemprint has been referred to by experts as the “DNA of diamonds”, with the company maintaining that each and every diamond has its own unique optical ‘signature’, much like a fingerprint in the sense that no two are alike. This unique ‘sparkle pattern’ can be used to identify and differentiate between individual diamonds, even those that appear to gemologists to be similar. It is captured by a non-invasive, low-powered laser, and is registered to Gemprint’s international online database.

The Gemprint database allows the diamond to be submitted back to Gemprint at any time in the future for identification, and cannot be accessed except for comparisons performed for insurance of law enforcement purposes. Gemprint offers a100% guaranteed identity on a stone, even if stolen, swapped, sold on, re-coloured or damaged by thieves. In a forensic context, Gemprint could offer the 100% identity of or ruling out of a diamond, regardless of any damage or interference incurred to it post-mortem through crime, homicide or disaster.

Gemprint frequently extends help to local police forces as well as national and international law enforcement agencies, and has been instrumental in the identification of diamonds and jewellery in many criminal convictions. Ownership information is also stored in Gemprint’s international database, therefore the recovery of lost or stolen gems is made both possible and accessible internationally.

Identification via Hallmark

     

A hallmark is a small marking or series of markings that are either stamped or laser-engraved onto articles of gold, silver or platinum, including jewellery. A hallmark guarantees that an item conforms to certain legal standards of metal purity or fineness. In the UK, hallmarking has a long history dating back nearly 700 years.

Hallmarks are only ever carried out at an Assay Office, of which there are four in the UK: London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh. Each of these four Assay Offices bear their own distinctive mark, each one representing at which one of the four Assay Offices of Great Britain the item was hallmarked.

When it comes to identifying or tracing an item of jewellery within a forensic context, a hallmark is generally only of use in identifying higher-value and precious metal items. That said, any piece bearing a hallmark or series of hallmarks possesses the potential to inform an investigator a lot about the origins of the piece, even including to whom it originally belonged.

Since 1999, the current UK hallmark comprises three compulsory symbols: The Sponsor’s or Maker’s Mark, the Metal and Fineness (Purity) Mark, and the Assay Office Mark. In most general terms, the UK hallmark indicates:


Who: Is there a Sponsor’s or Maker’s Mark?

What: Is the metal and fineness indicated?

Where: Is there an Assay Office Mark?


Both the Assay Office Mark (the ‘Where’) and the Sponsor or Maker’s Mark (the ‘Who’) can be particularly useful in tracing and/or linking an item of jewellery to its original owner.

The Assay Office Mark (the ‘Where’) is traceable to the country or place of origin within which the piece was hallmarked, which may in turn give indication to where the piece itself originated. Being the only Assay Office in Scotland, for example, a piece bearing the Edinburgh Assay Office mark would generally indicate that a piece also originated in Scotland, as the likelihood of an item of jewellery being sent to Scotland for hallmarking from England (where there are three Assay Offices), is less common.

An item of jewellery that bears an Assay Office mark that does not contain one of the four recognised marks of the Assay Offices of Great Britain generally indicates that the piece was not hallmarked in and thus is not originally from the UK. In America, no standardised hallmarking system currently exists; instead precious items utilise a trade-marking system which looks to identify the karat of the metal.

The Sponsor or Maker’s Mark (the ‘Who) indicates the maker or sponsor of the item. In Britain, this mark consists of a minimum of two letters encased within a shield, usually indicative of the initials of the maker. Each and every one of these marks is original - no two marks are the same. Through the records held by the individual Assay Office at which the piece was hallmarked, the Sponsor or Maker’s Mark is often traceable to the sponsor or maker who submitted the piece for hallmarking in the first instance. In many instances, the maker submitting may also be an independent jewellery designer.

As jewellery designers often work on a commission basis, very often a piece may have been made for a particular client or customer. It may therefore be possible to trace the client or purchaser of the item through contacting the individual maker or sponsor of the piece. Even if a piece is not a private commission, the maker or designer may be able to identify the ring as having belonged to a particular collection or series of theirs, and may hold a record of to which gallery, shop or buyer an item was sold to.



The Four Assay Offices of Great Britain 



The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office
Goldsmiths’ Hall
Gutter Lane
London EC2V 8AQ
Tel: 020 7606 8971 Fax: 020 7814 9353
www.assayofficelondon.co.uk


Birmingham Assay Office
PO Box 151 Newhall Street
Birmingham B3 1SB
Tel: 0871 871 6020 Fax: 0121 236 9032
www.theassayoffice.co.uk


Sheffield Assay Office
Guardians’ Hall
Beulah Road
Hillsborough
Sheffield S6 2AN
Tel: 0114 231 2121 Fax: 0114 233 9079
www.assayoffice.co.uk


Edinburgh Essay Office
Goldsmiths’ Hall
24 Broughton Street
Edinburgh EH1 3RH
Tel: 0131 556 1144 Fax: 0131 556 1177
www.assayofficescotland.com

 

Using a Company or Brand Marking to Trace Identity

                     

Jewellery is to an extent often traceable by the particular company or brand that manufactured it. High-end or designer pieces in particular are often traceable back to the individual shop or point of sale, and often even to the purchaser and thus the owner themselves. If a particular jeweller only has stores in certain areas of the UK or even the world, then it may be possible to tie down a specific item of jewellery as having originated from a particular area. Based on the style or design of the item it may also be possible to determine at which time or during which season each collection was produced.


Engravings and Descriptions 

Despite engravings and inscriptions being somewhat of a more ‘obvious one’ in terms of achieving identification through jewellery; many forms of inscription(s) can often be overlooked. Family crests or clan mottos, for example, could lead to the identification of a particular surname, which may also provide insight as to the age of an item and potential as a family inheritance or heirloom. Some engravings or descriptions on jewellery may also have particularly personal significance to the owner and their love one(s), and the inscription’s importance may not necessarily be obvious to those examining the piece.

When a watchmaker makes repairs a watch, they will often inscribe a reference number (e.g. the date, time, location, etc.) onto the watch. Jewellery valuers will often note this reference number within a jewellery valuation report. Each reference number is usually traceable back to the store at which it was repaired, and further details are often obtainable such as who repaired it, and the owner of the watch who took it in for repairing.

It has become increasingly more fashionable for higher-end watchmakers in particular to use serial numbers; each with their own international traceable code number engraved. Rolex, Chopard and Cartier watches in particular are known for the unique reference numbers they possess and the identification benefits which come with owning a piece.

Rolex 

There are many reasons why people buy Rolex watches: the Rolex watch is a thing of beauty, a luxurious status symbol, and a wise financial investment amongst all of the above. But for all the possible reasons why one may consider such an investment, the liklihood is that is may not be due to the fact that a Rolex watch can be used to prove one’s identity. 


Rolex watches each harbour a unique serial number underneath the 6 o’clock mark, which is unique to Rolex as a brand. The serial number is in turn unique to the individual watch itself, which is further traceable to the shop from which the watch was purchased, and thus potentially traceable to the purchaser themselves.

In 1996, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer watch proved integral in identifying the body of an unidentified male corpse discovered by a fishing crew off the coast of Devon. The body itself was already in an advanced state of decomposition, with all traditional primary methods having been exhausted prior to one of the investigating team directing investigators to the victim’s Rolex still worn upon his person.

Rolex holds a record of every single watch it has ever manufactured. With a unique serial number embedded on every watch’s ‘shoulder’, and a special engraving awarded to the watch each and every time it is taken into customer care for servicing or repairs, the help extended by Rolex to the investigating authorities allowed the later identification of the victim to be one Ronald Joseph Platt. His Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer was manufactured in Geneva in 1967, and he took it for servicing in 1977, 1982 and 1986.

Platt would have never been identified if not for the Rolex watch still worn around his wrist. In addition, the fully waterproof Rolex enabled British police to determine the date and even time of death within a small margin of error by examining the date on the watch’s calendar.


Tiffany & Co.®


Tiffany & Co. as a brand are internationally renowned for being exemplary in its commitment to knowing where its materials come from. Aside from each and every item of jewellery possessing the distinctive “Tiffany & Co.” marking, the brand also have several specific styles of diamond cuts that the company designed themselves, which are in turn unique and specific to Tiffany & Co. as a company.

Tiffany & Co.’s Lucida® diamonds each have the unique “Lucida” inscription laser engraved onto the diamond’s girdle. The Lucida is a specific cut of diamond that is unique and specific to Tiffany & Co. as a company, and is thus not to be found in any other diamond or item of jewellery.

This knowledge may be useful in tracing both jewellery and diamonds back to Tiffany & Co. as a company, which may be further beneficial in tracing jewellery to the individual Tiffany & Co. store from which the item was purchased and further still, the purchaser themselves. Whereby an item of jewellery may be aesthetically dissimilar to its original appearance but where the diamond remains intact, similar to identifying gemstone inclusions, a jewellery appraiser, valuer or gemologist may also be able to examine the stone under microscope to identify the Lucida inscription.

Tiffany & Co. have previously been known to extend help to law enforcement agencies for identification purposes. 

Ipswich Serial Murders

The Ipswich Serial Murders - or as more commonly known in the media as the work of the ‘Suffolk Strangler’ - took place between 30 October and 10 December 2006 when the bodies of five murdered women (all prostitutes) were discovered at different locations near Ipswich, England. Murderer Steven Wright was convicted of the murder of all five women in 2008 due to DNA and fibre evidence. 

An interesting aspect to the case was that all five of the murdered women were discovered naked, bar their jewellery. In this instance, both primary DNA and additional fibre evidence were available to confirm the identity of both the victims, as well as linking the suspect to the women themselves. Had primary evidence been diminished in this instance, however, the consistent presence of jewellery on each of the victim’s bodies could have played a potentially integral role - both in identifying the victims themselves, as well as providing a potential link for exploration as a similarity between the murders themselves.


During investigations carried out on the Ipswich murder cases, police inevitably sought clues which may relate to the murders, and this included seeking any ‘trophies’ from the murders which may have been kept aside by the suspect(s). As with a lot of crimes and murder investigations, police will often look to determine whether a suspect may have kept aside a ‘trophy’ of their crime, and jewellery, particularly where the murder or rape of a female is involved, can be a popular choice on the part of the guilty person(s) (for those of you who have read the book or watched the film ‘The Lovely Bones’, a murderer collecting an item of jewellery as a ‘trophy’ may already be a familiar concept - I’ll perhaps explore this in a later post).

Similarly, however, as per case studies such as the above, as well as the Melanie Hall murder and the Ronald Platt murder, jewellery, for various reasons, may also be left upon the body (both deliberately and accidentally); proving to be key in not only identification purposes, but also as a line of investigation as to the reasons why it has been left upon the body. Whereas it would seem that with the Ronald Platt case jewellery was merely left upon the body along with the rest of the victim’s clothes and personal possessions, the murderers of both Melanie Hall and Ipswich Serial Murder women had appeared to have made somewhat of a conscious effort to leave the victim’s jewellery upon their person(s).

Similar to the some of the questions raised by the Melanie Hall case, the (seemingly deliberate) non-removal of the victim’s jewellery is interesting and one would assume it to be quite obviously significant in some way; to be so careful as to attempt to cover up a crime or dispose of a body and yet to leave the victim’s jewellery upon their person, hints at a particular curiosity surrounding the motive behind this action.

Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour who lead the hunt for Melanie Hall’s killer had admitted: “I think the absence of clothing and jewellery with the exception of (Melanie’s) ring is obviously significant … What I want to know now is what happened to all her clothing? What happened to her bag and possessions and what happened to her watch and jewellery? In finding her remains we didn’t find any clothing. We didn’t find any other jewellery she wore on the night she went missing apart from the ring on her finger.”


He admitted: “They may have been kept as some sort of trophy”.

Might the presence of a highly personal item such as an item of jewellery then suggest that the victim was known by their killer(s)? Would the presence of (some/certain items of) jewellery suggest a deliberate action on the part of the murder not to part the victim with their possession, perhaps because they knew it had some sort of a significance to them, personal, sentimental or otherwise?

There was never any one form of ‘Forensic Jewellery’ procedure involved in utilising jewellery as evidence in any one of these crimes, and there still to this day exists no known form of Forensic Jewellery procedure in any police, criminal or murder investigations, missing person(s) enquiries, cold case files, or Disaster Victim Identification (DVI).

The Diamond in the Rough: Recovered Jewellery of the Deceased

Below is a short 1,500 word article undertaken in the ‘Journalistic’ style that I have composed as part of my current ‘Design Writing’ module. 

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Soldering together an alloy of disaster and tragedy and set with a brilliant cut of sentiment and identity, jewellery has a proud history as a bearer and communicator of identity in adverse circumstance. Alice Sebold’s 2002 emotional title The Lovely Bones saw young murder victim Susie Salmon’s personal charm bracelet kept aside by her murderer as a cruel token of remembrance. The infamous ‘Heart of the Ocean’ blue diamond depicted in James Cameron’s 1997 epic romance and disaster blockbuster Titanic, revealed numerous insight as to the identity of its owner, and even the diamond’s potential location some decades later.  In J.R.R Tolkien’s infamous adventure trilogy The Lord of the Rings… well, the concept is one of cyclic palpability.

Albeit perhaps hard-lined, fictional Hollywood dramatization, in a context not so far removed from fallacious concept, remnants of jewellery recovered from dead bodies and from amongst the debris at disaster sites can offer vital leads in identifying victims.


Whilst the concept of a mass-disaster is often publicly personified through glossy, Americanized disaster movie culture; the same too, can be said of forensics. The glamorized ‘forensic’ gloss of the CSI cohort whilst undoubtedly engaging, is often far removed from what is a procedural reality. Although perhaps merely erroneous analogy, many innovative advances in forensic science within the last two decades have allowed forensic experts to become more adept at utilizing alternative means of identification should traditional methods fail.

Many thousands of personal effects items are salvaged from amongst disaster debris: items range in condition from near perfect to psychically and aesthetically unrecognizable. Despite their perhaps now charred or deformed state, particularly distinctive items such as family photographs, melted credit cards, children’s toys and jewellery, can provide critical insight into the further investigation of the identity of their owner(s) through traditional primary methods such as DNA.

When it comes to the preemptive forensic identification of missing person(s) and the deceased, jewellery may seem like it is relatively small beer in terms of reliability, in comparison to the awesome genetic blueprint of our DNA infrastructure. Indeed, in juxtaposition with modern methods, utilizing jewellery as a reliable form of forensic evidence can inevitably be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack; or perhaps more pertinently, the less metaphorical ‘diamond in the rough’.

But it is not solely wreckage that lies amongst ash; for from amidst the rubble, remnants of jewellery emerge to provide a glimmer of not only intrinsic worth, but of both sentimentality and hope. Highly personal possessions indicative not merely of belonging and ownership by the deceased, but also highly symbolic of the relationships they once resembled; the religion and culture once belonged to; even the life stages and experiences lived out by their owners.

Whether as a result of burning, immersion in water, or prolonged exposure to buried or extreme disaster environments, previous attempts as utilising jewellery as reliable evidence have often been hampered by its ability to deform post-mortem. The juxtaposition of the literal and metaphorical in the phrase ‘all that glitters is not gold’ exposes newfound sentiment in traditional fable within the context of a disaster; for what may have once been a golden-coloured ring ante-mortem may be representative of a different aesthetic entirely post-disaster.

The fact jewellery may not be physically attached to the body on which it was originally worn is problematic; conversely, the concern that jewellery is interchangeable between people means it may therefore not be considered definitive proof of identification of the person on which it is eventually located. Additionally, the supposition that a highly fashionable, mass-produced item from the ever unsustainable Primark generation should survive a disaster context intact, brings into question how one could possibly differentiate between what is one gold ring, as opposed to one hundred others.

Whilst ever conclusive in forming the positive identification of a victim, traditional primary means of forensic evidence such as DNA, dental records and fingerprinting can inevitably be compromised as the result of certain disaster situations. Often, there are extraneous forces at work that can make identifying a victim a long and laborious process. In certain, less developed areas of the world, dental records and DNA analysis may not be readily available and in some extreme cases, wounds inflicted to a corpse post-mortem may make the process of fingerprinting impossible.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami a substantial amount of vital DNA information was lost through the prolonged immersion of corpses in salt water. Dental records too, have the potential to become less reliable in coming years; with people becoming better able to care for their teeth, some people are fortunate enough never to have required a great amount of dental work.

Where the reliability of primary identification methods is compromised or diminished as the result of a disaster context, personal effects items such as jewellery are becoming increasingly heavily relied upon and accepted as a means of positive identification. Jewellery has long been concerned with the interaction and relationship it has with the human body; embodying a specialist ability to connect the notion of its owner’s identity unlike that of any other item, possession or adornment.
In 2004, the Property Clerk Division of the New York City Police Department initiated an extraordinary ‘World Trade Centre Jewellery Recovery Website’. Developed with the assistance of jewellery experts at Tiffany & Company, the online database was part of an extraordinary effort by the city agencies to ensure that any identifiable remnant recovered from the disaster site was returned to its rightful next of kin.
Anna Mojica, a homemaker from Bellmore, New York, received a gold chain her husband had worn. Beth McErlean, from Larchmont, New York, said she would love to see the return of the wedding ring that had belonged to her husband John McErlean, 39: “It has his initials and my initials and the date we got married: 1987, on Sept. 12.”

It is not solely within the context of disasters whereby the concept of ‘forensic’ jewellery can and has been utilized. In 1996, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer watch proved integral in identifying the body of an unidentified male corpse discovered by a fishing crew off the coast of Devon.

There are many reasons why people buy Rolex watches: the Rolex watch is a thing of beauty, a luxurious status symbol, and a wise financial investment amongst all of the above. But for all the possible reasons why one may consider such an investment, the liklihood is that is may not be due to the fact that a Rolex watch can be used to prove one’s identity.

The body itself was already in an advanced state of decomposition, with all traditional primary methods having been exhausted prior to one of the investigating team directing to the victim’s Rolex still worn upon his person.

Rolex holds a record of every single watch it has ever manufactured. With a unique serial number embedded on every watch’s ‘shoulder’ and a special engraving awarded to the watch each and every time it is taken into customer care for servicing, the help extended by Rolex allowed the later identification of the victim be one Ronald Joseph Platt. His Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer was manufactured in Geneva in 1967, and he took it for servicing in 1977, 1982 and 1986.

Platt would have never been identified if not for the Rolex watch still worn around his wrist.  In addition, the fully waterproof Rolex enabled British police to determine the date and even time of death within a small margin of error by examining the date on the watch’s calendar.

In 2009, an article published by BBC News accounted, “Jewellery buried with human remains found on a motorway slip road near Bristol helped identify them as Melanie Hall who disappeared 13 years ago”. The article accounted the tragic story of how workmen clearing vegetation at Junction 14 off the Northbound M5 Motorway found a number of bones wrapped and buried in a bag, including finger bones.  Forensic examination of the bones, dental record checks, and a ring that had been left upon one of the finger bones led to a positive identification that the remains were that of Miss Melanie Hall, who went missing 15 years ago.

Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour, who lead the hunt for Melanie’s killer, explained of the discovery, “…the absence of clothing and jewellery with the exception of the ring is obviously significant … In finding her remains we didn’t find any clothing. We didn’t find any other jewellery she wore on the night she went missing apart from the ring on her finger.

Melanie’s parents confirmed the ring as having belonged to their daughter, identifying it as a treasured piece that had been given to their daughter by her great grandmother.
Whether jewellery or otherwise, the sorrowful errand of recovery means the transfer of objects is an emotional affair. Some jewellery items are particularly personal; they may have been given as a gift or they may symbolise a significant relationship, event or life stage between a relative and a missing person.  The families and relatives of missing persons and the deceased must run the inevitably painful gamut between mourning and closure.

Whatever the rationale, the initiation of a jewellery recovery process is most often in search of one jewellery item in particular: wedding rings. Once circular symbols of infinity, their symbolic looping aesthetic now deformed as if to reflect the demise of their original purpose.

Precious, and highly personal items with great potential as reliable bearers and communicators of identity. Precious items intended to last, albeit not amid ashes.

ASCUS Collaborative Grant


 
I am currently seeking a Scientific research partner to collaborate with for the ASCUS Art-Science Collaborative Grant 2011

The ASCUS Collaboration Grant is funded by an 
Edinburgh Beltane Public Engagement Challenge Grant. The eligibility criteria requires that one member of the collaboration must be associated with one of Edinburgh’s Beltane Institutes to qualify. My prospective research partner(s) would therefore need to come from a Scientific background associated with one of the mentioned institutions! 

ASCUS will award 2-4 art-science collaboration grants, valued at up to £400 each. Each grant shall cover expenses associated with the execution and exhibition of an art-science collaboration. The objective of the Art-Science Collaboration Grant is to support the development of creative and inventive ways of improving science communication and public engagement. ASCUS envisions art-science collaboration as more than just artists serving as science illustrators, but as mutually beneficial partnerships that push the boundaries of both art and science.

To that end, ASCUS is seeking to fund collaborations between artists and scientists that extend the practices of the collaboration members while also producing an output that serves to engage and educate the public. Collaborative teams will be asked to document the progress of their work online during the course of their collaboration. The results of the collaborations will be exhibited to the public in non-traditional (to both art and science) venues.

ASCUS itself is an active group through which members can further explore the potential of cross-disciplinary collaboration between art and science. ASCUS is intended to be used as a platform for interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration and acts as a network to help facilitate this. Through ASCUS, members are encouraged to assist in organising interactions, talks, trips, exhibitions, etc. for artists, scientists, philosophers, etc. Through ASCUS, researchers can combine experience to explore new creative avenues.

For more information, including downloadable documents detailing eligibility, schedule, and application information, please visit www.ascus.org.uk. Applications are due no later than Monday, 30 May 2011.

If you are interested in collaborating with me then please do not hesitate to get in touch at m.m.maclennan@dundee.ac.uk! I am interested in developing the current Forensic Jewellery Classification System that I am currently developing (which in itself is already a unique art/science collaboration!), but I am also open to any other ideas or suggestions for collaborating!

How a Rolex Watch Helped to Identify a Body

[Part Two] [Part Three] [Part Four]

Here are a series of YouTube videos telling the visual story of the ‘Ronald Platt’ investigation that I recently blogged about. The videos tell the story of how in 1996, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer watch helped to identify an unidentified male corpse, and subsequently went on to become the centerpiece of an elaborate murder investigation leading to the identification of one of INTERPOL’s ‘Most Wanted’.

Lexicon Book

As part of our current ‘Design Writing’ module, we were required to complete a short (200 word) project summary and present an accompanying visual ‘Lexicon Book/Box’.

Traditionally, a ‘Lexicon’ is a wordbook or dictionary exploring the language of a particular vocabulary. In this instance, the ‘Lexicon Book’ (or box) is a physical/visual presentation of language in a form that is personal to us and appropriate to our project. It is intended to embody a collection of and an investigation into an expanding vocabulary of words (and phrases) relating to our major project, assisting in our understanding of how to communicate project aims, objectives and methods in a concise way with clarity. It is also intended to contribute to our understanding of how to present such textual exploration in an appropriate visual way.

Partly due to my love of vintage and ephemeral illustrative work and having created several ‘Altered Books’ for mydegree show last year, I opted to create a Lexicon ‘book’ as opposed to a box. The ‘language’ that my Lexicon Book attempts to depict is that of ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification’, as per my Masters project. 

              

Read more

Project Wordcloud(s)

As part of our current Design Writing module’s assessments, we have to create a ‘Lexicon Book/Boxrelating to our major project. The Lexicon (I’m making a small book) is intended as a physical/visual presentation of language in a form that is personal to us and appropriate to our project. I will post my finished Lexicon Book in the next few days, however in order to get me started in thinking about my project’s ‘vocabulary’, I began by creating Lexicon ‘word clouds’ relating to my project (pictured below). 

The word cloud, much in the same way as the Lexicon Book, is intended as a visual representation of my project’s vocabulary, depicting some of the mostly commonly-used words and phrases associated with my project to date. After initially compiling the below word cloud, I then proceeded to split the various words and phrases used into nouns, verbs and adjectives; further creating three separate word clouds to illustrate each (Click on the images to make them bigger):


Full ‘Vocabulary’ Word Cloud



'Noun' Word Cloud



'Verb' Word Cloud



'Adjective' Word Cloud

'Push the Boundaries' Public Lecture

Here are the slides and content from the free public ‘Push the Boundaries’ lecture I gave on ‘Forensic Jewellery Identification’ at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design on Monday. Myself and my Masters colleague Bruno Brites each lectured for around 45 minutes on how we have each used our Master of Design programme to create transition(s) from our previous design specialisms of Graphic Design and Jewellery into a wider-world context. 

I have currently just used the exact same content in the same way I did whilst giving the lecture (i.e., it is written how I read it)! Hopefully this is not too annoying for anyone reading it. More information on the lecture can be found here. I will post my reflections on the lecture itself in a later post.



'Push the Boundaries'

Good afternoon.

My name is Maria and this is my colleague Bruno, and on behalf of us both I’d firstly just like to thank you all very much for coming along today. 

For those of you who are not already aware, Bruno and I are both currently Master of Design students here at Duncan of Jordanstone. 

The aim today of the ‘Push the Boundaries’ lecture is not necessarily for us to talk to you about the specifics of our Masters projects themselves, but more so to hopefully give you what we hope is a relatively fresh insight into how different aspects of design - namely our previous specialisms of Jewellery and Graphic Design - can be utilized in various different, sometimes quite unusual or unexpected contexts, outwith of a more traditional setting.

We hope that you will find both lectures to be an interesting and informative, but ultimately an enjoyable experience. 

I’m going to be discussing with you today a little about something called ‘Forensic Jewellery’, and sharing with you a little about how items of jewellery can be used within the context of Forensics: for the purposes of helping to identify missing person(s) and victims of large-scale disasters such as 9/11.

My lecture today will mainly be focusing on exploring this concept, however I will also talk a little about my own personal transition from jewellery design itself as a specialism, and how my Masters programme has taken me on a completely different and seemingly unrelated route - however, not as unrelated as you may first think!

Although the concept of ‘Forensic Jewellery’ itself may at first seem a little bizarre, it is actually a very topical subject.

I’m sure you will all be aware of the dreadful recent mass-disaster occurrences in both New Zealand and Japan. Last week, an earthquake devastated Alabama, USA, and, only this very morning, it was announced across the world that the US ‘Most Wanted’ Al-Qaeda terrorist leader, Osama Bin Laden, had been killed.

However, due to the fact that the subject is very topical, it also makes it a particularly emotive subject. 

So before we kick off, I’d just like to take the opportunity to make you aware that throughout the course of the lecture there might be a couple of particularly sensitive, distressing, or perhaps slightly upsetting elements discussed or images shown, so I’d just like to take the opportunity to make you aware of that.

Firstly, when we think of ‘forensics’ (and when I say ‘we’, I mean those of us who barely know our fingerprint from our footprint), we tend to picture this glossy, often quite glamorous, Americanized CSI-type connotation.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with CSI, it is a dramatized American television series which follows the lives and work of crime scene investigators in Las Vegas.

In watching and getting caught up in these types of show, we tend to buy what is presented to us as fact - and, as we should to an extent; as is intended by the show’s characters and storylines. But we often also accept as fact some of the forensic procedures demonstrated throughout.

As incredibly engaging as these types of show can be, they are often far removed from what is reality.

The reality, in fact, is something very different altogether.

Here, we have what is quite a disturbing image taken just prior to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Phuket, Thailand; indicating soon-to-be-victims of the infamous tragedy. 

Similarly, an image of just some of the World Trace Center debris left behind in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities in 2001. 

Finally, we have an image of just some of the devastation caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan only weeks ago.

Each of these images depicts just a minute proportion of the debris that is left behind at the scene in the subsequent aftermath of these large-scale disasters. One can barely conceive the amount of destruction that is left behind as a result of an event of this proportion. 

One of the most important aspects in the aftermath of a disaster is obviously to begin a process to identify: both the persons thought to be missing as a result of the disaster, and the bodies - or sadly, what may now be simply fragments of a body recovered from amongst the debris. 

If you can imagine the impact and devastation a tsunami, terrorist attack, earthquake or fire can have on the landscape and appearance of a city or even an entire country, we can only imagine the effect it can have on a human being. 

It becomes very obvious that identifying victims is not just as simple as being able to facially recognize a person.

The identification process that follows as a result of a mass-disaster is one called Disaster Victim Identification (DVI). 

DVI involves utilizing traditional methods of forensic identification such as DNA, fingerprinting, dental records and something called unique medical identification to identify bodies. These four main forms of forensic identification are considered to be ‘primary’ forms of evidence, in that they remain consistent both ante and post-mortem, i.e. regardless of whether a person is alive, or now deceased. 

Primary evidence is normally conclusive in forming the positive identification of a victim, however, it can inevitably be compromised in certain disaster situations. And ,obviously as a disaster can occur in any area of the world; in certain, less developed areas of the world, dental records and DNA analysis may not be available.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, for example, a substantial amount of what would have been vital DNA information was lost through the prolonged immersion that the bodies had spent in salt water.

Dental records too, have the potential to become less and less reliable in coming years; with people becoming better able to care for their teeth, young people are having less work undertaken at the dentist.

But what do Forensics and DVI have to do with design? What do they have to do jewellery? 

In most general terms, identity. More specifically, in this instance, literal identification.

Where the reliability of primary identification methods is diminished, personal items such as jewellery are becoming increasingly heavily relied upon and accepted as a means of positive identification; and can possess the potential play an integral role in the identification of a person.

Jewellery has long been a signifier of belonging and personal identification: marking its wearer as a member of a particular religion, cultural group or even life stage. Some jewellery items are particularly personal; they may have been given as a gift, or they may symbolise a relationship between relatives and a missing person; and jewellery items are thus often recognized by relatives as having belonged to their loved one. 

Jewellery has long been concerned with the interaction and relationship it has with the human body, and jewellery designers themselves continually deal with the relationship between a piece itself and the body on which it is worn. Jewellery embodies a specialist ability to connect the notion of identity unlike that of any other item, possession or adornment, but it has never to date been used in a literal identification context such as this.

So, if jewellery can be used to help identify people, then why is it not more commonly used as a means of evidence?

Well inevitably, just as DNA and other primary evidence can be compromised as a result of a disaster situation, so too, can jewellery.

In a jewellery context, what may have once been a golden-coloured ring may deform so dramatically post-disaster that it now resembles a different aesthetic entirely.

Jewellery itself is considered a ‘secondary’ identifier due to its capacity to deform post-disaster. Dependant on the type of disaster, this could be as a result of burning, immersion in water, or exposure to buried or extreme environment(s) for a prolonged period of time. 

Other forms of secondary evidence include items such as clothing, tattoos, wallets and items such as driving licences and passports. Items which are all susceptible to change post-disaster and post-mortem.

The fact jewellery may not be attached to the body on which it was originally worn is problematic; said ring may now be located several miles away from the body on which it was originally worn. 

Conversely, the concern that jewellery items are interchangeable between people means that they may therefore not be considered definitive proof of identification of the said person they are located upon; Sarah may have loaned Sue her necklace on that particular day.

Finally, suppose an item of jewellery does survive a disaster intact; but suppose it’s a highly fashionable, mass-produced item which is currently being sold in mass in thousands of stores worldwide? How do you differentiate between one gold ring, as opposed to another?

Hopefully you can begin to see all of the inevitable discrepancies associated with using jewellery as a form of forensic evidence. The capacity that jewellery possesses to change from ante-mortem to post-mortem has a significant effect on how the various persons, companies and organizations describe it throughout the course of the DVI process.

There is currently no one, recognized, international standard for describing jewellery, thus previous attempts at using jewellery as reliable evidence in DVI have often been hampered or even ignored.

Now, you might be thinking, “How hard could it possibly be to describe a piece of jewellery?!”

Well, let’s see!

I’m sure by now you’ll all have noticed the Post-it notes sitting in front of you…! I’d like you to each take a Post-it note and a pen/pencil, and to just take a couple of minutes to describe the item of jewellery that was previously just on screen. 

Now the liklihood is that you may not have paid particularly close attention to the item, which is exactly what we want of this exercise(!) You might want to draw a little sketch and annotate it; you might want to create a list of bullet points;  Consider anything and everything you remember about the item you’ve just seen; anything at all you think might be relevant when attempting to describe it.

(Exercise takes place: a jeweller and a non-jeweller’s Post-It examples are to be collected in and compared)

Now the purpose of this exercise is not to demonstrate that a jeweller is better able to describe jewellery, in fact, it could perhaps be quite the opposite. The point is that no any one description that any of you have provided will exactly match. Feel free to swap Post-It’s with the person sitting next to you to see some of the differences in the way you have each described the same item.

The liklihood, in fact, is that the layperson’s description will be the most readily used, as it is simple, straightforward, and to the point; and not clouded by any previous technical jewellery experience. 

So you may now thinking, well, okay, none of these descriptions match exactly, however you get the general idea; it’s a golden ring, it’s round, it’s probably a wedding band, it may even have a hallmark or an engraving, etc.

However, picture the scene of grieving widower who has just lost his wife, and has been asked to attempt to describe his deceased wife’s wedding ring by Police Family Liaison Officers.  A stressful, confusing, upsetting, and memory-laden scenario: the likelihood is that the widower will offer a description not all that dissimilar to merely that of a ‘gold wedding ring’. 

Similarly, this description may mimic what the widower will remember of his wife’s ring, based on his memories, any photographs he may own of the item, and how he last remembered his wife wearing the ring when she walked out of the door that morning.

Applying this description to a context such as the aftermath of 9/11, one can barely conceive just how many jewellery items fitting this description were recovered from the debris – and thus how a description of this nature is potentially useless in terms of attempting to identify the specific ring in question.

Similarly, this gold ring may now resemble a brown, mottled, charred lump of metal; therefore the ‘golden ring’ the widower may be looking for, may no longer exist as it once did. 

So how do we prevent the same item of jewellery from being described in 100 different ways? How can we ensure that the correct ‘match’ is made between an item of jewellery recovered at a disaster site, and it’s original owner? How do we differentiate between hundreds of similar-looking jewellery items?

The need for one, standardised international jewellery identification system for use by DVI teams becomes increasingly apparent.

That’s where design comes in. 

My Master of Design research looks to design a ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification System’; a universal classification system which better utilise jewellery as reliable evidence in DVI. The classification system will include one universal terminology for describing jewellery, and incorporate a standard set of descriptors that can be by a wide range of people throughout the various stages of DVI process across the world. 

Over the past 8 months of my Masters programme, I have met with, interviewed and worked alongside Forensic Scientists, Anthropologists and Archeologists; Forensic Artists, Psychologists, Police Officers and Family Liason Officers; Disaster Response Experts, Proffessional Embalmers, Jewellery Valuators and Appraisers and experts from the Goldsmiths’ London Assay Office.

The project itself is the result of a unique design/science collaboration between The University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art (DJCAD).

As I mentioned previously, for the purposes of this lecture, I won’t be getting into specifics of my research itself, so I am instead going to round the lecture up with a couple of real-life, public case studies whereby jewellery has played an integral role in missing person(s) enquiries and murder investigations.

For those of you who are interested in finding out more about my Masters research itself, I will be more than happy to provide you with contact details at the end of the lecture, and I will also be free to answer any questions that may have.

Some of you may have heard of the ‘Melanie Hall’ murder case, perhaps more commonly known as the ‘M5 Bones Case’.

 The Melanie Hall case is tragic story of how two workman clearing vegetation near a slip road off the Northbound M5 Motorway, found a number of bones wrapped and buried in a bag, including a skull, pelvis and finger bones. 

Forensic examination of the bones, dental record checks, and a ring that had been left upon one of the finger bones eventually led to positive identification that the remains were that of Miss Melanie Hall, who went missing some 13 years ago.

One newspaper article had accounted, “Jewellery buried with human remains found on a motorway helped identify them as Melanie Hall who disappeared 13 years ago”, stating how Police had showed the ring to Melanie’s parents, Pat and Steve Hall, who confirmed it as having belonged to their daughter. The family had been informed that the remains were probably Melanie - they had been asked by police to identify the ring found at the site.

Another article, very interestingly, states, “…bizarrely a treasured ring given to her by her great grandmother was left on her finger and proved to be the key to identifying the 25-year-old…’

The ‘Forensic Jewellery’ identification process in this instance simply involved Police Officers showing Miss Hall’s parents a picture of the ring, which they identified as their daughter’s. It was eventually through the primary identification of Miss Hall’s dental records that a final, conclusive ID was made, however I can’t help but wonder what the process would have been had primary identification in this instance been unavailable. Would this ring thus then have been the only available identifier? And was directly showing Miss Hall’s parents images a ring that had been buried for 13 years the best procedure to follow in getting them to correctly/incorrectly identify it as their daughters…?

Similarly, you may have heard of the Ronald Platt murder case, whereby in 1996, a Rolex watch was the centerpiece of an elaborate murder case that happened in the United Kingdom.

There are many reasons why people buy Rolex watches; but for all the possible reasons why you may consider purchasing a Rolex, there is one reason that you may not think to consider: your Rolex watch can be used to prove your identity.

In 1996, the body of the at-the-time unidentified Ronald Platt was discovered by a fishing crew off the coast of Devon. The face of the man was already in an advanced state of decomposition, and the fingerprints and DNA of his remains could not be identified in Police databases. The only identifiable marks that the body still bore was a tattoo of a maple leaf on the back of his hand, and the Rolex watch still worn around his wrist.

Rolex holds a record of every single watch it has ever manufactured.

The serial number of a Rolex watch can be found at the watch’s shoulder, just underneath the curve where the bracelet meets the watch’s face. In addition, each and every time a Rolex watch is taken to customer care for service and repairs, a special engraving is made upon the watch. 

Because of the help extended by Rolex, the victim was later identified to be Ronald Joseph Platt. His Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer was manufactured in Geneva in 1967, and he took it for servicing in 1977, 1982 and 1986. The identification of the body was confirmed later on by a man who came forward as Platt’s friend.

No matter how the crime had occurred or how it was planned, the moral of the story remains that it would never have been uncovered and Platt never identified if not for the Rolex watch around his wrist.  In addition, British police were able to determine the date of death by examining the date on the watch’s calendar. Since the Rolex was fully waterproof and it’s movement had a reserve of two to three days of operation when inactive, they were able to determine the time of death within a small margin of error.

Finally, the infamous Ipswich Serial Murders - or as more commonly known in the media as the work of the ‘Suffolk Strangler’ - took place in 2006 when the bodies of five murdered women were discovered at different locations near Ipswich, England. Murderer Steven Wright was convicted of the murder of all five women in 2008 due to DNA and fibre evidence. 

An interesting aspect to the case was that all five of the murdered women were discovered naked…bar their jewellery. 

Had primary evidence been diminished in this instance, however, the consistent presence of jewellery on each of the victim’s bodies could have played a potentially integral role - both in identifying the victims themselves, as well as providing a potential link for exploration as a similarity between the murders themselves.

Case studies such as these help illustrate how jewellery, for various reasons, may also be left upon the body (both deliberately and accidentally); proving to be key in not only identification purposes, but also as a line of investigation as to the reasons why it has been left upon the body. 

Whereas it would seem that with the Ronald Platt case jewellery was merely left upon the body along with the rest of the victim’s clothes and personal possessions, the murderers of both Melanie Hall and Ipswich women had appeared to have made somewhat of a conscious effort to leave the victim’s jewellery upon their person(s).

The (seemingly deliberate) non-removal of the victim’s jewellery is interesting ,and one would assume it to be quite obviously significant in some way; to be so careful as to attempt to cover up a crime or dispose of a body and yet to leave the victim’s jewellery upon their person, hints at a particular curiosity surrounding the motive behind this action.

Might the presence of a highly personal item such as an item of jewellery then suggest that the victim was known by their killer(s)? Would the presence of (some/certain items of) jewellery, suggest a deliberate action on the part of the murder not to part the victim with their possession, perhaps because they knew it had some sort of a significance to them; personal, sentimental or otherwise?

There was never any one form of ‘Forensic Jewellery’ procedure involved in utilising jewellery as evidence in any one of these crimes, and there still to this day exists no known form of Forensic Jewellery procedure or classification system in place in any police, criminal or murder investigations, missing person(s) enquiries, cold case files, criminal justice or court of law proceedings, crime scene investigations, or Disaster Victim Identification (DVI).

These are all areas where the design of a ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification System’ could be of assistance. 

I studied my undergraduate degree at Duncan of Jordanstone; I graduated just last year in 2010 from the Jewellery and Metal Design programme. I entered the Master of Design programme with the intention to become a designer rather than specifically a jeweller; a mentality which appears to be common amongst Master of Design students in general.

However, I am a ‘jeweller’. There is no denying that fact. I have an acute attention to detail; I am obsessed with small intricate things; and I’m absolutely covered in various accessories and adornments!

Despite this, personally, I had always found the jeweller’s ‘jewellery’ process to be somewhat unfulfilling, at times even a little self-indulgent. As jewellers, we protest the ‘rewarding’ nature of the commission process and so forth, and indeed it can be extremely heartwarming to see the surprise, pleasure and excitement spread across a client’s face when presented with a lovingly-constructed, handmade piece. To me, however, the true reward is that of the jeweller’s, and there is something in that idea which has always unsettled me. I felt like I wasn’t truly helping anyone or giving something back.

Although I chose to be a jeweler and I do still very much enjoy designing and creating jewellery itself, I realized very quickly that for me, what I did not chose was to partake in a routine of workshop-isolate sawing, soldering and polishing amid the companionship of morning radio and afternoon cups of tea, an environment which was previously common in my jewellery-making routine.

Despite holding such strong opinions, it didn’t successfully bring me any closer to what I did want to do.

And what did I want to do? 

Other than not really wanting to design and make jewellery on a daily basis, I had absolutely no idea.

Although this is a forensic ‘jewellery’ project, in undertaking it, one of the biggest challenges was ironically having to step outside the thinking and the mindset of being a jeweller! And although that’s essentially what I wanted to gain from the master of design programme, i never for a second imagined that i’d be doing it in such a way…!

I also wanted to see where the project could take me…

And, a few weeks ago, myself and my project partner Ruth Watson became members of the British Association for Human Identification, and attended their annual Scientific Conference in Manchester. We presented a scientific research poster which detailed some of the research we have undertaken whilst developing the ‘Forensic Jewellery Classification System’.

As design students attending our first ever scientific event, we had no idea what to expect of a scientific conference, and little experience in putting together a research poster (especially a scientific one!). 

…and we won First Prize.

It goes without saying that we were both incredibly excited to have won, but we were also extremely surprised. I’m especially pleased (and grateful!) that our research was recognized as being of value and worth to the scientific community, further illustrating the extent to which designers are able to contribute their skills to numerous different areas outside of a design community. 

It is yet another great example of design successfully pushing the boundaries of its specialism.

I have also since applied for a PhD in the subject at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, with my interest being to further explore the various ways in which jewellery can assist in Missing Person(s) Investigations and Post-Mortem Victim Identification. 

A few days after I submitted my application some weeks ago, I received an email from the Faculty of Graduate Research at the University, informing me that they had received my application. That same day, news spread across the world that a large-scale earthquake disaster has devastated central Christchurch, New Zealand. 

It’s a very different story and far more shocking and harrowing to be actively, publicly witnessing all of the disaster response procedures I’ve been studying and learning about over the past few months, being lived out and unfold first-hand in real-time.

If you’d have told me this time last year that I would be attending Scientific Conferences with proffesional Forensic Anthropologists, Archaeologists, Police Officers and Embalmers; pitching my project against experts in the field of forensics of many years; applying for PhDs at the other end of the globe, and giving lectures about mass-disasters, as a ‘lowly’ jeweler, the answer would have been a resounding, ‘HELL no!’.

This time last year I was convinced that the ‘Boundaries’ of jewellery design only stretched as far as the area surrounding the ‘workshop’ in my garden shed. 

A mere 12 months later, I am now convinced that the possibilities for the exploration of jewellery design really are limitless, and I would therefore encourage each and every one of you to ‘Push your Boundaries’, whatever they may be.

The reality of the CSI scenario does not seem so fabricated or so far-fetched anymore. Albeit perhaps still fictional scientific analogy, there is nothing to say that you cannot ‘Push the Boundaries’ of this fiction, and turn jewellery designer into forensic investigator either.

Thank you very much for listening and I hope you found it interesting!