LCD jewels

My experiments in the early 70s with alternative jewelry construction processes made me long for some truly advanced technology that would be revolutionary, rather than evolutionary. I knew the ancient Etruscan goldsmiths operated at the absolute technological horizon of their culture; they were its rocket scientists and I wanted something equally advanced. After some study, the obvious answer was to use electro-optical and microelectronic technologies, in order to move jewelry beyond being locked in 3-space. Working in the time dimension became my goal and I intended to use twisted-nematic liquid crystal displays (LCDs), which were just then being applied in watches and calculators. This was cutting edge technology, but luckily I did not truly appreciate how hard it was, so I mastered it.


Liquid crystal displays work by inducing a very thin layer of molecules to twist or untwist, thereby polarizing or depolarizing light. This polarized light is passed through polarizer filters and if it is out of phase with the polarizers, the light is blocked and we see a dark area. The shapes of these areas are determined by etching transparent electrodes on a glass substrate, in a process similar to making transistors. Electronic circuits apply electrical voltages across these elctrodes to create patterns in the time dimension. Here is a video showing how the patterns change with time, giving the illusion of motion.


I studied the theory of LCD chemistry and physics, and basically apprenticed myself to an engineer at a watch company in Dallas. As per the famous quote by Goethe, "The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred." That is certainly what happened for me. Making LCDs requires a "clean room" full of rather exotic equipment, but I was able to gradually buy or build everything I needed. By 1975 I had created the very first LCD jewel ever (above); there was no precedent.The moving graphics, generated by proprietary electronic circuits, created a sense of motion in time very different from anything that came before.

I continued to create LCD jewels with hardware driver circuits for the next 10 years, while I waited for the kind of computer that would allow me to endow my jewels with cybernetic intelligence. Below are some representative examples. Bear in mind the graphics in the LCD panels are in constant flux and motion, sometimes very quick, and this cannot be captured with still images.

After about 1980, I started using what I referred to as the "holy trinity" of materials: LCD panels, anodized titanium and acrylic. Most of what follows adheres to that recipe.

After I started using computers in my jewels, I gradually stopped making classical electronic (non-cybernetic) jewels, since they were considerably more limited in capability.