Tribute to a World Statesman

Tom Rucker, a jewelry artist, spent 14 months sculpting a unique bust of Nelson Mandela in porcelain, platinum and black diamonds. The intricate production technique involved the use of a two-component silicone rubber from WACKER.

It stands there glistening in white, silver-gray and dark-gray – a life-size bust of Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, freedom-fighter and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – the back of the head crafted in porcelain, the face made of laser-welded platinum, the eyes set with black diamonds. Created by artist Tom Rucker, master goldsmith and platinum jeweler, the bust was made by an intricate, multi-stage technique that has become Rucker's trademark.

Tom Rucker used a specialist 3D software program (photo, top left) to convert his sketches and drawings into a three-dimensional file of Mandela's head, which was ultimately modeled in a mixture of starch and wax (top right).

Although now resident in London, Rucker originally hails from a Bavarian family of goldsmiths from the suburb of Ottobrunn near Munich. His parents Anton and Brigitte run a jewelry workshop there which is now in its fourth generation. Tom Rucker has been honored on numerous occasions for his designs in recent years, including the German Benvenuto Cellini Gold Medal, several Lonmin Design Innovation Awards and accolades from the British Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council. His work has also graced the Academy Awards: at a red-carpet event, Nancy O'Dell, an American actress, wore extra-long, extremely delicate, drop earrings from his collection.

To make jewelry items like this, 42-year-old Rucker uses platinum wire just 0.2 millimeters thick and a microscope set to 20x magnification, along with a laser-welding technique which he himself developed and calls GEO.2. He drew his inspiration for the technique from the biosphere dome that American architect and visionary Richard Buckminster Fuller designed for the 1967 Montreal World Expo. Back then, Fuller took a uniform, repeating geodesic pattern and transformed it into a giant dome using a minimal quantity of material. Fully self-supporting, the structure rises some 20 stories into the air. Rucker adopted this principle and has been designing and making rugged, yet featherlight jewelry and other artworks for some 17 years now.

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Inspiration in the Township

Eventually, even – and perhaps especially – a multi-award-winning artist needs to keep pushing the boundaries. Rucker had long been keen to use his laser-welding technique to create a life-size bust. But of whom? It had to be an icon, certainly, but not a pop-star or a movie-star. While on vacation in South Africa in May 2009, he visited Khayelitsha, the largest township in Cape Town, and asked a crowd of teenagers playing soccer who their idol was, fully expecting them to name a top-flight player. “Nelson Mandela,” they called out in unison. At that point, Rucker knew that the subject of this sculpture would be a person who has been acclaimed throughout the world as having paved the way for a democratic, united South Africa. “Mandela has had a positive influence on our world. He has played an active role in ensuring that peoples of different skin color and origin can live side by side, peacefully and enjoying equal rights,” says the platinum jeweler about his subject.