As it seems we’ve beaten to death the topic of backing materials in
bezel settings, I thought it might be fun to open a new can of
The question is, when does a personal ornament transition into
something that can be called jewelry?
Having grown up during the mid-century crafts explosion (60s-70s) I
dabbled in quite a number of crafts in my youth, before realizing
that my abiding passion was for jewelry. I learned to throw on the
wheel, did a fair amount of leather work, apprenticed one Summer to a
high end cabinet maker, made a bunch of macrame tchotchkes, etc. And
any number of these crafts could be put into the service of personal
ornament. But I’d hesitate to call a macrame necklace a piece of
Traditionally jewelry needed to be made of precious materials, and
in the commercial trade this remains true. That’s why there’s a
distinction between fine and costume jewelry. (Let’s not start that
"what is fine jewelry" discussion all over again but posit that to be
fine jewelry it needs to at least be of precious material, and other
metal ornament can fall into the category of costume jewelry)
But take as an example an articulated necklace made of intricately
carved and joined wood, it is certainly ornament, but ought one to
call it jewelry? Or a one of a kind or an art piece made of copper,
it certainly is not costume jewelry. Or a necklace of polymer clay;
ornament certainly, but ought one to call it jewelry?
In this the French have us at a disadvantage, as they have two words
for what in English we have only one. Joaillerie is always of
precious materials. Bijouterie may be precious either because of its
materials or its construction. But what are we Anglophones to do?
Let the debate begin.
ps. I have nothing against ornament, some are extraordinary. It’s
also a great magazine.