Art & Jewelry

I have seen so much beautiful work in the recent galleries at
orchid. I have a question to those of you out there who consider
yourselves artists.

I have found it extremely difficult to get recognition as an artist.
many galleries don’t show or will not take jewelry. Many consider it
simply “jewelry” rather that wearable art or so not have the display
capacity for such work. In doing high-end work ($500+) I have found
very little outlet…it’s too good for “craft-shows” (most stuff is
$100 and under) and “art-shows” are such a production (tents and
lighting and cases and tables) What are the other appropriate
outlets??? Why is it that celebreties aren’t wearing these beautiful
designs…(like Kim Eric Lilot’s work GORGEOUS!) and everyone is so
consumed with diamonds? (actually I see many award shows with
actresses in beautiful dresses and bare necks) when will there be
another true revolution with jewelry as an appreciated art form like
in the 20’s and 30’s?

is it because of the mass production of jewelry? the abundance of
designs to mass produce? Do people not buy heirloom jewelry anymore?
Is special and unique so passe?

opinions anyone?

The Art Jewelry world in North America has not organized and
approached the market in the same way as glass, certain ceramics and
other successful areas have.

In Germany a concerted PR effort, funded by government and industry
in order to create new markets resulted in both standard and unique
design being valued. It was a construction and took ten years.

Anne Hawkens and other have criticized the art jewelry world for not
getting their images out there into the collector and connoissiour
magazines, into the right places. To change things art jewelers need
to approach it as a cultural change project.

Target museums and major galleries. Target and service collectors,
galleries and those who make money off selling art. Give them the pr
tools necessary to make it work. And publish images like heck.
everywhere, constantly. Register your marks everywhere. Generate
provenance. Document like heck, and disseminate the documents,
statement and stories about art jewelry.


Charles Lewton-Brain/Brain Press
President, Canadian Crafts Federation
Box 1624, Ste M, Calgary, Alberta, T2P 2L7, Canada,
Tel: 403-263-3955 Fax: 403-283-9053
Email: @Charles_Lewton-Brai1

This may be a moot point in discussion, but here’s my view -

I wonder if a tailor or a fashion designer would consider themselves
artists as well. We wear newly designed clothes (and I do consider
fashion design to be an art) especially when paired with beautiful
jewelry… yes ? When people ask me what I do for a living and I
reply “I’m a jewelry artist”, they tend to look at me kinda
funny…like a puppy who cocks it’s head when it hears a strange

My opinion is that there are many individuals who truly do accept
jewelry as wearable art. Most of these folks happen to be art
collectors, highly educated, well read people who have an
appreciation for the whole process of creating unique and special
work. ‘People’-people so to say.

In last week’s Jewelry Design class I asked my students this
question: “What is jewelry” and the first answer I heard was:

Yes Julia… it’s an interesting paradox, but as long as your
truly hold your work as fine art, wearable art… so it will be.
Perhaps it is up to us to stand in the space of all artists and
continue to be advocates for our beautiful work, no matter what the
galleries say, or think.

Keep the faith Sister !
Margie Mersky

I sell through jewelery stores I have done shows and have found them
to be a big pain. I would rather stay home make stuff and consign it
in independent stores I tell the owner how much I need to get out of
it and he doubles or triples the price. I used to do lots of colored
stone rings and was on a crusade against diamonds but have come full
circle and have given in and make mostly diamond jewelery. I have
found that in order to be competitive with big manufacturers and
other designers you have to sell at real low prices, the store
owners usually dont seem to care about the design as much as the
profit margin if they cant make a good profit on the piece they dont
want to carry it. The design is what is important to me but most
store owners will tell you that almost everything will sell
eventually. The one problem I have had is my design being used to
make custom jewelery at the store everyone comes in with grandmas
diamond and wants a ring like the one I made but with their diamond
so the store just copies mine and makes it themselves. In order to
combat this problem I have started to do stuff that is far to labor
intensive to just be copied by any one, most halfway decent jewelers
can knock off the work you see in the catalogs and trade magazines
all day for less than the desinger sells it for and alot of
customers arent as brand consious with jewelery as they are with
other things.


    I have seen so much beautiful work in the recent galleries at
orchid. I have a question to those of you out there who consider
yourselves artists. I have found it extremely difficult to get
recognition as an artist. many galleries don't show or will not
take jewelry.  Many consider it simply "jewelry" rather that
wearable art or so not have the display capacity for such work.  

The distinction between art and non-art started eroding quickly
after Duchamp displayed an urinal and other “ready mades” in art
shows around 1917.

Nelson Goodman suggests '…we may need to turn our attention from
the question “What is art?” to the question “When is art?” ', and
that we also have to make a careful distinction between whether a
thing is good art and whether it is art. (Ways of Worldmaking,
1978, ch. IV)

And here’s David Hume, way back in the 18th century: “Beauty is no
quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which
contimplates them; and each mind percieves a different beauty. One
person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of
beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own
sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek
the real beauty, or real deformity, is as fruitless an enquiry, as
to pretend to ascertain the real sweet or real bitter… But though
there be naturally a wide difference in point of delicacy between
one person and another, nothing tends further to encrease and
improve this talent, than practice in a particular art, and the
frequent survey or contemplation of a particular species of beauty.”
(from “Of the Standard of Taste”)

.............  opinions anyone? 

Go back to that last sentence in the above Hume quote, and keep on
hammering that metal.


It really touches on the roots of why we as individuals make jewelry
and why people wear jewelry, and the relationship of jewelry to
other art forms. And the really big question from a practical
vantage, who is our customer and why do they want our stuff?

In our culture, apart from jewelry which identifies life changes or
affiliations (wedding rings, class rings,) I would guess that the
majority of people wear jewelry at least in part as a conspicuous
display of wealth, for the purpose of establishing social status.
For such people, it is important that the materials composing the
jewelry be “precious,” i.e., expensive, and more importantly,
immediately recognizeable as such to others. Thus, gold, platinum,
diamonds, rubies, etc are preferred over silver, copper, agate, etc.
Lesser-known but still expensive stones are dark horses in this
race, since although an educated customer may understand their
value, the stones don’t scream “expensive” to most onlookers, and
conspicuous display of wealth is all about its effect on onlookers.

Particularly for those of us who make jewelry as art or as a mode of
self-expression, conspicuous display of wealth may not enter into
the equation. If, for example, I have chosen to express my aesthetic
by setting beach glass in acrylic, absent some incredible marketing
trick, my work will probably not go over well with those who wear
for conspicuous display of wealth. The good news is, in this
situation all of the makers of “bling” are not my competition, any
more than a Corvette is competition for a Hummer. We are in this
case appealing to different audiences buying to satisfy different

There is a phenomenon related to the conspicuous consumption of
wealth, which is the conspicuous display of taste, originality,
cleverness, etc. People in some subcultures, particularly those
involved in the arts themselves, seek out jewelry specifically to
identify themselves as being in touch with a particular aesthetic,
and seek jewelry which is artsy, clever, original, out of the
mainstream in order to establish their status within the in-group.

Some people also actually purchase jewelry simply because it speaks
to them- something about the design, or the materials, resonates
with them personally, and they wear their jewelry as a form of
self-expression. Related to this is the phenomenon of jewelry as
fetish; jewelry which provides the wearer with a sense of
connection, perhaps connection to the natural world, or to the
spirit world, to the earth, to a tribal group, etc. These I think
are internal motivators, in contrast to the previously mentioned
motives which tend to be directed towards others.

So, the question reduces to, who is your audience and why do they
desire your work? Once you know the answer to that question, you
need to figure out what venues they frequent and how to appeal to
them. It is not as simple, I think, as “crafts vs fine arts.”

With regard to the issue of jewelry and art, it is maddening. I
think that two distinct groups have evolved, those who do art, and
those who talk about and pronounce judgement upon those who do art.
Both groups can be limited in perspective and trapped in cliche. For
example, I still hear jewelry extp;;ed by the latter group as
“challenging the concept of wearability.” The concept of wearability
has been challenged to death and beyond, both as pretentious conceit
and by unintentional poor design or execution. At best, making
unwearable jewelry is a simple resurrection of Dada (yawn.) Lets get
over it. Would we extoll the virtues of a sculptor whose works were
not balanced enough to stand and which fell over and broke? Would we
go gaga over paintings framed in such a way that they could not be
properly hung on a wall? Probably not.

Jewelry is looked down on by some elements of the fine arts
community, I think, because it does not “challenge the viewer,” in
the sense of iconoclasm or flouting convention. While challenging
the viewer is a legitimate end of artistic expression, it is by no
means the whole shootin’ match. Much of the world’s great art is
great not because it “challenges the viewer,” but because it offers
a fine insight into and rendering of light, of color, of form, etc.
All of these things can be found in jewelry as well.

My 2 cents, anyway.

Lee Einer
Dos Manos Jewelry

Out in the Southwest, we have the opposite problem (original post
was that galleries seemed to not want jewelry) - too much jewelry in
galleries, and so a lot of competition! For the same reason perhaps
that’s why sales are depressed in AZ art shows. There’s so much nice
stuff! Anyway, I’ve done really well with breaking into galleries and
I’ve been told it’s because my work is so different. Perhaps you
could take a look at the places you are interested in placing your
work, and then look at your lines and see if you can tweak anything.

Also, I offer a complete package when I approach a new gallery - I
look at it as a business relationship, and so I offer professional
tags, tasteful point-of-purchase signage, and support advertising
when I can afford it or can trade for it (hint: look for smaller
magazines or newspapers owned by women…offer them a jewelry trade
for an ad or series of ads - works like a charm, so to speak!).

Leverage your individuality and professionalism and galleries seem
to snap it up! They get real tired of ‘artists with attitude’ and
really respond well when you and your jewelry are different.

Good luck!

Shitty on the not getting quid for your designs in the knock-off
aspect, but coolies on the reuse of hierloom damonds… I was under
the impression that once a diamond was sold that it is pretty much
off the market… good to hear that in modern day price conscious
consumer western society (wanting more stuff, but only having so much
alluence to spread around) is puttin gthe old diamonds back out
there… good view point on the letting others do the dealing with
the customer aspect (I’d rather just produce as well, pricing only to
be fair to other craftspersons… military pension puts me in a
fairly sweet position… not saying the shell shock [ick] is any fun

David Woolley
Fredericton, NB, Canada

        I have found that in order to be competitive with big
manufacturers and other designers you have to sell at real low
prices.. The one problem I have had is my design being used to make
custom jewelery at the store 

Hi Kevin;

I’ve hear stories just like yours from my other friends in the
trade. From what I’ve seen from your posts, you’ve paid your dues in
this industry. I hate to say this, but these guys have got you
snookered into believing it’s a better deal for you that it is for
them and they’re taking advantage of you. You need to get a better
class of retailer to do business with. It just burns me to hear
you’re being treated this way. You’re like me, you’ve been knocked
around a bit too long. You’ll find out, these kind of people are not
the norm, they’re hustlers and sharks. First off, why shouldn’t they
double or triple the price, if they can get you to whittle yours
down enough. Free inventory for them to sit on. I tried it for a
while, then pulled the stuff after it sat for 9 months with no sales.
I told the next guy, here’s what I want you to sell it for, and
here’s what I want for it. If you don’t think this is fair, that’s
OK, I’ll take it somewhere else. He did take it, and within a month
he’d sold 3 pieces for me. As for the problem of them using your
work to sell their own knockoffs, I wouldn’t put up for that for one
minute. Tell them if they want variations or custom pieces based on
your work, they send the job to you and you give them their margin
but it’s more overall in price than the regular price because it’s
custom and a one-off now. Otherwise, tell them stop copying your
work or you’ll pull it. Don’t think for a minute their competition
wouldn’t like you to pull the stuff and bring it over to them, just
so they could stick it to the other guy. Make them think they’re the
ones getting something special because that’s exactly what it is.
Hand made original designs they can sell without money up front. If
they get snooty with you, you might start dropping hints that you’re
looking to open your own retail spot. You could open this
conversation with a question, "say, that spot across the street from
you, you don’t know who the landlord is, do you? Any idea how much
that space might go for… " I have come to find that most of
these retailers who are in the habit of abusing the people who are
helping support their businesses are actually terror-stricken that
somebody hard working and talented might just decide to move in to
their market. I hope this situation improves for you.

David L. Huffman

Hey thanks for the tips David I have been kind of a wimp sometimes
with these guys but i am usually in need of the money so I fold like
a cheap metal chair just to keep the business but recently I have
seen that it is not worth it and I get a little more respect when I
am a pain in their but by not agreeing to everything. I have scaled
back alot in the past couple of years and have been doing more
custom work for local stores and individuals because I am not out
any money for materials. At my peak I had ten stores and 30 pieces
in each store. I had 40,000 dollars in gold sitting out there and
not two nickels to rub to gether in the bank my wife and I added it
up one evening when we were trying to get 400 bucks together to pay
the mortgage while we rolled pennies and looked under ther couch for
loose change. I have since sold off about 90 percent of it and used
the money to improve my shop and buy a nicer house( my wife called
me a slum lord when she first saw my house she couldnt believe I
owned it it was a complete dump) I would like to build up again but
am hesitant because of increased competition and the state of the
economy. I am not sure where the most profitable price range is for
me right now my old stuff was all in the 1000 to 5000 retail range.
If I sold stuff below a 1000 bucks retail it wasnt worth it because
I would have to sell a ton of stuff to make a living, I would make
more just by doing work for other people, but I would definitley not
be as happy so I guess it is a trade off money and food for the kids
or my happieness.

Sincerely Kevin

Beautifully put Lee I wish i had such understanding but years of
doing high end trade work has turned me into a complete left wig
radical who believes that if you can spend fifty grand on a piece of
jewelery you should be taxed right into a trailor park. I can spot
my customers they are fifty - sixty year old women whos
expresionless faces are frozen by botox injections and their eyes
are darn near on the sides of their heads from too many face lifts.
They have puffy platinum blond hair and carry expensive handbags
that cost more than some cars and they are the aging trophy wives of
some old executive who has found it cheaper to keep her. They have
perfectly done fake nails to go with their neon white teeth and all
they want to do is talk about who they know, name droping psycos. As
you can probably tell I dont get to talk to the customers that much
only in emergencies. Unfortunatly if it werent for my “Misses got
rocks” I would be flopping whoppers and asking if you want to biggie
size it. I feel like such a hypocryt sometimes, I wear old work
boots and flanel and no jewelery not even a watch just so i can
tolerate myself, you should see the looks on their faces when they
find out I made the piece and I wasnt their to fix the leak in the
roof or unplug the toilet, I am the goldsmith who does all the

Sincerely Kevin


that has to be the funniest description I have ever read!

It’s not so hypocritical. You would be surprised at the others in
your profession who… dress in jeans and a t-shirt and just cannot
stand the public relations of customers (it doesn’t mean that we
can’t do it…just don’t really want to)

that is because we are most comfortable creating. (not schmoozing) I
myself only ever wear my wedding band which is meteorite so it’s not
flashy…I don’t wear my beautiful diamond unless I am going
out…(which is in a very simple and tailored bezel) and I stopped
wearing watches to be free from the constraints of time.

I have talked to many people who say “if you want to make it as a
designer you need to join all the groups (MJSA, AJS, AGTA,
WJA…ETC…) and do alot of tooting your own horn and schmoozing”.
Now in reality if I did all of that I would have no time to create.
Oh, and don’t you so hate when you see the Spectrum awards…many of
it is very beautiful, BUT I think many peices should be taken out as
unwearable. Nice jewelry isn’t fun unless it’s functional…what
good is a necklace, ring or bracelet that cannot be worn
comfortably…(but then again if all you do is get your nails done
and carry your prada handbag, maybe they don’t mind uncomfortable)
People don’t realize that if it says tiffany that doesn’t really mean
it’s great or super…

oh, one more thing…i hate when jewelers say they have 100
designers, when all they carry is 100 designer lines that are mass
produced and very rarely unique. Or, “the jewelry factory”…with
over 100 designers and jewelers, yet they show the same commercial
from NY to CA with the same store and the same 100 people out front

this may be part of the reason it is so hard for independent
designers to get a break in a medium oversaturated with knockoffs and
boring concepts. there is very little room it seems for functional
creativity and one of a kind design. (and I so enjoyed reading your

-julia potts
julia potts studios

Nice jewelry isn't fun unless it's functional 

At what points do function, comfort and wearability begin and end?
What’s the threshold? Should you be able to wear it every day? All
day? In the shower? In the hot tub? While wearing surgical gloves?

What about cocktail rings? Long dangling earrings? Opals,
tanzanites and appatite ?

If you can wear a piece on only special occasions is that any less
fun? Doesn’t the nature of a piece-- the way it interacts with the
body-- change the way you move through a room? If so, then isn’t that
a valid function?

I’ve never agreed with the sentiment that I’ve heard from clients:
“I don’t want to even know that I’m wearing it…”

While I can understand what they’re saying, I’d sure want to know
that I’m wearing an expensive piece when I have it on: If I plunked
down $50,000 for a car, I’d want to know that I’m driving it…


Hi Lee,

I very much enjoyed your post on this subject in the Jan. 29 digest

  • it summed up so many of the same sentiments I hold and did so in
    such eloquent language that I think I may have to print it out and
    tack it to my studio wall. Go on wit’ your bad self!

I’m especially in your camp where the “challenging wearability”
stuff is concerned. It has so been done, and while it may have
once been exciting and clever, that time is long gone and now it’s
trite and stupid. I can’t say how many times I’ve put a copy of
Metalsmith back on the newsstand because I have been disgusted at
the sight of some geegaw with three-foot spikes all over it being
called a “ring” because you might, at the risk of serious injury, be
able to stick a finger into it.

I might have said “Karmann Ghia” instead of “Corvette,” though :wink:

Rock on,
Jessee Smith

While I can understand what they're saying, I'd sure want to know
that I'm wearing an expensive piece when I have it on: If I plunked
down $50,000 for a car, I'd want to know that I'm driving it....

I have a friend who only wears certain jewelry to the opera. Fabulous
stuff, a tremendous rope of pearls, huge rings. She just drips with
gems. All tastefully done, of course. But she would never wear it to
a dinner party.

Of course jewelry should sometimes be fun and showy. That’s the

That’s why everyone needs a wardrobe of jewelry, something for all

And that’s what we’re here for.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Hi Andy:

At what points do function, comfort and wearability begin and end?

Do we really need to know? I’d say this question is wide open. Any
answer will be correct, because each person will bring their own
definition of function, comfort and wearability to the issue.

The Miriam Webster definition of function is: "the action for which
a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing

This could define function in jewelry to mean "the parts work, pin
backs are secure and pins are sharp; necklaces hang correctly; the
jewelry does not need to be fidigeted with; stones are securely set;
materials are suitable for purpose; or it could mean you own it
because of the comfort and wearability (be it limited or general) or
ownership for investment (collector piece), or sentimentality or
simply joy of ownership.

I think you could probably have a piece that was functional,
comfortable but not wearable; functional, comfortable and wearable;
it could be wearable but not necessarily comfortable or functional.
This combination of attributes can be contrued in any number of

Bottom line might be "Who cares? For each and every thing made,
there is a potential owner/user somewhere - may take for ever to
find them, but they are out there. And it may just be that you
create for your own joy.

But thanks for posing a question that at least gives rise to thought
of some kind or other.

In short, I have probably answered your question but in so doing
have raised other questions which I have not answered.


Hi Julia I have come to the conclusion and the realization that I
am not going to rule the universe or the world for that matter let
alone become a multi millionaire by making jewelery. I am at peace
knowing that I can only work a few hours a day and can only produce
two or three pieces a week if I am lucky. I entered a contest a few
years ago and actually won I had to go up to scottsdale to get my
award. It was at this real fancy hotel and all the owners of the
best stores in the state were their and when they asked me where
my store was I told them it was in my laundry room and it was by
appointment only. All kidding aside I was real surprised to win
since it was a contest for jewelers from all over the state and most
of them except me were being backed by some real nice stores. After
that award my head swelled up pretty big and I had trouble fitting
it my tiny shop. I suddenly thought that my back wasnt so hairy my
feet werent very big and my double chin was actualy a storng jaw
line. My wife slapped me back to reality though. I wish that part of
the spectrum awards was that the maker had to wear it for the length
of the gem show, some of that stuff is nuts it is totally
unwearable. I dont want to pee in anyones punch but we are supposed
to make it wear able if it is not then it should be called



To further comment. I have Native American Squash from when they
used solid silver. When I wear them, I know they are there. In more
recent times, I bought an Inlay Sun God Squash. Light as a feather,
just does not feel right.

I do not like any of the hollow forms they sell now. I know the
difference. Younger buyers do not. I spend more time rolling kinks
out of chain weaves. Give me the old stuff, heavy and real.


At some point, we all have to ask ourselves: “Am I a Designer or an
Artist?” Are the two mutually exclusive? Where do you place
yourself? It’s an old discussion, I know. My personal feeling is
that I just do what I do and let someone else figure it out…

-BK in AK

Thanks Kay,

Actually, I posed the question as a rhetorical one. The post that I
was responding to seemed (to me) to have a fairly specific definition
of what that functionality is. It was that notion that I was

I agree with you about the possibilities and definitions of

I make my work as durable and serviceable as I possibly can. I also
take pains to build the work so that it functions for its INTENDED

Most of the rings that I make would be considered quite wearable.
But I made 3 rings for a ring show in San Francisco that featured 9"
porcupine quills. Putting one of these on and moving through a room
is quite interesting as are the reactions from those around the
wearer. The great thing is that details from these "theatrical"
rings-- the shanks, etc. have led to some interesting more
conventionally wearable (and saleable) rings.

This wearability issue is so subjective: One person can easily wear
a 10mm nickel white band and never experience any skin reation at
all, keeping it on the same finger wet, dry, day in and day out.
The next personwill break out in hives just looking at the ring and
could not wear it for even an hour.

Take care, Andy