Artisan Made Jewelry VS Mass-Produced
My husband and I recently purchased an old building in the historic district of our town to house my metalsmithing and jewelry-making workshop. It also serves as retail space for selling my jewelry and other gift items. People sometimes enter our shop, look at my jewelry, and ask if we order it from a jewelry supply company. As I stand behind the counter with hundreds of metalsmithing tools clearly visible on the counters of my workshop behind me, I fantasize for a moment that they are so captivated by the beauty of my jewelry that they don’t notice all of my tools! I quickly snap myself out of my daydream, smile, and tell them that I personally design and make all of the jewelry by hand. Sometimes I wish I could take them by the hand, lead them into my workshop, and tell them about how I’ve been in the process of collecting my tools for 41 years. I would tell them about all of the jewelry making processes that I have spent a lifetime learning, and describe how each process plays a part in the creation of my pieces. I would also explain that mass produced jewelry is made in factories that employ computer operated robotic cutting, forming, stamping, and polishing machines. Then I would tell them about how I complete many of the same processes with my own two hands! It is difficult to tell just how curious someone is initially, so I try to wait to see if there is genuine interest before going into too much detail. Some people are not interested in how something is manufactured or who made it, as long as it looks great. Others might be interested to know that I make the jewelry, but don’t really care to know ALL the details! It has been my experience that most people who do show an interest don’t really understand the differences between handmade artisan jewelry and mass produced. Since you are still reading this, you might be interested in knowing more, so here is what I would like everyone to know about what makes handmade jewelry more valuable than mass-produced.
First, making jewelry by hand is a time consuming process that takes longer than most people realize. Jewelry artists typically spend several hours sketching ideas on paper or use complex computer aided design programs to come up with a plan for constructing each piece. They often do drawings of the piece from different angles as well as detailed renderings of how components of the piece will fit together. Once the artist is happy with the design, the process of creating the piece begins. From the moment the idea is a tiny spark in the imagination of the artist, to the moment the piece is finished, it could take days, weeks or even months to complete depending on the complexity of the design and the processes involved. This time factor adds value to handmade jewelry pieces.
Handmade artisan jewelry is, by nature, more valuable than mass produced jewelry because of the human element. The process is a deeply personal experience. It is a hands-on endeavor where the maker utilizes their fingers, hands, arms, and often their whole body during some jewelry making processes. When a jewelry artist is actively cutting, sawing, drilling, rolling, hammering, pushing, or pulling metal to shape it, he or she is putting energy into that piece. In addition to the human energy it takes to create pieces by hand, there are many other skills that jewelry artisans spend years developing. To become proficient at their craft they must be creative, have artistic abilities, and usually have excellent drawing or computer design skills. They have an understanding of metals, gemstones and other materials. They also have exceptional eye hand co-ordination and practical skills for using tools, as well as accuracy and attention to detail. Most jewelry artists are extremely talented mechanically, which is a necessary skill when designing and constructing three-dimensional forms. All of these skills are part of what make up the “human element” that adds greater value to handmade jewelry pieces.
Another set of features that adds to the value of handmade jewelry is the quality of the materials and workmanship. Mass produced jewelry items are often advertised as precious metals, when in reality, they might be precious metals mixed with alloys of undetermined quality. The novice jewelry customer can never be completely sure of the quality of certain semi-precious and precious stones as well. Most independent jewelry artists purchase raw materials from reputable suppliers who guarantee the quality of their precious metals and gemstones. Quality of workmanship is also usually higher in a handmade piece because the reputation of the individual jewelry artist is at stake. A jewelry store selling mass produced jewelry or settings can easily replace an item ordered from a catalog and simply blame the factory or supplier for quality issues. On the other hand, if the reputation of an independent jewelry artist is at stake, he or she will be more concerned with quality and workmanship.
All of these factors play a significant role in the value of handmade pieces, but the list of value-generating attributes would not be complete without the passion for making the pieces that comes from the heart of the maker. Artisan jewelry making is not a very high paying field of endeavor. An independent jewelry artist will probably not make enough money in their lifetime to pay him or herself for all of time and money spent on college, workshops, machinery, tools, metals, stones, chemicals, compounds, and other necessary consumables and supplies. The satisfaction we receive comes from our love of working with metals and the sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing our designs become tangible, wearable works of art. I put my heart into each piece I create because I truly love what I do. When a customer purchases one of my creations, it is a humbling experience and a validation of the time and effort I put into making that piece. I feel truly blessed to be able to do what I love and be able to share my knowledge, skills, and experience.
I hope this information has helped shed some light on the value of handmade jewelry items versus mass-produced. Please consider supporting local artists of all kinds when looking for a personal item or gift. Your purchase of a handmade item is a win-win situation – not only do you enrich your own life or others lives with beautiful handmade goods, you also enable an artist to continue following their creative dream.