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Sebastian Cilento

Coming from a background in Sculpture the transition to Jewelry was a logical and inspirational one. In 1995 I left Australia for New Mexico, a state in the Southwest of the United States of America. I lived in a beautiful old Hacienda in a tiny town called Galisteo, about thirty miles south of Santa Fe. Across a field from the old house was the jewelry studio of Scott Diffrient, a master of Lapidary and Jewelry. We met soon after I arrived and became immediate friends, he needed some help with jewelry work so I began grinding stones and cleaning up castings for him and quickly realized that this was what I wanted to do.

Practicing as a sculptor you are up against the inevitable question of how to make any money out of it in a difficult and very limited market, especially in Australia. I immediately saw that jewelry had a far greater commercial potential but still has at its core the fundamentals of sculptural practice – even better, it demands the rigor of craftsmanship and perfection. It is a craft with a highly sophisticated tradition stretching back through the millennia, adorning the most simple peasant, the greatest of Kings and Queens, the symbol of wealth, beauty, and power.

Santa Fe is full of the character and influence of the Native American culture. Jewelry in the Southwest is a huge business and is one of its main features and it is the work of Native Americans that is so iconic and instantly recognizable around the world. It was a big influence upon me – I had never previously been attracted to jewelry very much – it was the beauty and simplicity and symbolic resonance of the traditional work in turquoise and silver that really opened up my love and passion for it. Scott Diffrient was also my great inspiration and my teacher of the craft. His inspiration also began with Native American jewelry and it drew him initially to the Southwest from California in the late sixties where he has lived ever since.

I just loved the fact that in traditional jewelry each small stamp or motif could have a whole story and teaching behind it, rather than some superficial aesthetic reason driving the process – not that this isn’t valid, I just find most jewelry generic and banal, without any substance beyond the form. I have tried to follow this thread in my work – having some theme or elemental idea or reference as the base and significance of the piece. It is a reference that seeks to draw upon the Beauty that is intrinsic to the process of Creation that we see constantly around us: from the mineral world and the subatomic and energetic levels; from the world of plants and their endlessly inspiring forms: the realm of animals – which includes their Archetypal and Symbolic expressions as well as their form; from human culture and tradition and the Truths that are expressed through Creative process. All Life is the expression or reflection of something and it all has meaning. All life is symbolic in some way.


Modern eyes have become more and more veiled to this basic fact and more and more of our constructed environments dull these intuitions. Traditional people were and are highly aware of the living and hidden reality around us, the source animating and manifesting life. Their motifs and themes express this, it is the language of symbol – the language of life is the language of symbol. This gives jewelry the quality of a talisman, for a piece to hold some specific power or to offer protection – a positive protective power. I am trying in my work to hold to this and also to let the silver and gold-smithing and the lapidary work with beautiful stone, be simply and beautifully expressed.

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