How Do We Define Ourselves?
Updated: Jul 19, 2018
Now that I’m selling my work to craft shops and galleries it’s becoming increasingly important for me to define and articulate the type of jewelry that I make. Prior to this point I hadn't given it much thought, but like most things in our world of information overload, we must slog through a spectrum of opinions and approximations as we develop a comfortable terminology for the type of work we do. I'm not a huge fan of labels, but being able to successfully targeting the shops and galleries most suited to my work, understanding the category my jewelry falls into is a win-win for all involved — artist, shop owner and buyer, alike.
I recently sold a small selection of work to a local gallery and the owner referred to my work as “costume” jewelry. To her, anything that isn’t gold is considered costume jewelry. Perhaps that's "old school" thinking, but to me, and I suspect most artists who make jewelry feel this way, costume jewelry is the cheap stuff they sell at Claire’s — mass-produced, flimsy, super commercial. And it got me thinking.
Turns out, there are a number of definitions and categories in this industry — Fine, Fashion, Craft, Art, Costume, and many more. While I flatly reject the costume label, I decided to examine the various definitions floating around to figure out where in the spectrum my work falls.
The term "Fine" jewelry conjures up tradition and high-end, expensive materials — diamonds, pearls and other gemstones, and precious metals like silver and gold. No argument there, right? As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, I grew up a tomboy so the Fine jewelry category is not what moves me to express myself as a jewelry designer. Though I will admit, the value and integrity of the material used in my pieces is very important to me, which is one of the reasons why I continue to choose sterling silver.
"Fashion" jewelry is a term that doesn’t fit my motivation as a jewelry designer either. I’m not looking to create the latest trends or fads. My focus is to be unique, playful and casual. While I follow and continue to develop my inner design compass, as long as I'm designing from the heart, I know my work will resonate with an audience of like-minded people.
The "Art" jewelry category holds a particularly interest for me. Having a background in Fine Arts (painting and sculpture major) I think of myself as a fine artist first. But the Art jewelry category pertains to jewelry that transcends itself and its design. It's not necessarily motivated by sales or even wearability for that matter. The motivation for Art jewelry is purely one-of-a-kind expression, a bold, beautiful, conceptual or provocative statement. Durability, movement, drape and flow often play a minor role. The jewelry in this category is typically acquired by collectors and museums.
I think I’m getting warmer with the term "Craft" jewelry. While this term can sound pejorative to some artists, or might even suggest that "anyone" can do it, at the end of the day my work is hand-crafted work. In addition to precious metal, I’m using a non-traditional material, polymer clay. Craft jewelry involves a skilled artist selling directly to their audience at a craft show and/or a craft gallery. It’s not mass-produced and often limited edition or one-of-a-kind. Wearability is important, as are sales, and the business revolves around a primary artist/designer.
So, as a result of this little learning adventure, for at least the time being, I've landed on a combination of terms. My work is hand-crafted, much of it limited edition -- hence the term “Craft,” and because it uses precious metal it’s appropriate to include the word, “Fine.”
“Fine Craft” jewelry. For now, anyway... :-)