PONTOON, Ireland — A golden fish suddenly leaps out of its case. An alien pokes its head out of a planet, then disappears. The sun pops from behind a cloud, then is gone. Those are just a few of the pendants — kinetic jewelry that tricks the eye — designed by Alan Ardiff.
“People will do a double take: ‘Did that just move?’” said Mr. Ardiff, 56, “and the wearer often gets into conversation with strangers at the shop, the airport, wherever.”
His pieces, handmade from sterling silver and 18-karat gold, are three-dimensional and sculptural, reflecting Mr. Ardiff’s background in both industrial design and craft.
After graduating in 1989 from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Mr. Ardiff had his jewelry, paintings and sculptures featured in several group and solo exhibitions. Still, as he said in a recent interview, he was making a name for himself, but not much of a living.
In 1996, he married Eve Kimmerling, a psychoanalyst, and two years later their first daughter, Zoe, was born — indicating that it was time to, as Mr. Ardiff said, enter “the real world.” (In 1999, a design created by him in conjunction with the designer Garrett Stokes was chosen for Ireland’s Millennium Pound Coin.)
Mr. Ardiff decided to stop making expensive one-off jewelry in favor of an affordable collection. And in what he called a “happy accident” in 2000, he created his first moving piece, a spinning flower called Daisy Chain, for his wife.
“All my jewelry is for Eve,” he said, “but this piece really entertained me as well.” And it inspired him, “like a well gushing.”
Now Mr. Ardiff designs a variety of cog-animated creatures and symbols at his studio overlooking Lough Conn in rural County Mayo in Ireland’s west. The trick is in the chain, he explained: “As the wearer moves their head, a cog slides over the chain and whatever is attached to the cog moves. There might be four to five components in one piece, which, actually, is a kind of madness!”
He has trained four jewelers, who work in a studio at the Design Tower in Dublin, to execute his designs. While he visits them regularly, he also has a manager who oversees the business, allowing him to concentrate on design.
One of the tower studio’s neighbors is Séamus Gill, a well-known Irish silversmith who has a leadership role in the Company of Goldsmiths in Dublin. “I think it’s pretty amazing what Alan’s doing; he’s taking jewelry to a different level,” Mr. Gill said. “Because he hasn’t come from a pure jewelry tradition, he has this artistic vision of jewelry. He’ll have a concept then have to struggle to make the piece — these moving parts are extremely complex.”
Some of Mr. Ardiff’s designs are tiny, yet still functional. For example, the smallest pendant, called Gold Star (180 euros, or about $205), is 1.2 centimeters, or a half an inch, in diameter. The star itself, which is invisibly attached to a cog, measures just 5 millimeters, or 0.2 inches. Yet as a wearer moves, the little star can make a full turn.
Mr. Ardiff said he considers his pieces to be a “little bit of fun, and also talismans that can convey and hold emotion.” One recent piece is called A Big Hug (€155), a golden heart enclosed in a silver case, which also is available in a 14-karat gold version (€390). “You can see the relevance of this after what we’ve all been through,” Mr. Ardiff said with a sigh.
But the Hug design does not have moving parts because, he said, “movement is not for everyone.”
His best sellers with motion include three pendants: Happy as a Lark, a golden lark spinning in a silver case (€269); Mindfulness, in which a fish moves in a thought bubble above the head of a dreaming cat (€398); and Good Hare Day, a golden hare bounding over a hill (€355). (“When the kids were young,” Mr. Ardiff said, “I’d give them pocket money for coming up with names.”)
Mr. Ardiff has introduced some new designs for the holiday season, his busiest time of year, including a bicycle with spinning wheels (€370), a bee buzzing around flowers (€225) and a twirling sun (€265). There is usually another surge in demand in February. “St. Valentine must have been a jeweler,” Mr. Ardiff said with a laugh, noting that demand for his heart motif jewelry soars at that time.
In addition to online sales, the jewelry is sold by 15 distributors around Ireland, including large operations like Kilkenny Design and Avoca.
Mr. Ardiff said he hoped his work conveyed “a gentle humor,” noting that his customers include nurses, doctors and teachers who work with children and that sometimes the moving jewelry makes them smile. “That means a lot more to me than any A-lister wearing my jewelry on the red carpet,” he said, adding that he tries to keep prices moderate — from about €67 to €800.
Gillian Marsh, founder of GMarsh TV Productions near Crossmolina, in County Mayo, has bought more than 20 of Mr. Ardiff’s pieces over the years, mainly as gifts for family and friends. She said she loved the jewelry for its “charm, humor and personality.”
Her own favorite piece is a limited-edition pendant — a golden bird with a sapphire eye that flies across a silver disc — that was purchased by her husband. She said she considered it to be an icebreaker and a bit of a confidence booster: “I always wear the bird when I have to do something outside my comfort zone, like attending a big TV conference where I don’t know a sinner.”
It also is a secret weapon, she added. “Suddenly a commissioning editor from PBS or somewhere will rush over and go, ‘Oh! I love your bird!’”