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Detecting quality


Although I cannot call myself a jeweler, only a dabbler, I have to
echo Marks sentiments. I think there is already a huge movement
towards a rebirth of Arts & Crafts, and the number of dollars spent
in that market prove it. There is a resurgence of interest in
quilting, hand bookbinding, jewelry making, handmade papers,
beadwork, and many many other crafts. Unlike some, I don’t find the
word “craft” or “crafter” to be a perjorative. I think of it in
terms of it’s meaning as a verb - “to craft” something.

As Mark pointed out, educating people to perceive the difference
between quality, and garbage is the key. This should begin with
teaching our children what to look for, in all kinds of objects,
that imbues them with “quality.” I am no expert on this subject,
but was raised to critically examine things to decide whether they
were junk or not. Examples (no matter what the art/craft is):

  • Is it handcrafted?

  • Is it handcrafted and a one-off design?

  • Is it well-crafted (able to last for hundreds of years as well as
    visually appealing)

  • Is it made with inherently “high quality” materials - materials
    that will stand the test of time (ebony, ivory, precious
    metals, silks, 100% rag paper, leather, etc)

  • Does it excel in both function and form?

  • Are there many many many others just like it in the world, or is
    it one of only a few?

  • Could almost anyone reproduce it, or did it take skill, knowledge
    and experience and an artist’s eye to produce?

These are just some of the criteria that come to mind, and I am sure
there are many more. What I hope is that my son will be able to
tell the difference “instinctively” someday. I believe he is on the
right track, since we often argue over who gets to keep cool found

-LiAnne Gabe


LiAnne, I agree with most of what you write about crafts, but I see
something ideological in it. If you order sheet, use your saw, a
mandrel and a torch, you can produce a piece that is handcrafted. If
you order casting grain, and you carve your piece in wax and cast it,
you cannot call it handcrafted (it’s handwrought). This doesn’t make
sense to me, esp. not if implicitly more value is given to something
which has been handcrafted. The caster didn’t make the grain and you
didn’t make the sheet and for the grain as well as for the sheet
machines were used. If it doesn’t make sense, might the label
handcrafted be used by some to emphasize qualities which are not
there? Or do I see it wrong? Best, Will


In the US the FTC has some comments on the use of the terms hand
made or hand wrought (it does not draw a distinction between the

So if you even solder on a cast or die struck setting the product
cannot be called hand made or hand wrought. it must be made from
bulk sheet or wire. So in the US any cast product cannot be called
hand made or hand wrought.



Tangential thought…I like the phrase I overheard from a
knifesmith, “sole authorship.”

So if you carved the part and cast it yourself and then soldered it
to a ‘hand made’ piece (by FTC guidelines,) you could claim sole
authorship for the whole and that’s really the point, eh?

Say, does August 22nd mean anything to you?

Gary Dawson

The caster didn't make the grain and you didn't make the sheet and
for the grain as well as for the sheet machines were used. If it
doesn't make sense, might the label handcrafted be used by some to
emphasize qualities which are not there? 

But, the caster can make thousands of the same thing, yet, if you
"handcraft" an item, you may only be able to reproduce a similar
look. Perhaps, that’s the difference?

So if you even solder on a cast or die struck setting the product
cannot be called hand made or hand wrought. it must be made from
bulk sheet or wire. So in the US any cast product cannot be called
hand made or hand wrought. 

Hi Jim, I didn’t know this, thank you - actually, I got my
from a catalog from Hausner and Miller. For the rest, I
think that my point is valid: it takes as much hand work to make a
cast ring (and, I guess, often much more) than it takes to make a
hand made ring, and therefore I consider this dichotomy to be unsound. Best, Will

But, the caster can make thousands of the same thing, yet, if you
"handcraft" an item, you may only be able to reproduce a similar
look. Perhaps, that's the difference?" 

S/he can, but s/he’s not obliged to. It’s very well possible to cast
a unique piece. The only thing I wanted to say is that some people
tend to value handcrafted pieces more than pieces which are not
handcrafted, to the delight of people who make handcrafted pieces and
who promote them as more authentic, more craftslike etc. than
non-handcrafted pieces. I would not object to this if I didn’t find
it somehow hypocritical Because, regardless of the law in the US, in
reality a cast piece takes as much (or often more) handwork than a
handcrafted piece (reason why it is also often more sophisticated).
Besides, if you handcraft a ring with a round bezel, and after that
you handcraft exactly the same ring - which can’t be too difficult if
you are using the same sheet - but this time with an oval bezel, did
you really handcraft two different pieces (much more creatively
authentic than to make a mold of a piece you really like?) or are you
perhaps just betting on the ignorance of the public? Just my two Eurocents.
Best, Will

    So if you carved the part and cast it yourself and then
soldered it to a 'hand made' piece (by FTC guidelines,) you could
claim sole authorship for the whole and that's really the point,

I like the concept of “sole authorship” it is a good one. This is
what many of us are trying to say when we say hand made. But there
is also an implication of the skill of the maker when we say hand
made or hand wrought and a casting by its very nature does not fit
into this idea in that it is by definition a reproduction of the
master model. The hand made part of the casting process is the
carving of the original model not the final piece. Now before I get
jumped on by the casters I know there is a great amount of skill
necessary to master the process of casting, I used to be a
production caster. But if the process of casting is followed step by
step you will get a good casting. A machine can be made that will
produce as good or better casting than a human can. In this way
casting is a predetermined process if you do all the steps properly
then you will get a good result that is indistinguishable from the
previous one. So there is a fairly high degree of certainty of
outcome in the process. The crafts person who makes handmade objects
works more with the element of risk. Every time they put tool to
material the results are determined by the skills, experience and
attention to detail that person brings to the work. The result is
determined more by the combination of human factors than correctly
following of steps in a procedure.

There is a great book on this subject titled “The Nature and Art of
Workmanship” by David Pye. It is a very good and thought provoking
essay. I highly recommend that anyone who is involved in any part of
the crafts field read it.

    Say, does August 22nd mean anything to you? 
I am making an assumption here (which is often dangerous:-))  that

this is addressed to me . In which case yes Aug 22 is my wedding
anniversary. Is this what you are referring to? If so how do I know


    Hi Jim, I didn't know this, thank you - actually, I got my
from a catalog from Hausner and Miller. For the rest,
I think that my point is valid: it takes as much hand work to make
a cast ring (and, I guess, often much more) than it takes to make a
hand made ring, and therefore I consider this dichotomy to be

Well I have to disagree with you here but these comparisons always
need to be placed in context. There are obviously significant
differences between a single craftsperson who carves, casts and
finishes their own original pieces and say a company like Stuller
who casts thousands of identical pieces every day. If you are
referring to a simple band ring then yes the cast piece probably
needs more finishing work and is much more effort to do by casting
than by simply soldering a ring up from sheet or wire and finishing
it. But if it is easier to do as a fabrication why cast it? Even
if you cast directly from the master model and take no mold of the
wax a casting is still a reproduction of an original model. And with
casting once you make the original model it is just as easy to make
a thousand of the cast rings as one, and given the same processing
they will all be the same. The hand made item was the wax carving
not the finished metal piece. It is not the amount of hand work
required it is the skill, experience and attention to detail
required of those hands that separates the hand made object from
production work.

With all of that said please do not get me wrong I am not trying to
say that the work of someone who casts inferior to some one who
fabricates. I think whether an item can be called hand made is not
really relevant. I think what is relevant is how we feel about our
work. What matters is that it is made with as much skill and
attention to detail as we can bring to that piece at that time. I
think most people who subscribe to this list are concerned about the
quality and design of their work and strive to improve that quality
and design. I think these discussions on whether something is hand
made are interesting intellectual exercises and are somewhat akin to
the “is jewelry making an art or a craft?” discussions that
occasionally crop up, they are good topics for thought and
discussion but should not be used to judge our work. The work speaks
for itself.



I guess I think the FTC line is drawn in the wrong place. Most of
my production pieces are cast by an outside contractor, but, they are
all my own designs. I created the originals in either wax or metal,
then had them make molds and produce from there. When I receive the
raw castings, I still hand finish with grinding, sanding and
polishing. Any further assembly work is done by me as well. I do
use mass produced findings for some things like pin backs, jump
rings, etc. I do draw a distinction in our field between
artists/craftspeople and parts assemblers, just as I draw the
distinction between mechanics and parts assemblers in the automotive
field. Could I do my own casting? Certainly, if I was willing to
invest the time to learn it properly and the cash to buy the
equipment. And, have a place where I would be welcome to use that
equipment (something I don’t have right now). My preference, though,
is to spend my time, money and energy creating new items and properly
completing the production ones, and leave the technical aspects of
casting to those who do nothing else. I simply don’t have the time
to do it all and still make a living at it, and still have a life.
Does that make my work any less ‘handmade’? I don’t think so, but
apparently the FTC does. My pet peeve for the day, I guess. Jim in NC,
where the sun is finally out.


All, Definitions are a pain in the backside. The government has to
define every thing from the shape of pickles to the parts in a
nuclear power plant. It seems to me, according to the FTC’ s
definition of hand made, a piece of jewelry or any other object
created by hand but using a purchased finding cannot be called hand
made. The finding is not created by hand. The piece does not meet
section (a) of the FTC’s which states: "…unless the ENTIRE
shaping and forming of such product from raw materials and it
finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand labor…"It does
not meet the definition of a raw material. Based on this definition
how many of us create a hand made item. I bet there are many out
there who call their art creation hand made even though they use a
purchased of cast finding.

I am sure the general public does not read the FTC rules and even if
they would disagree with a person calling their hand created item
hand made. Their definition of hand made is probably the same as
most of ours.

Does anyone think we are lying to the customer if we call our work
hand made?

I agree with Rex from Australia, who makes a good point about the
casting process being hand made from start to finish. Oh well back to
creating our art work if not by hand by what? Lee Epperson

Does anyone think we are lying to the customer if we call our work
hand made? 

Of course if you say “handmade” and didn’t make the finding or other
part you are not telling whole of truth! Not only did not you make
the finding but finding was not handmade probably.

Nic B.


There are quite a number of responses expressing disagreement with
the FTC description and use of the terms hand made and hand wrought.

I don’t believe it was intended in a dismissive way by the FTC, to
demean items which might involve casting or other procedures. It is
simply an issue of accuracy in labeling the technique involved in
producing a given work.

Think about the difference between wrought iron and cast iron and it
is easy to see the point. Cast iron is not a hand made object in the
same sense as an item created in iron that was worked by hand.
Calling something that was cast a hand made item isn’t descriptively
accurate, because it wasn’t hand made in metal. It was made in wax
(or some other material) and cast in metal.

Michael David Sturlin, jewelry artist

Scottsdale, AZ USA


Jim, Not that I disagree entirely, (or even much at all, really) but
I’d love to debate some of your points over your favorite libation.

A machine can be made that will produce as good or better casting
than a human can.

I think that a machine can be made to fabricate as good or better
than a human as well. Chain making machines for example, or a good
die-strike set-up…(but where is any artistry in that??)

Also, I think that formula fabrication is done all the time (your
reference to casting being a formula or process)…and there are so
many variables in the casting process that skill and intuition play
an important part of that process too.

But I think I see what you’re getting at and I’ve always told my
students that my feeling is that fabrication is the heart and sole of
jewelry making. Something that you didn’t mention but is an argument
for your point is that without at least some idea of the fabrication
process, a caster is just an extension of the machine. (Now I’ll get
jumped on by casters, )

I’ll stick with the “sole authorship” concept and go with something
being hand made if the finished product was taken through all of
its stages by one craftsman/artist despite FTC guidelines.

And yes, I knew that Aug. 22 was your anniversary because it’s mine
as well. One time some years back I was calling you to consult about
something, I don’t remember what it was now, and I ended up in a
great conversation with your wife in which I discovered that we two
couples had the same anniversary. Did you two get married on a beach
as we did?? I think I remember that being part of the conversation
as well.

Anyway, I’m looking very much forward to meeting you in person at
this year’s KRAFTWERKS. I’ll be there wearing a bunch of cameras and
trying to look as if I know what I’m doing. G

— Gary Dawson
—Goldworks Jewelry Art Studio
—Quality & Integrity…Always
— goldworksart@earthlink.n

Calling something that was cast a hand made item isn't
descriptively accurate, because it wasn't hand made in metal. It
was made in wax (or some other material) and cast in metal. 

So all the famous bronze sculptures in museums are not handmade?
They were made in clay or wax first, and then cast. Same idea. Yet
they are certainly considered to be “by” the artist! The famous
marble statues also - it wasn’t until fairly late on in the game, I’m
thinking the late 1800’s or early 1900’s (having just finished
teaching this to high schoolers I SHOULD remember exact date and
sculptor’s name, but the brain is currently fried by end- of -year
exhaustion - sorry!) that sculptors actually put a tool in their own
hand and touched it to marble. Prior to that the sculptor did the
drawing, and specialized workmen did the carving under the sculptors
supervision - which might be very intensive, or almost non-existent

  • depending on the scupltor. When you go to museums though, you only
    see the artist’s name, not the workmen who actually carved the piece!

I think the issue, again, is letting the consumer know what is going
on. I also think in the jewelry field that much of the issue is the
large quantity of cheap jewelry that is mass produced in third world
countries, and makes its way here. The last festival I did had a
large number of jewelry stalls. I was the ONLY one with anything
that I would call “handmade by the artist” jewelry - the rest was
mass-produced stuff. The same thing was at booth after booth. And
at Wal-Mart . The customers knew the difference, and the ones who
cared bought from me, the ones who didn’t bought the mass stuff.

Beth in SC


Hi Michael, Good to meet you in SF. I am interested more in the
connotative meaning of the phrase “Hand made”, that is, what it means
in the market place, or among peers, rather than the strict FTC
denotative definition. There are many variations on the phrase such
as hand wrought, hand assembled (assembled by hand), hand forged,
hand fabricated and hand made.

To my eye, “hand wrought” implies something subtly different than
hand made: a more intimate relationship with the material in which
the raw stock–an ingot or bar-- is altered intuitively w/ hammer,
anvil, heat and file. Same with “hand forged”.

“Hand fabricated” could mean the same thing, but implies to me a
process that perhaps doesn’t alter the original material as much,
material which itself begins in a more processed and refined state–
sheet or wire. The process is somewhat removed, intimacy wise. When
a piece is described by a smith, jeweler or metal artist on a slide
or slide sheet, the terms “fabricated” and “forged” often both appear
as descriptors of process, implying that they are distinct enough
processes to be listed separately.

I usually agree with Jim, and if I were pressed to the wall and had
to come up with a very strict, non inflective, denotative definition
I would probably be forced to concur on the casting issue. But,
again, that’s not what I’m interested in. As I wrote before, I
plainly see instances where casting is a mere step in the process of
handmade manufacture. Especially when the casting is then worked
further in some way-- fabricated on, forged, etc. Really, all the
sheet and wire that we fabricate our handmade objects from begin as
castings in the sense that an ingot is really a cast object. (With
the exception of large silver sheet and 20 ga. 14k earwire, I
fabricate everything from "cast’ ingots rolled and drawn.)

I can be very comfortable with calling a cast ring a handmade
object, as long as the casting was cleaned up, set and somehow worked
by hand. In the case of a production line of, say, 100 items which
are cast, machine tumbled and then set by hand, I wouldn’t be as
comfortable calling these hand made-- and would probably bristle at a
counter person calling them such. I believe that the term hand made
also implies an “edge” to a piece that a machine generated item just
doesn’t have. Just look at two Celtic Knot rings, one hand carved by
a master wax carver, cast and finished by a quality smith and the
same ring carved via CAD/CAM,cast and then polished (by hand on a
machine). The hand carved ring even if it is perfect in every way
will usually have a quality, some inherent assymetry or the
slightest of imperfections that lends some distinctive edge or soul
that the CAD/CAM ring will never have. Even in a production line of
100 items, whether they be fabricated or cast and hand finished,
there is a degree of variability in form, line quality, edge, etc.
The degree to which the hand is involved directly affects this

Perhaps this is it then… The degree to which the hand is involved
with the piece. Was the casting (model) carved or built by hand?
How much is the casting worked after it is cast?

Sorry for the ramble, not enough coffee.


So all the famous bronze sculptures in museums are not handmade? 

Following what James has written, strictly from a technical overview
of casting as it is applied to a bronze sculptuRe:

Let us suppose an artist creates a sculpture in wax, or plastic,
which can be burned out in the casting process without requiring a
mold to be made. The artist takes the sculpture to a foundry to have
the piece made into bronze. Just like all forms of casting the
process requires surrounding the original wax sculpture with a
refractory material and burning away the original figure so that a
void remains which can then be filled with molten metal, in this
case bronze. The resulting bronze sculpture, although it was produced
from a hand made wax, is now a cast element. There is no question
that it is a reproduction of the original sculpture as the original
model has been lost during the casting process (hence the description
of this process as “lost wax casting”). The actual original wax
sculpture was burned away and vaporized in the kiln and subsequently
replaced by molten metal which solidified. The final bronze
sculpture, a one of a kind in this scenario, is still a replica,
albeit an exact replica, of the original sculpture. It can not be
considered hand made because the resulting form was achieved by
casting in metal, as the final process, not by sculpting in wax, as
the original process.

Michael David Sturlin, jewelry artist

480.941.4105 Scottsdale, AZ USA


Hello Andy, I also enjoyed meeting you in SF and I am glad I was
able to see your presentation at the SNAG conference.

I think you have made a very valid point about the definitions of
wrought, fabricated, forged, assembled, and so forth. I am in
resonance with your description of the processes, as the work I
produce in the studio also begins as a cast ingot which is
subsequently rolled, drawn, forged, and fabricated into the final
form of the finished item.

I think a lot of the discussion herein has been the opposition to
the exclusion of something which is cast, as being a handmade object.
If one follows your example, which I think is reasonable, that a cast
piece undergoing some further hand working to render it into the
final object, is hand making in the same definition as rolling or
forging a cast ingot into a subsequent finished form which is
different than the beginning shape.

A lot of people are on the touchy side of things when it comes to
definitions and categorizing, although I perceived this to be a
discussion of applied techniques and not an endorsement or critique
of what particular process a person chooses to use in their work, or
the validity of their artistic statement due to the technique they

I enjoyed seeing your display at De Novo gallery in Palo Alto, very
imaginative work and wonderfully executed. I look forward to catching
up with you again someday.

Michael David Sturlin, jewelry artist

480.941.4105 Scottsdale, AZ USA


There really is never a need to attach the label “handmade”, to an
object. If the piece is skeptical in terms of handmade nature the
buyer looking for that quality will want to be informed because that
is one of the highest selling points. The potential customer is then
informed about how any part of the item was made and produced, etc.
That is what the salespeople are for, to relate the history and
magic behind the piece. And if a high percentage of the work that was
done on it, was done by hand, the customer will make the decision
whether it is handcrafted in accordance with the money that will be
shelled out. If you use stock pinbacks, posts, clasps, hinges,etc.,
it will be evident, but you make mention of it in the sales pitch. If
an artist doesn’t tell you that their jumprings and splitrings are
totally ingot formed, rolled, and drawn, then they aren’t. There is
no instance where a buyer would turn down a beautifully done piece
that was cast from a wax, or care in the least, yes they might want
the model not to be molded and recast (one of a kind). You can run
production(multiple pieces), by engraving and hammering just as
effectively as casting. You tell the truth and the buyer makes the
decision. dp


Michael, so we seem to have established that all these famous bronze
(and other) sculptures in museums are not hand made …

In my opinion, this makes no sense whatsoever. Your argument is:
these objects have been casted, by consequence they are not hand
made. I think that we did invalidate this argument. To be just a bit
precise: the result of a casting is not a reproduction nor a replica
and the wax (or the plastic model or whatever) is not the original.
The reason for this is that casting does not duplicate anything. A
casting machine differs from a photocopy machine. If you take a
photocopy of a sheet of paper, the result will be another sheet of
paper, indeed, a copy of the original sheet. If well done, it will be
hard to tell which one was the original. Casting, on the other hand
is a technique which enables you to make an object in a certain
material and to finalize it in an altogether other material. The wax
model is not an original in the sense that your sheet of paper is an
original, because without the possibility of casting the model, it
would be utterly worthless, indeed, no one would ever make such a
model. Casting, is a trick, and an extremely intelligent trick: you
will begin to make your model in a material which can be much more
easily worked upon than the material in which it will be finally
realized. It enables you to do things which would be impossible to
accomplish in the material in which the piece will be realized. Yes,
the final piece is a reproduction of the wax model, but only if we
add that the model becomes completely transformed during this
’reproduction’: wax into metal. One ‘reproduces’ the form of the
model, but transforms the medium by doing so. Let’s not call this a
reproduction and let’s not use it as an argument to say that casted
pieces are not hand made.

We’re leaving for Europe soon, and I’m sure that my wife would slap
me if I would say "Yeah, great, but, you know, this piece isn’t hand
made’. The piece would not be hand made if the wax model would not
have been hand made or if the casting would not have been manually
controlled. If the wax (or plaster or whatever) model is hand made
and the casting is manually controlled, then we have an example of
something hand made per excellence. Best, Will