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Artistry (VS) Precision

Many years ago it was pointed out to me that my grandfather’s work
was “rough”, he didn’t finish pieces the way my dad did, he left file
marks and plier marks. At first I was taken aback by this observation
and felt it was a criticism but I love my grandfather’s work and
appreciate what he did. My father was just to opposite, he was very
precise and finishing was to a very high degree. So I started to
think about this family diversity and compare it to my work which is
on the “rough” side.

Precision is not something I strive for. Precision is not a defining
part of my work. I set stones well, my bezel work is superior but it
seems that some Orchidians prize their definition of technical
precision above all else and I used to think of it as the Holy Grail
as well. Now, due to age I find that I love my rough work, I
appreciate technical precision but I no longer seek it from myself.
I don’t know how to define crap work but I know it when I see it and
part of that definition is the artistry. I am not a bench worker, I
never had that patience, I utilize it for pave’ work, for instance,
but I wouldn’t attempt it myself.

So, my question to Orchid is is there a difference between an artist
and a bench worker? What is that difference? Is a craftsman
(craftswoman) a combination of the two? Can the two be combined? Why
are there no artists (that I know of) who come out of a university
setting who attempt pave’ or set Princess stones? Is a technique like
pave’ looked down on in academia? Is making and setting a Tiffany
mount really the pinnacle of jewelry success?

Let’s start the conversation,
Sam Patania, Tucson

Hello Sam,

Interesting. I do think that there is a difference between an artist
and a bench worker, just as there is a difference between a clothing
designer and a sewer/seamstress, or an author and an editor, or an
architect and a contractor. One focuses on creative thought
processes and the other has mastered construction techniques.
Although some people may have both competencies, that seems not to be
the usual case… except for creators of art jewelry. :wink: (heh heh)

In any case, a designer who is also knowledgeable of construction
techniques is able to foresee problems and design to avoid them. Just
my insignificant thoughts.

Judy in Kansas, where they continue to replace 2x4 studs. Maybe
designs utilizing wood studs should be revised to design out
termites!! Ha.

Precision is not a defining part of my work. I set stones well, my
bezel work is superior but it seems that some Orchidians prize
their definition of technical precision above all else and I used
to think of it as the Holy Grail as well. 

Well Sam, now you did it. :} In the sense that you are asking,
precision is a relative term. I do what most people would call
precision work - everthing has to be straight and square and highly
finished and etc. I’m good friends with the guy who does local
service for Cartier and Boucheron, among others, and I’ve approached
that level of work, too. The thing is that they demand a level of
precision that’s almost inhuman - in fact the real point is that it
IS inhuman. They want work that looks like it was made by a machine,
even if it’s a free-er styling. They don’t want to see the hand of
the craftsman in the finished work. I really don’t like to work that
way. I’m an artist in the sense that my work has a warmth to it that
people come to me to find. I WANT my hand to show. It’s still
precision work but it’s not robotic precision. This was a conscious
decision on my part some years ago. Enough is enough… As for
academia and the rest of your question - you know where that’s going
to lead, I bet. Most schools don’t even teach goldsmithing - it’s all
sheet metal and wire, which is what I call silversmithing. And of
course if the teacher doesn’t know how to do pave’ they can’t teach
it, eh? They do as best as they can with what they have…

They seem to be taught to look down on that style of work, I don’t
know why. I am not from the university, but started as self-taught,
and studied with setters later. I integrate everything I know; hand
forging, square stone setting, fold forming, engraving, whatever.
They are all tools of the trade, to me. I am tidy for most of my
work, but I get wild & tool-marked sometimes. It just depends on
what I am going for. It is fun to play with contrasting such things.


Perhaps we all have a style of our own, and gifts or talents all our
own too, Sam. There is craft jewelry, artistic jewelry, fine jewelry,
costume jewelry, commercial jewelry, custom jewelry and so on and so
on. Precision has it’s place in our industry, especially for stone
setting. Finishing/polishing is a skill standing alone, requiring
patience, practice, and a keen eye just like every other step
involved in producing a piece of jewelry. There will be no end to the
opinions submitted here, and I look forward to reading them all. At
the end of the day I only ask if I’ve done my very best, and the
answer never disappoints me. Satisfy yourself, and you’ll be happy
with your work.



I think you are trying to compare two totally separate concepts.
Highly regulated work or rough work do not define artistry. Artistry
is the ability to “speak” to your viewer with your work not how well
regulated or rough the work is.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

I really like this thread Sam

Is making and setting a Tiffany mount really the pinnacle of
jewelry success? 

Yes if you were Louis Comfort Tiffany. With todays technology I don’t
think this is a great achievement.

Precision hard to define when hand making, personally, quality that
is something one would have thought obvious.

Does not an artist take one’s breath away?

You can then loupe for technical skill.

Obviously your grandfather did not have the modern tools we have and
his work would have shown this. Does it make it any less quality, I
think not.

I think there is a very big difference between a benchworker and an

Artists make art, benchworkers do repairs or set 60 diamonds studs a
day. I would rather clean toilets.

I was fortunate to train under a master craftsman “Do not make
jewellery make art.” We were told.

I make classic designs to eat, bezel set gems in rings. Made
thousands over the last 30 years and still enjoy. My best seller is
old mother of pearl blue green pink sheen is wonderful and unusual.

When I am bored and have the time I “play”.

My latest play thing is a reticulated lunela (crescent). My aim was
to push the sterling to the point of almost destruction. So much fun!
Into this lunela I then set a carved face of fossilised mammoth

When I was ready to set the face I showed my daughter, also my
apprentice. She said “Turn the face so they are sleeping in the
moon.” I did, it is a very unusual piece.

For the short time it was on display I had many positive comments
about this piece.

But before I sold it my wife ( a redhead and scorpio and jeweller)
said “That is to good to sell, and should go into the family
archive.” AKA I want if or Xmas. If one is fortunate enough to be
partnered to such a being it is not wise to argue, unless seriously
drunk and with a death wish. Eventually my 2 year old granddaughter,
who loves to grab the "pretties"and run will get this piece.

Is it precision? Technically correct yes. Precision?

When I began in class I asked my teacher if we got a piece of paper
(certificate) from this course. Sure he said and gave me a piece of
paper. LOL

Just because one has a degree showing technical skill that does not
mean they (they as in Shakespeare’s usage) are a quality designer!

Be inspired and work to the best of your ability.

In this spirit look at Leonid Surpin’s champagne ring, quirky and
beautiful, to me it is the best of both worlds and far beyond my
humble ability.

Make to the best of your ability and strive to improve with every
piece you make.


I graduated from a metals program from a university and I can tell
you that I don’t set pave stones because we didn’t learn how. I
don’t look down on it, in fact I love pave set stones. When you go to
a university you don’t spend the whole day at the bench like you do
if you go to a place specifically for jewelers like the Revere
Academy or one of the other jewelry specific schools. Once I
graduated and began teaching high school metals I immediately became
aware of the holes in my bench training. I signed up for specific
jewelry classes everywhere that I could to improve my bench skills.

In my humble opinion it is a combination of artistry and precision
that I appreciate most. I love what my fine art degree brings to my
work, which is a solid understanding of the principles and elements
of design, a confidence in performing a formal analysis of my own
art and that of others, and the artistry that comes from studying
great works done over time, but I wouldn’t judge my own art well if I
didn’t have the precision that the great bench jewelers of our time
(Alan Revere, David Michael Sturlin, Linda Darty, David Fretz,
Roberta Kulicke, just to name a few) have taught me during classes
post university.

Karen Tagg
Art Teacher, BFA, M.Ed.

I agree with Jim-- whether a craftsman is also an artist is a
separate issue from whether they are “rough” or “technically
polished”. I prefer the terms “loose” and “tight” to describe the two
ends of that spectrum, because those words are less freighted. In
general, I work “tight”, but not as tight as Jim… much tighter than
Andy Cooperman, a good example of a wonderful “loose” jeweler. These
are stylistic choices, not value judgements.

In my opinion, two criteria have the greatest impact on whether a
piece of work (jewelry or other) has beauty, that is, is good art:

  1. there should be a reason for everything that was done (or not
    done) and 2) the object should have what I like to call
    "retrospective inevitability". That means that, though you might
    never have conceived of the work yourself, once you have experienced
    it, there is a feeling that it had to be exactly the way it is. It
    simply feels/looks/sounds exactly right, nothing dischordant, nothing
    "wrong". A high bar, but a true joy.



Thought provoking.

Artistry (vs) Precision

The problem when you get into an art discussion is that once again
art is very subjective.

Art can be totally random, and still convey a message, or a feeling.

If you do a random pattern mokume or pattern welded steel the art is
in the chaos. Although there are skills involved in making the item,
the randomness can bring surprises, feelings and meanings. Is a
random patterned item any less art than an item where the pattern has
been planned. The answer of course is no, because art is subjective.

A lot of people use the term “Artistry” to cover up for mistakes,
it’s up to the viewer to decide whether that’s true or not.

Precision is also very interesting, as I think art can also be
precise, I saw what looked like a random pile of junk, but shine a
light on it and shadow depicting a scene was formed.

Here’s a link

Regards Charles A.

Is making and setting a Tiffany mount really the pinnacle of
jewelry success? Yes if you were Louis Comfort Tiffany. With
today's technology I don't think this is a great achievement.

Actually making a solitaire is hard. Try it some time from scratch.
It’s the first thing I make my new students do. Pour an ingot, roll
the bar stock, draw the wire, forge the pinch shank. Make the crown,
solder it together, pre polish and then set it. Making it is one
thing. Getting it straight from all sides is another.

Of course the “new technologies” I use that they didn’t have at the
turn of the 20th century are electricity for lights and a buff and
flex shaft and compressed oxygen.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

As a retired performing musician and teacher, in music technique is
only the enabler of artistry. In fact real artistry conceals the
technical difficulty. As a would-be jeweler, I think it applies here
too. Precision is what enables artistry, but precision for the sake
of precision is pretty boring and doesn’t lead to artistic

Dick Stromberg

Let the meandering begin !. Artistry (vs) Precision… ah, let’s
see… being somewhat familiar with both end of the spectrum of both
aspects of craftsmanship (yes, I see artists as being crafty first,
or definitely second, after being artistic (and the farm came before
the chicken or the egg)), I feel that I can safely say that I have
nothing definitive or enlightening to say on the subject. I see the
whole original topic as something of a gray area. I don’t see
artistry and precision as being mutually exclusive, necessarily, and
necessarily not in some cases, in fact. Simply put, there can be a
lot of artistry that goes into the precision construction of, oh, I
don’t know, a fancy piece of jewelry, perhaps, and there can be
plenty of precision in creating artistic pieces that may not appear
as artistic if it weren’t for the precision.

Sam, Sam, Sam, what have you gone and started ? (winks). I
understand and mostly agree with the idea that a lightening up on the
unnecessary precision, to let more naturally flowing artistry in is
a good thing, generally. That would be balanced by a respect for and
ability to apply precision when precision is required. In my former
life as a maker of jewelry, one of my jobs was fabricating metal
masters , and I was good at it in part because I was downright
anally perfectionistic about detail. Masters for rings must be sized
and finished with precision. Trademark stamps have to be aligned and
the right depth, shrinkage always has to be accounted for, and
everything ahs to look perfect, or all and any imperfections are
moved down the line for other people to deal with, which is, of
course, not an option. I was good at that because I was like that ;
I was obsessive, and I put almost a lot of my self worth into how
well I could fiddle with little bits of metal. Eventually I lightened
up and slowly I began to let go of this compulsive need to put
perfect minute detail into things where nobody would ever see or
care about my precision, where the only point was the precision, the
only motivation for the precision was the compulsion, and biggest
effect it had was to waste time and feed the compulsion. So for me
it’s been about finding some balance; being precise when I need to
be, being artistic and looser when I can be. It isn’t at all limited
to jewelry or die making either, it’s really about all the things we
do, all the motions we make. From a certain perspective I can see
all movement coming from the same place that artistry does, and all
movements to be precisely guided, but that’s a whole other sort of
conversation. Then there’s music, playing an instrument, as an
example of artistry and precision working together, needing each
other, complimenting each other, towards the greater development of
a performance. Some kind of artistry and creativity is obviously
needed to write music, and for me, and my tunes, there’s plenty of
precision and complexity and attention to the minute details of a

I don’t sit down and play improvisationally; I play exactly what I
worked hard at writing because it’s exactly, precisely the way the
piece needs to be. As far as performance (or more like achieving a
level of technical competence to where it doesn’t sound horrible and
I’m not fumbling my way along, which takes years) that also is about
both precision and artistry. It takes artistry to give a piece
expressiveness and character, and a huge amount of precise control
to deliver the subtle nuances of that expression. The artistry is
inseparable from the precision in this kind of activity, the way I
see it, and I see a lot of activities this way.


Precise in its imprecision, it’s imperfection is perfect, a perfect
paradox of precise and arbitrary emotion.

Hi Sam,

So, my question to Orchid is is there a difference between an
artist and a bench worker? What is that difference? Is a craftsman
(craftswoman) a combination of the two? Can the two be combined?
Why are there no artists (that I know of) who come out of a
university setting who attempt pave' or set Princess stones? Is a
technique like pave' looked down on in academia? Is making and
setting a Tiffany mount really the pinnacle of jewelry success? 

Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been busy.

Your questions opened up a medium sized cylinder of vermiculae. As
far as ‘what is crap’ work, I’d go with ‘work that could have been
better technically, but wasn’t, because the maker got lazy’. I’m a
whole lot more forgiving of someone who’s working right to the edge
of what they’re capable of, even if that isn’t much, than I am of
someone who could do better but can’t be bothered. Of course, there
are levels of expectation too. Even Faberge didn’t make every
piece as perfect as the Eggs. There was a show that came through
here 2-3 years ago of a wide range of Faberge work, and it was
greatly heartening to me to notice the screwups. Only someone else
who knew how the pieces were made would have spotted the repairs and
quick “change of plan!” marks, but it was a great relief to discover
that they were human too. Not every piece is an Imperial Egg.

For the rest (in no particular order)

Why no Pave? I think it’s out of fashion, or it was. The guys I
learned from in the US 20 years ago, some of them probably could
have done it, but it didn’t fit their style, so they didn’t do it.
Or teach it. So the current crop don’t know it, and can’t teach it.
(in the art schools) I spent a year in London, where I did learn
to do it, but I still don’t do it beyond once every few years just
to keep in practice. I don’t think there’s any ‘looking down’ at it
(at least from my point of view), but pave has a very distinctive
visual presence that doesn’t mesh well with other forms of
decoration. So for most of the art school folks, I’d say it’s lack
of training, but even if they had it (and I do) they still wouldn’t
do it, because its not the way their heads work, and it’s not what
they want to talk about with their jewelry. (generally.) It’s sort
of like answering the question: “Which is better? A battleship or an
apple?” To which the answer is “Better for whate” They answer two
totally different requirements. As does pave.

As far as the difference between artists and benchies, wow, that’ll
likely be loaded. I think my take on it comes from my time in
London: I studied with a bunch of very good technicians, but many
of them were so specialised that they had no sense of the greater
context of the pieces they were working on. The example that sticks
in my mind is my setting tutor (who kept a pave parrot on his desk
by way of a “That’s why I’m teaching the course!” ). I asked him
about a weird setting I was designing for a goblet I was working on.
I asked him if it would hold, and he said yes. I asked him how he’d
go about making it, and he replied “I dunno, ask a mounter, I just
set the things.” He could set anything under the sun, but had no
clue how the settings were made in the first place. That was my
experience with the Brits at the time: incredibly good technically,
but many of them couldn’t design their way out of a paper bag.

Fortunately, that seems to have changed a bit over the years.
Americans tend to be more generalists, which is good for design, but
not so good for technique.

To get back to the art/bench question, I think the artists are the
ones with the full, widefield vision of what they want to do, and
what they want to say. The craftsman is the guy who knows that while
the box catch may be 18KY, the leaf on the catch really wants to be
14K palladium white.

The distinction there is just a matter of viewpoint, so clearly it’s
possible to combine the two roles in one person, and to flip back &
forth between them depending on the needs of the moment, so long as
one has both sets of skills.

And that, of course, is the hard part.


Precision can be defined by numbers or defined by the eye, but
jewellery is also a science. The numbers apply to the purity of the
ingredients, their value, and their physical properties. Numbers are
also essential in communication between the various people involved
in the creation of jewellery.

Artistry is the ability to blend the numbers, and what the eye
perceives, into something beautiful and beyond measurement…without
forgetting the function.



I love the phrase “restrospective inevitability”. It perfectly
expresses the concept of ‘rightness’ (I don’t mean
correct-ness/wrong-ness), just exactly they way an object was meant
to be. Anyway, what you said and so well said.

Linda Kaye-Moses

I very much agree, Dick. Once you wade thru the precision, the
technique learning, gain some mastery and skill, creativity is free
to flow backed by expertise. While certainly not always necessarily
the case, there is still great substance to this path…

Lisa Van Herik

So, my question to Orchid is is there a difference between an
artist and a bench worker? What is that difference? 

An artists knows how the finished piece should look and the benchman
knows how to make it.

My apologies for not being more specific.

I was not talking about making it from scratch. That is skill.

By modern technology I meant laser welding pre fabricated

What you are talking about is good old fashioned hand making skill,
which I greatly appreciate and admire. And I regard as true
jewellery making, unfortunately a dying art.

Your students will learn more from you than is usual these days well

To all of you who keep the old skills alive, keep at it and pass it

Some one who learns to make from scratch has far greater
understanding and hence ability to design.