The sign of a mature jeweler / designer

I would like to open the floor to a discussion:

My instructor made a passing comment yesterday: “there are those
who say that a jeweler/designer who offers an ecclectic assortment
of styles is immature. The sign of a mature jeweler/designer is
that the designs are not ecclectic, but focused to one type of style
or another”. She then added that she felt this was more a
reflection of appraisers who find it very hard to peg a designer’s
work when the designer’s work is varied in nature… but… if you
look at some of the major commercially successful
designers/jewelers, their pieces are all incredibly similar in
style. I had noticed this and mentally written that fact off as
their decision to “specialize” in a style which gained recognition
and/or buyers - - but now, hearing this statement from my
instructor, I am not so sure.

(I am not including repairing assorted styles - - this is simply
focused on a jeweler’s design style.)

Thoughts from this wonderful group of designers/jewelers?


Strange, I was having a conversation on a similar topic just a
month ago. I was walking through an Art Fair with a friend of mine.
She commented that none of the jewelers had much, if any, variety in
their work. Everything on display at a booth was basically the same
style. I thought perhaps it was a matter of what was juried for that
show or what was selling right now. After all if you have something
that is hot why would you waste valuable display area on stale or
unproven designs. I am an armature. Although I do sell my work,
jewelry is not primary source of income. I think in many ways this
gives me the freedom to make whatever I want. That is one of the
things that attracted me to the craft. I cannot see myself becoming
so entrenched in particular style that it is the only thing I make.
That just seems so boring. I do, however, go through stages where I
do make many pieces with a particular technique while I am trying to
perfect it. I try to learn different and incorporate new things all
the time. Some time this works and I end up with an incredible
piece, other times I chalk it up to experience. Many of the
professionals simply don’t have time to “play”. My opinion has been
that lack of variety in a jeweler’s work was more a product of the
success of a design/style. It takes time to change setups to do
different styles and time is money. I would be very interested to
hear other opinions on this topic.

Shane Morris

 The sign of a mature jeweler/designer is that the designs are not
ecclectic, but focused to one type of style or another"........  

I would have to strongly disagree with this statement based on my
interpretation of “mature” and “jeweler”. I have been in this
business for 30+ years doing custom jewelry and repairs for my
clients and consider myself “mature”… as well as still
maturing. I try to keep up with the current trends in jewelry and
related techniques, therefore I feel I can offer my clients a wide
range of products based on their preferences instead of mine. I
would think that any jeweler who does only one type of jewelry is
limited in his/her abilities. My stone setting abilities include
channel, pave, bright cut as well as prong setting. How “mature”
would I appear to my clients if I limited myself, and by default
their choices, to only channel set designs? And, the method of
setting a stone(s) is just one example of one’s versatility
(maturity). What about the item design itself? Modern vs. antique.
Freeform (yuk) vs. planned. Cocktail/occasional vs.
engagement/wedding. Plain gold vs. stone. Rings vs. pendants.
Pendants vs. slides. ETC. I try to offer it all to my customers.
That opens up another discussion, which I am sure has been covered
here ad nauseum, and apologize for readdressing: a true jeweler vs.
a “designer”. I consider myself a true (mature) jeweler who can
also design, and therefore execute my design to a finished product
instead of merely “thinking something up” and relying on someone
else to do the actual work. In fact, as I continue pondering this
statement, which I consider narrow minded, I am becoming more
offended, so I will quit now before I say anything else that may get
me bounced.

Hi CteDesigns, Very interesting topic, my assistant and I had a long
discussion just Friday regarding this very thing. I have done
exclusively custom fine jewelry for the last 20 years and three
years ago my assistant started working with me full time and I
started to wholesale. I found that the approach that has built a
deep custom clientele will not work with the retail store buyer. I
have always made an attempt to reinvent myself every season so my
clients will continue to collect my work and be inspired to contract
me to make custom jewelry. I have spent my whole career doing
’one-of -a kinds’ and a few limited edition things. OK, maybe my
propensity to ADHD has kept me from being able to do the same design
more than a few times, but I’ve also had so so many ideas that I
never have needed to linger on one long. Its been a wonderful,
artistically fulfilling job. The negative aspects are that every
new design brings new technical problems to figure out so sometimes
the design is retired before it is made the best, fastest, most
technically sound way. BUT- I can credit many of my skills to years
of this process.

From our limited wholesale experience, I believe the retail buyer
for the gallery or store needs to see a tight collection so they
know they can depend on deliverability. Some are buying for more
than one store location and they want to know that if they find a
future bestseller that they can get it again.

I dont know if I’m mature yet - but I can do the same thing more
than twice now. We have two very repeatable lines now and I’m
taking alot of pleasure out of making production efficient and
finding that when things run smooth every time dependably, that I
have far more creative time than before!

t.lee spending all that extra time on new website with new Woven
Collection to debut Dec.01’

Maybe this is the difference between jewelry designers and artists.
I am in conflict between these worlds and recently came up with a way
to satisfy the need to constantly try new things and make money.
Concentrating the production to a few styles which are proven to sell
seems to help. But, the artist says grow or die, follow your heart as
long as your money holds out. Sam Patania, Tucson

It may make for a better display, but it is certainly boring to do!
I refer you to Harold O’Connor’s work- he does all KINDS of things-
many of them very different from one another. As for the instructor-
how much of their work has he/she sold? Just curious :slight_smile:

Wow, I think I’ll respectfully disagree. I look back at my
beginning pieces and think they were more focused as to style, then
what I do now, 30 years later. My thought as to why, is related to
the widened experience that comes only with practice, time, travel,
learning, and discussion. Judy in Kansas

I find this theory quite pervasive in the traditional art gallery
circuit as well. A lot of my larger works that are shown in
galleries have also run into this archaic mindset. My “style” is
often carried over into my new experiments. However, when in
jewelry, I went from gold, platinum, and standard faceted and cabbed
stones to – less common stones and then used mokume gane materials
and titanium, more than one gallery owner gave my works the Labrador
retriever, dog head tilted to one side look. It is a long standing
measurement tool used in the art community. Experimenting should not
= immaturity. Although it is just another part of some of the game
you will have to contend with until you are recognized well enough
to do whatever you want and they will still call it art. This is all
within the “art community” only, jewelry or otherwise. Then there is
your own satisfaction with what you do. One may bring you money and
fame. The other can bring you happiness. If you’re lucky you’ll get

I’m immature myself and know it! At least as a jeweler…

I’ve had instructors whose work was both ways. Some are eclectic;
others specialize. I tend to learn more from the eclectic ones, and
come away with classwork and ideas that are more in keeping with
whatever my own styles are; the classwork done in the specialists’
classes always resembles their work a lot, and I often have to wait
a year or more to finish up projects so they’re really mine.

I certainly wouldn’t call more experimental jewelers immature; hard
to appraise, maybe, but for me maturity lies more in elegant design
and skillful execution. I think “specialist” is less value-driven
then “mature”!

-Amanda Fisher

My career has moved from “art” jeweler, to designer, from
wholesale/manufacturer to retailer. As an Artist, I need to
constantly experiment and will explore every idea I can in metal. As
a designer, who needs to establish a “look” for both galleries and
stores, this approach won’t work well. Both stores and clientele
want to see a recognizable style that makes the designer’s work
easily recognizable. David Yurman or Michael Good are both excellent
examples. Take an idea, or theme, and explore it until you exhaust
it. It can be just as creative to work within limitations as it is
to work without any. For years, I tried to resist this and always
introduced new ideas in my work. Not just new ideas, but often a
whole new look. It was difficult to market. Buyers are just not
comfortable with someone who is always changing.

As a retail designer/goldsmith, everything changed. Clients want to
see a wide range of possibilities in my work. It is almost as if
there were several designers working in my store instead of just
one. I am free to explore several different techniques and styles
simultaneously. I accept commissions for custom work that are not
part of my “normal” style, and it is quite a challenge to make some
of these projects into a piece of jewelry that I am happy with. I
know that a lot of you who have retail stores know what I’m talking

I can understand why your instructor equates maturity with a focused
style. It’s what you’re taught in art school, whether as a jewelry
designer, a painter, or a musician. It’s what you need to do to
establish your career when you are selling both your work and your
"style." The other approach will lead to technical virtuosity, which
is also the sign of a mature artist. It’s just not as widely
recognized or appreciated.

You can do both. As a retail designer, I design and produce work for
my clientele. I am also designing a tight, focused design collection
for wholesale. It is easy to manufacture, doesn’t require a vast
inventory of materials, but is creatively satisfying. I am also
working on a series of sculptures, again along a focused theme, that
I do only for my own enjoyment. I am not offering them for sale,
although I do exhibit them in museums shows. Since I don’t have to
worry about marketability, I can be creatively unrestrained.

My advise is to find the approach that makes you happy and follow

Just my two cents…
Doug Zaruba

As for the instructor-  how much of their work has he/she sold? 

I find this question to be the most pertinent of all. It can also
apply to any who question the value of a piece in terms of consistent
style or whatever.

Another brief thought, though: while i have a limited repertoire
(wire and chain jewellery–no soldering), and although i make
jewellery as a hobby, every so often i hear things like “hey that’s
the sort of thing that so-and-so would do…” the new and
experimental are always enjoyed, even in production lines, especially
when there is an artist’s personal touch, which could be anything
from the details of a paisley-shaped leaf to a favourite selection of
stones set in particular ways.

the idea of analysts categorizing can sometimes be as irking as a
literary critic classifying your favourite science fiction novel as a
fantasy novel, eh?

have a beautiful day! erhard.

First, thank you one and all for answering.

I am sure you heard my huge sigh of relief as I read the responses.
I had always felt the whole point of creativity is expansive in
nature. While we need to work within the constraints of the
“market” (I think T. Lee accurately articulated that situation in
his/her response), I think it is critical for us to acknowledge and
feed the energy which drives us to create, think outside the box and
strive for perfection by avoiding stagnancy.

By no means did my instructor agree with that theory, but my panic
at hearing the mindset caused me to turn to this wonderful group for
their input. My very first thought as I heard those words from my
instructor was “Oh My God, if that is the case, I might as well drop
this whole venue and go get a job doing data entry somewhere!”

(Note to For any multitude of reasons/excuses, my
instructor doesn’t focus on her own designs anymore. She creates
some pieces but they are far and few between. A very large part of
this decision may be that her “niche” in this small town seems to
have become providing inexpensive (i.e., import) pieces, repairs,
ordering prefabricated settings and either buying the stones for the
setting or moving stones from un-used settings to new

As a final note, to - - by no means did I intend to
offend/upset you - - nor did I mean to imply any pejorative nature
to the delineation between “designer” and “jeweler”.

Have a wonderful day, everyone - - and again, thank you!!!

CteDesigns - - I don’t need to calculate how effective my
web-site is - - heck, sometimes I send myself emails just to see if
the site is still working

The basic argument your teacher is speaking of goes like this; you
can almost always look at a painting of Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh or
Michealangelo and tell who painted it, you can look at a Tiffany
lamp and tell, by it’s style, it’s a Tiffany. All of these were
mature artists. Not all “mature” artists were/are successful in
this way it just makes it easier to get into a museum or a craft
show. It really depends on what mature means and what your
definition of an artist is. In this respect the word mature is
rather loaded with other meaning.

Indeed, one way of establishing yourself as an artist and making
your work more marketable is to produce work that potential buyers
can recognize. It is the same reason that all every branch of
Starbucks, Walmart, Tiffany, etc., all have the same “look”, the
same advertising and the same floor plan. Most jewelry collectors
are looking for consistency in an artist, many stores and galleries
are looking for an artist who fills a certain niche and many
jewelers are out there fulfilling that demand.

I take exception to the statement that making a line that is
consistent in style is boring to produce…it is actually very
difficult to discover your “style” and stick with it. It is easier
to bounce around and make whatever is on your mind at the time. It
is harder to delve into a style, discover all that it has to offer
and translate your feelings and energy into that style while keeping
it exciting. It is also extremely difficult to do this in a way
that is always fresh and desirable to potential buyers. That is why
everyone needs to really critique their work and the work of others.
It is also why there are only a few really top notch artists.

As well, there are many different definitions of creativity. One
definition of creativity is to make something, anything. Another
aspect of creativity is discovering different ways of doing that
which has already been done, either by the artist within their style
or by others trying to produce a better mousetrap. It takes
discipline, insight and demands taking a fresh approach every time
you begin to create a piece when you are working within the
parameters a particular style. The most famous artists, discovered
a technique or style that they could consistently produce. They had
the discipline to work that style and technique consistently. They
had the vision to make it fresh, approachable and meaningful to
themselves and others. Notice that some of them considered
themselves less close to artists and more like unabashed marketers
(Picasso). Some were incredibly unsuccessful in their lifetimes
(Van Gogh). Some were misunderstood (Monet didn’t create flower
paintings because it was the epitome of the Impressionist style nor
because it was the cutting edge of the new style of art, but because
it sold and he needed money now he’s famous for it). The variety of
artists and the creativity that we all bring to the field is what
makes art dynamic.

Not all jewelers have to be stuck to one style. Jewelers working in
a retail environment and those who make a living doing custom work
for many years have had to make work that is very different in
style, form and technique. Many of them are incredibly talented and
creative in order to be able to successfully make what their
customers want. We can all become successful and mature in
different ways.

OK, time to go be creative now… Larry

The average consumer of be it hamburgers or jewelry loves the
familiar and safe. Challenge them to accept new styles or
techniques, and you most likely will wind up the loser. Challenging
yourself and succeeding, that’s maturity, not just focusing on one
style or another. That’s boring and stale. Long live the eclectic and
bizarre! Yessir. Bob N. Weaver

I’m not responding to this particular post, but this thread in
general. Does mature mean old, aged, ripe, or what?

A serious question which may further this discussion is: How many
of those participating earn their living making jewelry? By that I
mean designing and producing and selling their own work. If you earn
your living this way a lot of the questions have been answered via
your experience. There are limits as to how much one can produce,
even with some assisstance. I don’t mean to “dis” anyone, by
excluding teachers, bench workers, casters, production shops, etc.;
but most people who approach me at shows want to design, make and
present their own work. It’s a small group who are able to do it.
It takes a combination of skills and talents and business sense.

My wife and I work what seems to be an eight day week just to keep
it together and we have people whose help we depend on; but the I
also cut my own stones. This is not a complaint. I have a passion
for what I do and I feel fortunate to be able to earn a living at
it. I don’t think a sane person would pursue this as a career if
he/she could do anything else. It’s a long difficult road. I would
like to add one more comment. There are alot of questions asked in
this forum by people who should take some basic classes at a
reputable school such as the Revere school or try to apprentice with
someone. Having said that I’m grateful that people like John
Burgess, Daniel Spirer, Beth Rosengard, Jim Binnion Dave Arens, and
I’ve got to stop without mentioning many others whose breath of
knowledge astonishes me, take time to share. Actually I don’t think
anyone would want to take on an apprentice who hasn’t had some basic
instruction. This work is better learned in person. I say these
things realizing that these avenues are not open to all, but that’s
the way of the world.

Hello Cte; Critics and Gallery owners have long used this criteria
for determining if an artist had “met his stride” and was worthy of
exhibiting, since they had no real understanding of what constitutes
good art. It’s a pitfall of modernism. Apparently, repetition was
convincing. On the other hand, if you look at artists with prolific
careers, like Picasso, they have had many “styles” in their lifetime
and generally didn’t repeat themselves until they were old and had
run out of ideas. . . .of course, I’m being facetious . . . Here’s a
better observance:

If you are going to present a body of work, wouldn’t it make sense
to get your viewer involved in seeing you have been developing and
enjoying a particular level of understanding of your work and your
life? If you fill a space with a couple dozen pieces, each
completely different, what are you giving your viewer? Pretty
things, and nothing personal. If you want to see how it works, look
up the work of the painter, Henri Mattisse. You will see that often
he did multiple paintings of a single subject, each one an
abstraction on the previous one, until he had distilled what he
chose to represent the essence of his subject. His is one of the
most explanatory examples of how an artist develops an idea. If you
prefer, listen to Glen Gould’s “Enigma Variations”. It’s another
example of manipulating a form. One can’t say whether an artist’s
work “should” or “shouldn’t” be anything in particular (there’s that
pitfall of modernism again), but people will get the impression that
you are a talented dilettante if you don’t convey that there is more
to what you do than immediately meets the eye. Don’t try to develop
a “style”. Better to discipline yourself to making work in series.
Styles are for art historians anyway.

David L. Huffman

"there are those who say that a jeweler/designer who offers an
eclectic assortment of styles is immature. The sign of a mature
jeweler/designer is that the designs are not eclectic, but focused
to one type of style or another". 

Personally, I feel this type of a comment is a bit out of order. My
first impression of the instructor who made the statement (taken, as
it is, out of context) is that perhaps this individual has more
experience in the classroom than they have in the actual “real world”
of creating and selling jewelry. It takes a lot more than what is
suggested here, to be able to adequately evaluate and/or categorize
any artist’s maturity.

There is also the necessity to consider and examine the particulars
of the marketplace wherein the artist’s work is to be presented and
offered for sale. A great diversity exists between the type and
variety of venues which sell “jewelry” here in North America alone.
And, although I have been a jewelry artist by profession, for nearly
30 years, I still have only a rather limited experience of the genre
and marketplace as a whole.

Over my career I have designed and created jewelry which viewed
altogether would seem extremely wide in range or style, and not
always well connected in continuity. But, it wouldn’t be fair to look
at such a body of work and judge the maturity of the artist simply by
content and the similarity of the designs. I, as many others working
in this discipline, create works in series, which are often
differentiated by the general design, theme, purpose, intended use,
materials involved, or perhaps even just applied techniques. Many of
the smaller “bodies of work” I have produced as series, were created
for a specific gallery according to preferences of their clientele,
the price range, geographic location, climate, etc., and frequently
they might have little resemblance or resonance with any other of my
series, (aside from the quality of the work, of course ;-).

If you take a closer look at many of the very prolific designers and
manufacturers in the market today, they are often exhibiting a
completely new line each year or even every season. Not always does
their work limit itself to a single “style” from year to year or
season to season.This is a long standing practice in almost every
area of retail products and can often be attributed to trends and
popularity of styles, colors, and fashions, aside from the individual
intention of the designer to be creative. Sometimes blanket
statements such as those the instructor made in this example need to
be further elaborated upon and well defined, if they are intended to
be of any qualifying or authoritative usefulness.

Look at the work of Freidrich Becker, Hermann Junger, or Fritz
Maierhofer. There is great diversity of style and design in each of
their work, but with each of them one can perceive the same hand and
mind of the artist evident throughout all of their jewelry. That is,
I suggest, what represents true artistic maturity.

My unsolicited advice is to enjoy your creativity and flourish,
don’t worry too much about whether others perceive you as a mature
artist or not. After all, who better than you, will recognize this?

Michael David Sturlin, jewelry artist @Michael_David_Sturli

Michael Sturlin Studio, Scottsdale Arizona USA

I think this idea has more to do with “Branding” (read marketing)
than any sign of maturity. The logic is if you develop a consistent
style it is easier to market it to the masses and eventually the
masses will associate that style with your name. Folks like David
Yurman come to mind.

James Binnion Metal Arts
Phone (510) 533-5108
Toll Free (877) 408 7287
Fax (510) 533-5439

Member of the Better Business Bureau

I waited to respond to this post because I wanted to see what others
thought first. I actually think that you have to look at this from
two different perspectives. If you are a wholesaler it would
probably help you immensely to have a consistent, similar body of
work. If you are a retailer it might be nice to have this but in
order to generate enough sales to carry most costs associated with
having a storefront you must be more eclectic (either you have to
produce a wider range or you have to bring in someone else’s work).
Personally I have an extremely eclectic style in order to generate
income. I do series of one of a kind pieces that are probably
mostly recognizable as my work. I also bow to the almighty American
dollar and take in custom work (that is not at all like my own work)
and do a lot of simple designs that are meant to sell and provide the
income necessary to produce the work I really want to make. If this
is immaturity on my part it is news to me. First of all I’m too old
to be immature. Secondly my family would not appreciate a maturity
that forced them to live in a hovel.

Incidentally this is my first day back at making jewelry since I had
an operation on my right hand for carpal tunnel. So far everything
seems to be going great (for those of you experiencing a similar
problem and having doubts about the operation).

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140

I’ve been designing jewelry for about two years and use a variety of
techniques (lost wax casting, fabrication, etc.) and metals (18K,
14K, sterling, copper, etc) to create my jewelry. I am starting to
put some common elements into many of my designs (such as patination
and textured metals). But the labels of “mature” or “immature” mean
little to me.

Most of the time when I design new pieces, I open up my metal scrap
drawer and my stones drawer and I play like a kid in a sandbox. I
turn the creativity on full throttle. Other people’s tastes don’t
play a part in my creation process. Wearability plays a part.
Logistics (like how do I connect all these pieces) plays a part. Cost
may play a part, but may not. But maturity? F’get about it! I’m an 8
year old in a 35 year old body. So long as I create from my heart, my
personality will be reflected in my pieces. I will naturally create
my own style.

JoAnna Kelleher, owner
Pearl Exotics Trading Company
Phoenix, AZ