Trends: Inspiration & Design: Symmetry

Inspiration is often the initial spark and certainly a large part of the creative process, such as Betty Stephen’s Barcelona (shown above). There is an underlying unity in the kaleidoscopic patterns of the natural world.

Some call these patterns sacred geometry; I call them nature’s underlying intelligence. They are hard to ignore once you start paying attention to them; you’ll notice them everywhere. Which is the whole idea here, and then you too will be surrounded by inspiration that is readily available to you simply by paying attention.

When it comes to patterns in nature it all starts with symmetry. Symmetry is the fundamental scientific language of all pattern and form. The two main types of symmetry are reflective and rotational. Reflective, or bilateral symmetry means that one half of an image is the mirror image of the other half (think of a butterfly’s wings). Rotational symmetry means that the object or image can be turned around a center point and match itself some number of times (as in a five-pointed star).


Morpho Butterflies designed by Jayashree Paramesh

Bilateral symmetry is so prevalent in the animal kingdom that it can’t be just a coincidence. Symmetry is so integral to the way the universe works that Albert Einstein used it as a guiding principle when he devised his General Theory of Relativity.

The vast majority of animals (99%) have bilaterally symmetry. Though only on the outside, the internal organs are not symmetrical in humans or animals. Curious.

There are many theories about why symmetry developed. One theory is that you have a number of similar or identical appendages; you can lose one and still keep functioning. Lose one eye and you have another left so to still see. It also is efficient for purposes of movement or “locomotion” as the scientists would call it. Movement requires balance of forces. One leg moving forward while another planted on the ground provides a stable base, and counter balance. The more directly opposed these two limbs can be the more efficiently the resulting motion can be. Symmetry provides this efficient balance. So there are very real survival purposes involved. It also creates less surface drag. Nature is very efficient in its design.

In jewelry design we are expressing ourselves and creating beauty. Symmetry in this for our design purposes is considered rather formal in tone. It is about the even distribution of the visual weight of the materials and components on each side of the axis (think back to the butterfly wings). Symmetry offers a very ordered approach to design. The human eye finds symmetry pleasing even if it is pseudo-symmetry, meaning the two halves are not exact matches, not perfect, but close enough to be seen overall as symmetrical.


Snake Charmer designed by Beki Haley

Consider this: Symmetry is about balance but does not necessarily create balance. Just because you match the components from side to side the piece can still be out of balance. Balance feels right. You intrinsically recognize it, intuit it. You see it and feel it. It is aesthetically pleasing; everything works together in a seamless whole. While some element might be a focal point, no one area of the piece draws your eye to the point where you cannot see the other areas. You see a whole piece.

Imbalance feels like tension when you look at it. It just doesn’t feel right, nor look right And let me say this, when you feel a piece is finished make a practice of training yourself to look at the work and ask yourself what you might have done differently to make it even better. This practice will help you to improve your eye for excellence. There is no substitute for an eye for excellence in design.

—Jill MacKay

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