Rethinking the Art of Jewelry Making

Ever wondered why some jewelry pieces call our attention, some simply don’t?

Let’s consider two approaches to learning jewelry making: as a craft, and as an art. A brief differentiation of each approach can help us align our preferred techniques with our ultimate design goal: create jewelry that gets noticed and sells..

Although I’m equally comfortable with both approaches, I’m more inclined with the latter. The art approach helps create continuity in design because it values jewelry making as “communication”. Art communicates life as we experience it. Whereas, craft (or hobby) is something, you do to pass time, or satisfy a creative urge. It doesn’t necessarily “communicate” the way art does.

Still, however you’d prefer to make jewelry, it’s good to learn about both approaches to begin with:

Jewelry Making as a Craft

This approach thinks of creativity as consequential to techniques or skills —as a craft. It assumes that making jewelry can be taught to “everyone else” given a set of instructions to create a pre-defined piece. For instance, “techniques” in creating a particular bracelet style can be outlined in specific steps. Then the visual value of a finished jewelry piece is judged based on “replication”. Or how closely it copies a reference piece in form.

The flip side to this approach is that “everyone else” may not really be taught the design principles underlying technique and visual composition in creating a piece of jewelry. Or wearable art for that matter. Because each piece is tackled as a definite project. And so not everyone else is at liberty to define the flow and visual direction of a jewelry piece. The task of combining and arranging jewelry components becomes just an ordinary exercise of craft, not design. Artistic composition is subordinated to techniques.

Jewelry Making as an Art

Here, let’s consider art as a tool. A means to communicate. Emotions. Thoughts. Our interpretations of the world as we experience it everyday. Making jewelry as an art communicates the artist’s interpretations of these experiences visually.

For instance, jewelry collections are commonly designed in reference to seasons. Winter collections take on dark colors while summer jewelry reflect the gaiety of sunny days through happy colors. As a result, jewelry is enjoyed and experienced based on a mutual communication exchange between the artist and the viewer. We feel a jewelry piece by reacting (emotionally) as it appeals to us. We say, “This ring spoke volumes about his love” when admiring an expensive engagement ring. Thus, the jewelry piece fulfills the artist’s goal of communicating an experience of love visually.

Art has form and content. With this approach, jewelry making becomes a design process —a deliberate exercise of arranging pieces together to fit an imagined “form”, to represent “content”. Here’s where techniques come in —”the how to” connect jewelry components together into a pleasant form. Techniques act as “connectors”. Thus, the art approach allows more room for creative direction and expression, not confined to a set of instructions. A huge conceptual differentiation from “craft art”.

That said, it’s also worth thinking how both approaches can actually complement each other, as our “designing skills” progress. For only then we’re able to appreciate the art of jewelry making from both perspectives. And, yes, I think I somehow know why some jewelry “speak” to us, some don’t.

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