Forensic jewellery: a design-led approach to exploring jewellery in forensic human identification

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

Jewellery as a tool in the identification of the deceased is increasingly referenced within the scientific process of Forensic Human Identification (FHI). Jewellery’s prevalence in society, connection to both place and geographic region, potential to corroborate primary methods of identification (such as DNA, fingerprinting, or odontology), and robust physical form, means it progressively contributes to practices surrounding identification in a number of forensic fields. Physical marks or characteristics such as hallmarks or serial numbers, personal inscriptions or engravings, representational symbols (such as medals, badges of office, religious iconography or military insignia), and genealogical or gemmological markings, may also prove useful in informing investigators much about a piece - and potentially - the individual to whom it may have belonged. Despite this, jewellery is an approach to establishing human identity that has yet to be explicitly investigated from the perspective of either forensic science or jewellery design. The aim of this research has been to explore the potential of jewellery and highlight its significance within this context, through employing the processes and approaches of design. Informed by my own background in both jewellery and service design; I sought to co-design the interdisciplinary proposition of Forensic Jewellery as an extension of my own personal design practice, in addition to a broader hybrid methodology through which the dualistic perspective(s) of both forensic science and jewellery design may come to be mutually explored. By centring my methodology upon my practice, the research serves to document and reflect upon my auto-ethnographic experiences in inadvertently ‘prototyping’ my emergent new role as a Forensic Jeweller – a jewellery designer engaged within, or whose work pertains to, the field of forensic science. Through a range of forensic-based fieldwork, I sought to immerse myself within various communities of forensic practice by way of considering how a design practitioner may come to add value to this otherwise polarised field - a highly subjective and interpretive framework that has remained wholly unconsidered within forensic science. In simultaneously considering the impact of the perspective of forensics upon the broader field of jewellery design, I came to capture some of the otherwise restricted narratives of Forensic Jewellery emerging from the developing research context through a series of theoretically-informed design ‘reconstructions’: objects, concepts, and scenarios (representational, propositional, and metaphorical); educational material, and series of public engagement activities. The research thus culminates in a unique portfolio of practice – written, conceptual, and visual – with relevance to both forensic science and jewellery design history, theory, and practice. Original contributions to knowledge are demonstrated through the direct study of jewellery within real-world forensic settings through combined theory and practice, while the theoretical and conceptual debates surrounding identity, death, and the human body present within the field of jewellery design are simultaneously extended through the inclusion of forensics as a perspective. The research additionally demonstrates how the visual and tangible sensibilities of design can help to attend to otherwise challenging, emotional, or difficult subjects, capture and communicate tacit knowledge or anecdotal evidence, and ultimately contribute to the development of new and emergent research contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Dundee
  • Wilson, Sandra , Supervisor, External person
  • Press, Michael, Supervisor, External person
  • O'Neill, Shaleph, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • design
  • jewellery
  • forensics
  • craft
  • identity
  • identification
  • co-design
  • knowledge exchange


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