At first glance, the pieces of silver on these pages look like torture instruments - beautifully crafted and carefully carved, but painful all the same. Take a closer look, and disregard all your preconceptions about what you think is jewellery. Tamsin Blanchard talks to four London-based designers who are taking body adornment to new and often challenging extremes. Styling by Sophia Neophitou. Photographs by Donna Trope

Sarah Harmarnee (right) She's an angry young silversmith with a killer instinct. And it shows. Sarah Harmarnee took the first flight she could afford out of her homeland, Australia, and left behind the provincialism she hates to make a new life for herself in Europe. "I run as far and fast from bland mediocrity as possible. It's about intensity and vision. That's why I left Australia," she says.

Within months of arriving in Paris, Harmarnee wangled her way into a fashion show via a photographer she had been assisting in Australia and made a beeline for Carine Roitfeld, the stylist for Gucci, American Vogue and Italian Vogue. "I was absolutely terrified when I saw her and was about to turn back, but I pushed myself forward and introduced myself. She said she was busy so I pulled open my top to show her a collar that I was wearing," recalls Harmarnee. Roitfeld took one look at the silver piece and told the jeweller to come and see her the next morning. She was shooting a story for Italian Vogue and used every one of Harmarnee's pieces.

Without a single contact and nothing to lose, Harmarnee arrived in London in the summer of '97, and began making appointments to see magazines fashion editors. She also went to see jewellers Erickson Beamon, who loved what they saw and have stocked her work ever since. At Dazed & Confused, Harmarnee was introduced to Katy England, stylist and creative eye at Alexander McQueen. England saw the potential, and recognised a similar aesthetic to that of McQueen. She asked her to do some drawings for her and the result was the chance to design show pieces for McQueen's autumn/winter jungle collection. "It is the perfect collaboration," she says.

Harmarnee studied sculpture at art college in Melbourne and applies much of that knowledge to her jewellery. "It's not body art; it's not wearable sculpture," she says. "What I do is different to other accessories designers." Her pieces are sharp and aggressive. She engraves barrel-polished silver and makes masks to shroud the face, as well as using horsehair to wrap around the neck. She began riding horses when she was seven and gave up showjumping when she realised she wasn't going to be the best. She still has a fascination for horses which shows in her work. She points to a chunky silver bracelet that buckles round the wrist in one elegant sweep. "People look at my work and say it's bondage," she says, "but it's more equestrian."

Harmarnee's collection is full of pointed dagger edges, leather buckles and knuckle-dusters, but she strives for a style that is classic and timeless, citing Elsa Peretti and Georg Jensen as inspiration. "I don't see my work as violent - I don't think of the pieces as shocking," she says. And nor do the money men at Givenchy who have commissioned her to create a collection for the luxury fashion house to complement Alexander McQueen's couture. This includes one-off pieces such as the acid-etched silver mask (right), and a solid silver finger piece that straps over the little finger to make it look like a prosthetic, designed for Givenchy's autumn/winter '98 Blade Runner collection for women with replicant tendencies. The Givenchy leather and silver collection goes on sale in the autumn. Her own collection is available from Selfridges, Harrods and Erickson Beamon, Elizabeth Street, SW1 (0171-259 0202). Prices start at pounds 85 for a single earring.

Michael Milloy (below)

Based in London Fields, Hackney, Michael Milloy's jewellery has been given a high profile by the work he has done for designers Antonio Berardi and Tristan Webber. These pieces - the nail apparently skewering the hand, the cantilevered spurs screwed into the heels of a pair of Manolo Blahnik boots (below), a crown of thorns and an earring that wrapped around the neck like a noose - are show-pieces, designed to be worn on the catwalk and not really anywhere else. For Tristan Webber, he came up with what can only be described as a head clamp. "The whole thing opens up like a Venus Fly Trap," he says. Just the thing for when you've got a headache.

"I would love to do more fantasy work, exploring with three dimensions and shape," he says. As it is, he has to find a happy balance with more commercial pieces - pendants, chains and rings that don't look as though they will cause harm to the wearer. Milloy trained at Epsom College and was an apprentice with silversmith Clive Burr. As well as taking on personal commissions, his main market is Japan, but he also sells to Paul Smith, Janet Fitch and Cruise. Prices start at pounds 8 for a pair of earrings. Enquiries: 0171-923 0279

Naomi Filmer (below)

Since graduating from the RCA with an MA in metalwork and jewellery in 1993, Naomi Filmer has been pursuing her own particular style of jewellery. She looks at the negative spaces of the body and has found a whole new way of adorning it. Instead of wrapping around the fingers, her rings slot between them. Likewise, she makes organic silver plugs that fit between toes, and inside the ear lobes. She has had to find new names for these pieces, calling them the "finger between", the "toe between", the "ear- plug" and the "ankle clamp" (below). Much of her work is sculpted to fit and made to order. She has also worked with designers Hussein Chalayan, Julien McDonald and Tristan Webber on pieces for their catwalk shows. Filmer calls herself a conceptual jewellery designer, working not only with precious metals but with light, UV tubing and brightly-coloured hair. The "ankle-clamp" costs pounds 215. Enquiries: 0171-409 3351

Janice Taylor (right)

From her Hoxton Square studio in east London, Janice Taylor polishes up perspex and silver for her futuristic jewellery. She studied painting and sculpture in New Zealand before moving to London and launching her jewellery collection in the early Nineties. She has worked with designers Ungaro, Ally Capellino, Justin Oh and John Richmond on show pieces. Her trademark is ultraviolet perspex - dangling in a strip from a silver earring, sitting on the collarbones or clasped around the neck. Much of her work is, she says, unisex, especially the silver dog tags and ID bracelets that are sold at menswear shop Burro in Covent Garden. "Some of my styles are quite aggressive," she says. "But I mix silver with perspex which is soft and non-violent for a bit of irony." The silver ear-piece here is based on Edwardian jewellery when earrings where held in place by a wire hooked around the ear rather than through it. It is moulded to the shape of the wearer's ear and made to order, price pounds 89. Selected pieces are available from Koh Sa Mui, Monmouth Street, London WC2; Kokon Tozai, Greek Street, London W1, and Burro, Floral Street, London WC2. Enquiries: 0171-613 3139.

Hair Johnny Drill at Blunt

Make-up Sharon Dowsett at Premier using Charles Fox

Models Lia Crowe at Select and Nicky Manwood at Storm