I want to start a new thread on aesthetics. This is prompted by
my reaction to brochures and catalogs brought back by a friend
from recent SNAG conference that I wasn’t able to attend.

The SNAG catalog said right on the cover “Recent Works by SNAG
Members”, but the dates on the pictures inside were works
created in '93, '94, 95. Hardly recent. More importantly, 80% of
the pictures in that catalog and in other brochures and even the
Metalsmith magazine showed works that looked like they were done
by teenagers at Summer camp. Sloppy bezels-really smashed down
ugly things, bras with bristles coming out of the points, sloppy
inelegant connections, etc. These are supposed to be top

Am I missing something here? When I go into big stores like
Neimans, I also see lots of poor craftsmanship in bezels and
findings. I’m not naive; I don’t expect everything to be shiny,
but really!?!

Does the public actually buy this stuff? Whatever happened to
craftsmanship and the aesthetics of making a beautiful object?


Virginia Lyons

AMEN! why some people will glorify DESIGN at the expense of
CRAFTSMANSHIP is beyond me. if a piece is to withstand the test
of time, it must have both. i’m not so rigid that i insist that
everything be perfectly crafted and meticulously finished, but
i’ve seen so many otherwise good designs ruined by sloppy work.
too many students are too lazy to learn how to do it right –
they can’t wait to get into galleries and shows. too often,
buyers are looking at price – lets face it: it costs a little
more to do it right. and too many university instructors are
willing to perpetuate this crap.

i’ve seen the opposite too – over emphasis on technique and
meticulous craftsmanship will never overcome a poor design.
balance is the key here, and a true master of any craft
understands this.

but as long as the public will buy this, someone will continue
to supply it.

doug zaruba

Virginia, I will agree with your point about the dates on the
work in the catalog not exactly being current but I thought the
majority of the work to appear well made and interesting. Not
all metalsmithing has to be about beauty or even craftsmanship.
Our field straddles a line between art and craft. Often times
the most interesting and inovative work is not about beauty.
Some artists choose content over craftsmanship. I don’t see
either option as being wrong, just different. As long as a
functional piece functions and a wearable piece can be worn I
think the value of each work lies in that of the consumer.
Personally, I like work that is a little rougher looking and I
tend not to care for the perfect, shiny, traditionally beautiful
work. I give SNAG credit for embracing all areas of our field.

  • Deb

Virginia - Perhaps you could post some images so that we can all
see what you are talking about. Considering the bezels, I think
that there is a difference between a badly set cabochon done by a
beginner and a bezel left with a crimped or textured bezel done
sensitively by an experienced artist. A sense of aesthetics is
something we all have and it is very personal. I think it is a
loosing battle to try to force one’s own aesthetics on others.
The best an artist can do is to try to educate the uneducated.

The fact that an image is printed in a brochure or a catalog,
sometimes just indicates that a particular individual sent
pictures to be considered and others did not. Anyone can be a
member of SNAG by paying the membership fee. Just being a member
does not make you a “top designer”.

Stores like Neiman Marcus sell whatever their buyers think the
public wants, and will continue to do so until the public stops
buying it and demands something else. Why worry about it. I
think we as artists have a duty to create. We must follow our
creative spirit and produce the very best work we can. Then we
must look to those individuals, may they be gallery or shop
owners or the end consumer, who share our vision, to help us
support our habit. Steve Brixner

Steven Brixner - Jewelry Designer - San Diego CA USA


Interesting observation. I can only assume that you are seeing
pieces made solely for profit (i.e. production jewelery) or your
standards are higher than most. As per aesthetics you must
remember that sometimes it’s not what you know but WHO you know.
I think we have all seen famous designer pieces that we would
never have out names on. If you precieve these high profile
works as ugly & poorly made - which they may be - use this as
inspiration for your own work.

Best wishes;
Steve Klepinger

  am I missing something here? When I go into big stores like
Neimans, I also see lots of poor craftsmanship in bezels and
findings. I'm not naive; I don't expect everything to be
shiny, but really!?! Does the public actually buy this stuff?
Whatever happened to craftsmanship and the aesthetics of making
a beautiful object

Interesting observations. I’ve found that the public is quite
naive. They buy ‘names’ that they have heard and follow their
"friends" choices. I have not encountered any “public” who are
looking for quality work . . . at least not yet. When work is
not mass produced, done by hand, not cast but fabricated, the
public seems to walk past, regardless of what the price is -
even if many of the pieces are priced under $100.00 It seems
that the majority of buyers are looking for “gimmick” , rather
than quality. I hope my observation isn’t what the rest of the
country (or even world) is experiencing . . .

In responce to the post on Aesthetics, I saw some very good work
in the catologs and brouchers/magazines that my Jewelry
instructor brought back from the SNAG confrence in St. Louis.
He even pointed out a few that he thought were similar to my
style of work which he labels “rough and ready”. I personally
love things that arn’t quite perfect or are a little rough as
long as this is what the Artists intention was. Mashed down
uneven bezels are slightly disturbing to me especialy if it is
an attempt at “fine jewelry”

As for the stuff you can buy at stores, I never find any of it
that appealing. Too shiny and glam for my taste. I think “art
jewelry” has a place for dirty, uneven, or mared apperances.
Aesthetics breaks down to philosophy. It can be “the
disscussion of nature and expression of beauty”, or “the study
of psycological responces to beauty and artistic
experiance”(American Heritage Collage Dictionary). What one
person finds beautiful can be atrocious and disturbing to
another. The common ground is the interesting part. When you
like it even when it goes against what you stand for.

I’m very interested to see what others have to say about this
topic. L8R,

Jeff Cleveland aka JevFro
505 E. 3rd
Ellensburg, Washington 98926

Hi Virginia, I might as well stick my 2 cents into this so that
we can both get our feelings hurt. In my humble opinion, it is
marketing that generates sales, not craftsmanship. Sometimes you
see both, but not allways. However, I do feel that over the
years, good work will outlast good sales methods.
Tom Arnold

I have to agree with Doug on this one. I am amazed how often I
see obvious glitches on pieces by people who should know better.
Example: pin backs barely soldered on or backwards. Maybe it is
all the years spent repairing work that makes me want to create
pieces that will never fall apart. My sister threw her engagement
ring across a parking lot at her ex fiancee and after searching
found it and said “Hey, you do good work” (not even a bent prong)
Most people won’t notice the difference but I will. And my work
has to pass my inspection first.

Hmmmm…Traditional craftsmanship; shiny, well finished,
beautiful and often predictable…v/s…creative liberty; non
traditional, unpredictable, and jarring to some…both styles
can be very beautiful. Does one of them actually have to be
better than the other? I sure hope not. I hate boring
sameness…and you’d probably hate my rough, twisted darkly
whimsical work. LOL. I love difference, but I can still
appreciate tradition and any kind of fine craftsmanship. Just
don’t mistake something that you don’t understand for bad work. I
don’t understand what the heck my thirteen year old sees in half
of the music that he listens to…yikes…but that’s another

Lisa, (went in the other day to shriek at him to turn that junk down, and realized
with some horror, that I AM my mother. Aaaaakkkk!), Topanga, CA USA

I was following this thread and thinking about the old “Bell
Curve” when I read this post. I hate to be pessimisstic about
people, but I think it is true that fine jewelry
designers/craftspersons are more discriminating than the
majority of people and therefore their market is always going to
be a niche market composed of equally discriminating buyers.
Hence one sees posts calling out for help as the new people try
to find buyers. That is the downside. The upside is that many
of the people who really appreciate good craftsmanship
(craftspersonship??) are going to be a pleasure to deal with and
are gong to deeply appreciate your work. Perhaps your market
can be enlarged by a “gimmick” such as emphasizing the
exclusiveness or cachet of your work or material, but your real
mainstay market is always going to be to some extent an elite
one. Educating the consumer will help some, but there are, I’m
afraid, many who just won’t “get it” if the bell curve is to be
believed. Make some $5 skull rings for them if you want to
capture this market.


Well, I guess i’ll throw my 2 cents in on this one from the
manufacturing end.

Aesthetics, quality, beauty and craftsmanship are all concepts
that each of us has a different view point on.

Being involved in manufacturing,I have seen designers of all
types … from the smooth high polish "flawless " look… to the
darkly antiqued rough looking tumble finished pieces that any
caster in the world could produce with his/her eyes closed(this
may look very good for this particular piece). I believe that the
beauty of an item is strictly in the eyes of the buyer and the
designer. I have seen some designs that i found to be
atrociously ugly and i would personaly never buy one, but some
items like that have sold in the 10’s of thousands when I thought
they would never sell. Some items I found to be absolutely
beautiful and very pleasing and some of those did not sell very
well.(As a manufacturer,I don’t make these judgement calls…I
just make it the way you want it).

A lot of this has to do with marketing ,whom you know and what
your particular market is.

Quality , however is a different story in my humble opinion.I

believe , as many Jewelers do that a quality piece has a number
of atributes . Stones should be well set with strong prongs or
well made set bezels.The item should not snag or tear your
clothing or stockings. A shank on an item should last 10 + years
or more without repair( this means no paper thin shanks). There
should be no pits in the surfaces.Soldered components and seams
should be in proper position,without solder pits ,or findings
that look like they will fall off in a week

Stone quality is based more on what the customer can afford.I

have seen $300 /carat diamonds that weigh 1 carat+ (mining rights
in a coal mine) to a flawless stone of 1.10 carats at
$10,000.Here is where the salesman has to make a quick decision.
A man walks in wearing a $2000. silk suit and asks to see a top
quality 1 carat+ dia… In my mind… i would be
thinking…$5000-$6000 easily. A person walks in in old blue
jeans and a TShirt and asks for a high quality first
question is at what price range… when he says $800. for a 1
carat stone…At this point it is important to educate the
customer so they can make a proper decision in regards to the
"quality " that they wish to purchase.

Quality and Price..... now that is an interesting statement...

good quality for the price.This , I believe to be a personal
judgement call based on what the customer wants and what they
can afford.Just remember that anything that looks flimsy…
probably is flimsy.

Beauty.It can be beautiful, but it might be easily broken or

damaged…or it may last a life time or 2 if its well made.( I
hear that “Quality” word again…lol ).

Craftsmanship.Occasionaly, you might see really good

craftsmanship “cheap”, but if you did, i think somewhere ,
someone made a pricing error.Sometimes you are lucky to find a
hand made item that has all the atributes of good quality and a
low price, but not very often.

Manufactured items can be made poorly due to bad techniques as

well as certain items are not design to be produced
inexpensively… well what does a manufaturer do when the item
should be $8.00… but the customer only will pay $6. …you
show them samples of the $6.00 “quality” and the $8.00…if
thats what they want… thats what you must supply. Shoddy
workmanship is Shoddy workmanship.Bent bezels ,lousily set
stones pitted pieces…etc. Thats lousy quality / craftsmanship
in anybodies book!again, thats my 2 cents. Daniel Grandi visit the workshop

Just because it’s “art jewelry” doesn’t entitle it to be poorly
made. When you buy a piece of clothing that comes apart at the
seams on first wearing you have a right to be disappointed
…and you aren’t doing your reputation a favor by selling
a piece with badly soldered joints, bezels or prongs that won’t
hold a stone,etc. OK…if you don’t want a piece to look too
’commercial’, you can avoid polishing it to a mirror finish
without detracting from the rest of the workmanship. If you have
a good design, exploit it and execute it competently. IMHO,
if it’s poorly crafted it ain’t art! >D<

RE “SNAG catalog of"Recent Works by SNAG Members”, but the dates
on the pictures inside were works created in '93, '94, 95. Hardly

I believe that those works were recent when the catalog was
published . That show was a while ago. I suspect that those are
leftover catalogs that were given out in a spirit of generosity.
I PAID for mine a couple of years ago…

Regarding the rough bezels, etc., I think that sometimes, what
is happening is that after one masters a technique, such as a
"perfect" bezel, it can be fun to play around, sort of like
Picasso enjoying painting crudely and gesturally once he’d
mastered painting realistically.

But I agree, sometimes, it’s just B.S. Sometimes, people "sell"
their work to this kind of show with their artist’s statement.

Cynthia Eid

This question reminds me of the “quality” discussion that we had
a couple of months ago. When I first got a job in a trade shop,
I was constsntly hmm … reminded? hmmm … lectured to? hmmm…
well, someone was always trying to tell me what constituted good
workman- ship. Didn’t seem to matter who was talking, the owner,
the shop foreman, or another apprentice sitting right next to
me. Let’s not forget that I had a few opinions of my own.
Learning in a trade shop impressed me with prejudices towards
"mass production", silver, “the artsy fartsies” and the ever
loathed “prima donna”. It should also be pointed out that to do
business in any other trade shop was to be “scraping the bottom
of the barrel”. In meeting my peers at other shops, I found that
generally, their perceptions of me and mine were about the same.
After enough years in the business of making and repairing
jewelry to get a feel for all that I didn’t know, I arrived at a
shop where quality control was handled by the newest employee.
This employee needn’t have any experience. This employee needn’t
have any education. This person had the power to turn down the
work of the “Master Goldfish on the Premises”. This employee was
the most hated person in the entire mall. It was this employee’s
job to ask why each item was as it was. Whether the question was
pertaining to structure or beauty, the client’s taste or our own,
we were all forced to ask ourselves if we really expected anyone
to pay perfectly good money for our work when some knownothing
newcomer could see with perfect ease that something was wrong.
I remember replacing an opal one time only to have it returned
for nicer one. “No no no! She wants a NICE opal!” It came back
again. This time it was replaced with an even nicer crystal
blue/green stone. Again it came back. “The lady wants a nice
WHITE opal!”. Sometimes there is no accounting for taste. Does
this count as aesthetics? I would have to be pretty arrogant to
think that I could tell everyone what is good. If I was humble
enough to hear and understand what it is that people really
think is good, I might be rich. I guess that I may not have a
point. If I do, maybe it is this. Adam Smith was right. “You get
what you pay for and you pay for what you get”. Then again,
another guy that was not quite as famous liked to say “The
ultimate reality is retail!”.

Bruce D. Holmgrain
Maryland’s first JA certified Master Bench Jeweler

Hey Dan, This is why I always wear the grungy clothes when I go
shopping… It is hard to break those first appearance habits in
salespeoples minds. The BEST salespeople NEVER judge a book by
its cover… you said: (note keyword “quick”)

  "Here is where the salesman has to make a quick decision. A
  man walks in wearing a $2000. silk suit and asks to see a
  top quality 1 carat+ dia... In my mind... i would be
  thinking...$5000-$6000 easily. A person walks in in old
  blue jeans and a TShirt and asks for a high quality
  first question is at what price range... when he says $800.
  for a 1 carat stone...At this point it is important to
  educate the customer so they can make a proper decision in
  regards to the "quality " that they wish to purchase. " 

PS…just because the tshirt guy mentioned the $800 price
doesn’t mean that he didn’t know better. It is all part of the

Pps…I grew up in antique stores, garage sales and flea markets. My mother
trained us well.

Regarding threads past and present, I’d thought some may be
interested in an essay that I wrote for the Seattle Metals Guild
newsletter regarding quality. I believe it will be reprinted in
SNAG News as well. With all do respect to Virginia, I beliecve
that she may be missing the point of the pieces in the SNAG
catalogue. Remeber… it’s all about intent, Andy

by Andy Cooperman

Driving home from Pratt one evening I heard an advertisement for
a large and well known jewelry business. This particular jeweler
–who, it turns out, “is my friend in the diamond business”-- is
a large mainstream establishment that deals in safe, uninspired,
bread and butter, pump it to the masses, “affordably” priced
jewelry. The radio spot was one in a series featuring a variety
of employees sharing their personal histories and some of their
thoughts about making a career w/ this establishment… Their
enthusiasm for the company was so inspiring and their behind the
veil glimpse into the company so reassuring that my faith in the
big world of commerce was practically restored. I was moved. I
was also irritated and fairly disgusted.

The word “quality” is being bantered about with out, it seems,
any regard for its definition : adj. having a high degree of
excellence. The “bench jeweler” in the radio spot explained how
each piece is carefully constructed with each customer in mind
and lavished w/ attention to details of fit and finish. You
could really tell that quality was a point of pride with this
gentleman, and so w/ his company, and that their merchandise was
"crafted" in the truest sense of the word. (Another over and
misapplied word: consider the “craft brewer”.) Trouble was, I
couldn’t knock the real image of their merchandise out of my
mind. Shoddy polishes lead to poorly set stones; corners that
are meant to be sharp are rounded by being forced into the
tripoli wheel; designs that may have been crisp on the rendering
board are mushy and flaccid in production. Surely this business
has the right to consider the quality of their product superior.
But if they have any experience in the jewelry trade at all
they must know the truth: just look in the cases.

Perhaps what they mean to say is that the quality of their
merchandise is appropriate to the prices that they charge.; after
all you get what you pay for. (“Whadda ya want for 99.95?”).
But their pretense to old world craftsmanship and the one-of -a -
kind posture that they seek to project is insulting.; and the
public doesn’t seem to care. Certainly a portion of the buying
public could be educated as to what are the hallmarks (clever
jewelry pun) of quality craftsmanship and materials; but the
majority are satisfied with the status quo. While there is a
chicken- and - egg partnership between what the public wants
and what the manufacturer, craftsman and vendor offers, what I
find so disturbing is not so much the public’s lowered
expectations , but the willingness of the “craftsman” to produce
a substandard or merely adequate product and clothe it in the
rhetoric of quality. It seems that simply attaching the word
"quality" to something is enough to make it so in peoples’ minds.

A recent thread on “Orchid” (, an internet
forum on jewelry and metalsmithing, has been occupied with the
idea of quality. What is quality? What are personal standards
involving quality? How far should you go to provide it? Many
old timers log on and their experience, insight and points of
view are invaluable. One post lamented the mall redefinition of
the term “custom” from meaning an object built from scratch to
fill the particular needs and desires of the client to an object
assembled from prefabricated, factory produced die struck
elements chosen from columns A, B and C. The commitment to the
piece just isn’t there. What was at one time a fully realized,
carefully considered piece is now part of the equation of
commodification. The notion of “quality” is simply one element
that has, at best, equal weight to the other elements of labor,
material cost, packaging and volume and, at worst, no weight at
all. And maybe this is okay --w/in the venue of mass production:
high volume and rock bottom price tags.

But when the image of the craftsman is evoked things change.
It becomes personal. Real hands, connected to real people who
are governed by real brains which, hopefully, ponder real issues
of ethical import are involved in the making of a piece. Real
senses of pride and accomplishment come into play and so
personal standards are established. These standards, of course,
vary from person to person and from job to job, but for the maker
who really believes in the making they can supersede matters of
hourly wage and the price bid. To be sure, a base line for
quality can be drawn on absolute standards: an object must
conform to the accepted standards of the industry. For jewelry
this would include solid connections, thick enough material, even
finishes, etc. More specifically, for the metal smith or art
jeweler, I believe that the selection of materials and the
commitment to craftsmanship should never interfere w/ the intent
or content of the piece. If for instance the object at hand were
a cube, then the attention to edge, surface, line and corner
should be such that nothing stands between the “cubeness” of the
piece and the viewer. Sloppy, rounded edges become a veil that
obscures what the piece is about. With mainstream jewelry
formal concerns and quality of material are what the piece is
about and so their excellence becomes paramount. Jewelry is an
art form that carries some baggage, wearability and intent being
two big ones. Pins stuck on as an after thought (“look, it’s a
brooch and a tree pruner”) are, to me, bothersome and indicative
of lack of faith in the initial piece, especially when the
"brooch" hangs wrong or simply won’t function well.

Quality is a matter of personal responsibility. As a student I
would often seek out my instructor and thrust my piece under his
nose asking if it was “done” : either clean enough to solder
(regardless of its encrustation of fossilized pickle) or ready to
go to the rouge wheel despite the gashes that I’d just inflicted
upon it with a flailing #2 mill bastard file. It was as if his
nod was dispensation, justifying my incomplete workmanship . I
certainly knew better; I possessed eyes and a rudimentary tactile
sense that could distinguish between a smooth and even surface
and one cratered like the moon. The point is that I wouldn’t
acknowledge my capacity to discern or define what is quality.
(And doesn’t the buying public suffer from this lack of
confidence; aren’t they looking to the makers to tell them what
is good?) But at some point-- in a blinding flash of epiphonic
insight–the answer came to me:. It’s ready when it looks
ready. No amount of squinting, head tilting or hand jiggling
will make the piece right when it’s not right. Wow, that
realization, that commitment to honesty, was a turning point.

Something marvelous happens when I pick up a piece of jewelry
that is well made. I usually say “Man, this guy really knew
what he was doing,” (no gender slight intended). If the piece is
old, with no known provenance it becomes perhaps the only
tangible manifestation of who, on one level, this person was.
That piece communicates volumes to those who understand the
language of craftsmanship.

If a piece is significantly wrong-- that is, there is
something about it that interferes w/ what I’m driving at–I’ll
redo it. But to be honest, as perfect as I’d like to try to be,
the unfortunate truth is that the bottom line is out there
lurking somewhere and I occasionally slip, cramming that
substandard ring into the shipping box, getting it onto the UPS
truck and crossing my fingers. (There’s really nothing more that
I can do once that truck rolls away… ) But every time the
phone rings for a while I’m apprehensive. And maybe that’s one
thing that keeps me straight: the knowledge that one day someone
else-- some other craftsman-- is going to pick up that piece and
say “Man, this guy really cared .”

  it is hard to break those first appearance habits in
salespeoples' minds.. 

Eons ago when I was working my way through college, I did a
stint at Macy’s,New York. In those days even the lowliest
part-timer went through a rigorous training program, always
keeping in mind the Macy’s mantra “the Customer is Always
Right”. One of the things our trainer impressed upon us was
that we couldn’t depend on appearance alone. “The arrogant
lady trailing the mink coat casually behind her and making all
sorts of demands could be in hock up to her ears,and the
little old lady in the shabby-looking coat could be packing a
wad that would pay your rent for ten years. She just may not
want to attract criminals. Treat every customer with equal
attention . You never know whom you’re waiting on.” I hasten
to add that those were the days when credit cards were rare;
when salespeople were actually supposed to help customers;and
when the store used to send around phony ‘customers’ to check
on the civility and attentiveness of the salespeople. But it’s
good to remember that appearances can sometimes be very
deceptive, and a brief conversation with a customer can reveal
more about that customer than attire or accessories can.

After an extended lurk, this thread has captured my attention.
Thank you Andy for giving us your essay on Quality.I couldn’t
have said it better myself.

It seems to me, that those artists who place content over
craftsmanship are missing the point- if the piece is poorly
crafted, whatever content may be there will not be taken
seriously. A piece that functions as a cohesive whole, without
detracting elements speaks more clearly. IMHO nothing says
"amateur" more than a wrinkled bezel or a sloppy pitted solder
joint.(no offence intended toward amateurs- some of the best work
done is done by those who don’t do it for a living :slight_smile: and the
worst is done by some of those who do!) It also seems to me that,
as artists, we are responsible for the education of the client as
to what quality really is. After all, once a customer buys a
piece from you, they should know enough to not buy that "other"
stuff. later, MTR

As a devotee of superb crafting and design and someone who
strives to produce quality work, I find myself constantly
struggling because of the time it takes to produce such work. I’m
a newcomer to the industry and haven’t established outlets or
clientelle yet, and I’m finding it nigh on impossible to sell my
pieces for what they’re worth. I’m hoping it just takes time
because I don’t want to compromise my work (even though it is
"Art" jewellery).

Trying not to despair
Cal Heath