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Define Jewelry

Thinking out loud.

Today we received two of the new 1000 Rings books. My friend Olga
and I scanned them a bit more than briefly.

There are some remarkable creations in this book, many of them Eye
Candy, but not wearable at all.

What is the criteria for calling it “Jewelry?” Am I naive in
believing it is created to be worn?

Should there be a definition of Jewelry submitted to competitions,
and/or publications? Should there be two separate categories,
wearable and visual or imaginative?

Some seem to be architectural marvels, others appear as able to do
bodily harm. I have known of several persons who refuse to enter
competitions due to unfair judging, I have noticed over two years of
competitions with different judges a vast difference in what scored.

I have a good friend who submitted an exquisite realistic wearable
piece indicating fine workmanship, selection and preparation of
stones and metals. We were both confident the piece would have
recognition. It was never even acknowledged.

When I saw the pieces that had won, few were wearable, the judges
were avant garde. Next year beautiful, imaginative and very wearable
jewelry prevailed, different judges.

Should this happen? Is it fair? Why has there not been a division
for fantasy and not wearable jewelry? Certainly that would give a
chance for all submissions, regardless of the bent of the judges.

Am I thinking with the wrong side of my brain? What am I missing
here? It is after midnight here now, I am tired, and I needed to ask
these questions.

Thanks Terrie

My hopes all in the storms paths come through this with minimal
damage and discomfort.

Should this happen? Is it fair? Why has there not been a division
for fantasy and not wearable jewelry? Certainly that would give a
chance for all submissions, regardless of the bent of the judges.

This is something that has been bugging me for a long time. I’ve
always tended to go along with the ‘form follows function’ design
theory. If I design a neckpiece, it should neither pierce your
throat nor ravel your clothing. It’s an embellishment, not an
instrument of torture. Some of the rings I see may be architectural
marvels, but what if I sell one such ring to someone who catches it
on a hook and mangles a finger or tears it off? Am I liable? Maybe
such creations should be classified as fantasy jewelry with a
wear-at-your-own-risk disclaimer.

(But then, high fashion is full of outrageous creations, from
un-maintainable hairdos to six-inch stiletto heels, to clothing so
form-fitting that sitting down would split it…absolutely
un-functional, but pretty to look at provided nothing moves. )
Personally, I think wearability should be one of the elements
considered by judges…unless there is a separate section for
fantasy or outrageous jewelry.


Hi Terry:

I understand completely you’re frustration with the judging and many
of the reactions of people in general. When you expose you’re
creative heart to the public sometimes you don’t get the result that
you would like and the frustration can be terrible. All I can suggest
is that you keep looking at the positive feedback instead. A lot of
people mean well but do not express themselves well due to ignorance
about the amount of time and skill it takes to do metalworking
projects or for that matter any art form. I wish you well and
remember to keep you’re chin up.


One problem i see is that people and makers alike, are much too
opinionated about what should be termed wearable jewelry, and what
should be disgarded as impractical because of largeness of size,
weight, whether it could be used as a weapon, etc., these in
particular apply to me because i carve my jewelry from mostly wood,
and make it a little large and wild, most times, so last month i
did the artscape in baltimore, which, by the way, is a veritable
sea of people for 3 days, and i made as i stated in previous
posting, some large rings, with a shank for one finger, but span 4
fingers,“festival or party rings”, a very large cuff that was 5
inches high off the wrist, and had 3 spire things protruding up,
across the wrist, weighed over 1.5 lbs., called it the statue of
liberty bracelet, yes everyone looked at them tried them all on,
commented how gigantic they were, and how they could be used as
weapons, etc., etc, but a 6’4" black woman with narrow wrists came in
a made that cuff look fantastic, and then she took a huge wood ring
to match it, man it looked awesome,she also tried on a set of 3
large ebony bangles and an ebony ring and upon seeing the black
bangles on the chocolate skin i fell in love directly, sold 2 of
the other large rings to some other makers(exibitors), as far as
my slides go, the judges cannot really tell the size with no
reference object, and since it is unusually designed carved wood,
embellished with carved castings, or formed, they let me in as a
wacko with great stuff to stir crowd excitement, i guess, but i
don’t have much problem bypassing “official” jury selection, and
getting into the high end shows by emailing jpegs, if the owner has
a say in it and it’s not a totally juried show, ya know like who
really gives a… if you make large jewelry for party occasions,
or sweet little pieces that you never take off for the rest of you
life, dp

My take on the issue of unwearable “jewelry” is colored by my
background as a potter. How many teapot shows have you seen, without
necessarily finding anything that could even hold water?

Although I personally try to make sure everything I make is
functional, as I did when I made my art out of clay, I can see that
there are times when one makes a form that is about jewelry more
than it is jewelry, just as many beautiful works of art are in the
form of teapots. Much of my later ceramic work, though perfectly
functional, focussed on surface treatment of such extent and quality
that I’m sure none of the platters has ever been used to serve a
steak. They were designed to be hung on a wall, and most people
don’t choose to plop their mashed potatoes on a work of art.

In the same way, some jewelry art is not intended to be worn, or
maybe briefly under special circumstances. I am not perturbed by
this. I see it as the natural extension of the art part of what we
do. Sometimes function is too much of a limitation. Sometimes,
function is even contrary to the intention of the work. Then, you
might say it has crossed the last step on the continuum between
function and sculpture. Why not? No one is being misled.

Which is not to say there is no unfairness in jurying. A while ago,
I applied to a show that purported to be looking for jewelry that
"transcends wearable art". Well, I wasn’t too sure what that meant,
but I figured my sculptural pieces that come apart into jewelry
qualified. I was turned down. When I saw the show, and read the
commentary by the jurors, it was evident that they didn’t know what
the phrase could mean either, so they made up their own criteria and
curated the show accordingly. Many of the pieces were nice, but
nothing seemed to me to “transcend” wearable art-- it simply was
wearable art. Fair? No, not in my opinion. Who gives a rat’s
patootie? Only those of us turned down, I’m guessing. As the old
saying goes, ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chance. It can be
frustrating, and sometimes we are misled into spending our jury fees
in the wrong places, but the good news is there’s generally a venue
for pretty much whatever you’ve got. Some are just a lot easier to
find or identify than others.

Whew! Thanks for reading this far!

There are some remarkable creations in this book, many of them Eye
Candy, but not wearable at all. What is the criteria for calling it
"Jewelry?" Am I naive in believing it is created to be worn? 

Hi Terrie,

I believe what you are observing is the difference between the
academic jewelry world and “real world” jewelry. I had to come to
grips with this experience when attending the SNAG conference in
Richmond a few years ago. It is true that some of this work is never
intended to be worn, but is made for show. It harkens back to recent
threads about designers versus makers. Some pieces are just made as a
design statement… for a world of which I have little understanding,
and I hate to say, even less use.

If I had a couple of high-falutin’ degrees in art and a cushy job
teaching at a university, I could probably find the freedom of
creativity to create something just for the intellectual stimulation
and conversation value. The reality of my situation is that I can’t
really conceive of designing and making something that can’t be sold
and can’t be worn. I guess that’s why I don’t hold my breath for art
museums to come knocking on my door to add one of my pieces to their

A perfect example, in my mind, is Bob Ebendorf’s Squirrel Paw
necklace. Just like it sounds, it is essentially a chain with a
series of genuine squirrel paws hanging from it! Without even
addressing the squirrels destined to spend the rest of their lives in
little wheelchairs, who would wear or buy something like that? The
answer is nobody… that’s why I’ve seen it on display in two
different museums at different times.

During the previously mentioned SNAG conference, there was a fashion
show of jewelry created for a contest by students. Some of the work
was amazing in concept, but completely impractical and virtually

Two worlds… one of contests, shows and academia, and one of
function, practicality and sales (hopefully). One of the things that
has always turned me on about making wearable art is that my
customers will develop a long and intimate relationship with my
creations. A piece of jewelry in a case in a museum does not meet
this criteria.

I hope this doesn’t come off as being bitter… and I do recognize
there are many artists in academia who are doing phenomenal and
practical work that I admire. This is just a brain-dump of how I came
to grips with this apparent conflict of purpose in the world of
jewelry. And by the way, I encourage everyone to attend a SNAG
conference. It will do amazing things to inspire and broaden your
frame of reference.

All the best,

Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio
Charlotte, NC (USA)

Dave, Funny thing, I had not had the time yet to look at Metalsmith.
That does not happen to be the publication(s) to which I was

I find the comments so far rather interesting. I have no problem at
all with the avant garde, I just feel there should be a separate
category to be fair to all.

Academic or seat of the pants is not really the issue. I believe the
criteria needs to be quite clear before submissions are made. There
is room for both, but give all a chance.


Functional Art vs Non-functional Art:

This is a debate that has been going on for probably thousands of

years. I am a traditionally trained goldsmith, and I make my living
creating work designed to be worn, for the most part, on a daily
basis by those who purchase and/or commission these works. Just
because they’re wearable doesn’t mean that they aren’t “artistic”. I
don’t follow fashion, but follow my own Muse. Luckily, enough people
enjoy the direction I have chosen and are willing to support my
journey by purchasing my work.

I also create work that is solely intended for exhibition. My

personal artistic criteria still demands that the work be wearable,
but it may not be practical to wear on a daily basis. It makes me
stretch intellectually and technically. It also brings me recognition
as an Artist/Metalsmith. And, I really enjoy making these pieces.
Sometimes they sell. Sometimes they just hang around for years. I
don’t care.

I also create another body of work, that is not even meant for

exhibition. It is only for me. For the Pure Joy of creation. To
challenge my own rigid beliefs and knock down those barriers. To
experiment, and sometimes fail boldly. To speak to the Mystery.

Sadly, too many of us choose to live only in one camp, and reject

the others. I used to be one of those people, but I escaped. I wonder
now how I could have possibly survived with the old constraints that
I placed on my work. The truth is, the work that some would call
"impractical" somehow finds a way into the work that I do for my
clients, and that gives me an edge over my competition. It is also
the reason I still love this craft after 30 years of long hours at
the bench.

One of the best ways to expand your work is to find a "theme" and

create a piece of work that addresses that. We have a show in my
gallery called “The Art of the Martini.” Every year, I invite
jewelers and metalsmiths to create martini related work: martini
glasses, olive picks, etc. Some of these have really pushed the
limits of the theme, but they are always inspiring. Making ART just
for the pure joy of it! What a concept! Perhaps we could have a
similar “Virtual Exhibition” on Orchid. Pick a theme: “Erotic
Jewelry”, “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “Time,” “Clouds,” “Wheels,”
“Secrets,”–all of these have multiple layers of interpretation.

I hope I haven't suggested something that would pile a mountain of

work on poor Hanuman. I would be happy to host an exhibition in my
gallery, and I’m sure other galleries would host it as well. The
"Traveling Orchid Show." Anyone interested?


Douglas Zaruba
35 N. Market St.
Frederick, MD 21701
301 695-1107

The "Traveling Orchid Show." Anyone interested? 

Doug, I was in your Rockville gallery a couple of years ago and
found it to be an interesting combination of traditional and
artistic work; it was the artistic work that drew me inside to look
at the rest. I’d be interested in your “Traveling Orchid Show” idea.

Donna in VA

I don’t read Metalsmith, because, well, it depresses me. But with
all the comments about Exhibition in Print, I had to take a look. I
looked at a copy at the bookstore in the coffee shop and, what a
great laugh I had.

So thanks, Orchid, for the laugh.

On the upside, I did like the Bruce Metcalf necklace and thought it
was the first decent thing I’ve see from him in years.

I also like that this issue had a lot of new people, that was
refreshing, to not just see the same people over and over.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Studio 925; established 1992

Hi, Doug and All, I enjoyed your post and find your description of
the benefits of going out on a limb useful and refreshing. I also
love the idea of a virtual or real themed Orchid exhibit. I do some
of my best work when I make up my mind to do a piece for a theme
show, such as Velvet Da Vinci’s “Anti-War Medals” (still on tour
almost a year later! If you haven’t seen it, go to and check it out).

My local metals guild has a meeting every few months with a theme,
and people do a piece for the get-together. It doesn’t have to be
jewelry in that case, or even metal-- a great opportunity to
experiment with other materials and styles.

Anyway, if there’s something I can do (after the beginning of
November) to further the idea, I’m ready to volunteer.