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Art Jewelry

Art Jewelry / Jewellery ~ Artisan Jewelry ~ Artist Jewelry ~ Studio Jewelry refers to jewelry that is made by a jewelry artist in a completely hands-on process. The artist is using hand labor and manually controlled methods, which gives them control over each and every aspect of the finished product. While they may start with a concept or a drawn design, the final outcome includes their decisions during the creation process.

What makes art jewelry art? The same things that make other media art. It is an internal response from the person looking at it. It speaks to them, it makes them happy, or it brings them peace. It is not mass produced, but rather created as original or limited edition work by a jewelry artist.

Wire Jewelry, in its simplest definition, is jewelry handcrafted from wire. It can be any kind of wire, including all of the precious metals. It is made primarily by hand and the use of pliers, although solder, other traditional metalsmithing techniques, and small, incidental findings can also be combined with wire. Cabochons, faceted stones, and/or beads are often used as focal points.

Wire Art Jewelry encompasses many different techniques. Wire Wrap (Wire Wrapped) Jewelry refers to jewelry where one piece of wire is wrapped around other pieces of wire to secure them. Border Wrap refers to bezels created for stones using wire wrap techniques. Wire Coiling refers to small wire that is coiled around a larger wire. Wire Sculpting refers to a more free form technique of securing stones. Chain Maille is used in jewelry primairly to create chains. Soldering is used to create open filagree and scrollwork. And all sorts of textile techniques can be recreated with wire, including wire crochet, knitting with wire, spool knitting, weaving, basket weaving, braiding, and knotting. Wire artists always seem to be trying to push the envelope with what they can do with wire.

Many wire jewelry artists have heard the question - is wire jewelry "real" jewelry? Wire jewelry is simply one of many jewelry types. It can be "real" jewelry and it can be "costume" jewelry, depending on the materials, craftmanship, and artistry used for any given piece.

The terms Fashion Jewelry (Costume Jewelry), "Bridge Jewelry" (Art Jewelry), and Fine Jewelry ("Real" Jewelry) try to put the world of jewelry into categories based on materials, craftsmanship, and longevity.

Fashion Jewelry (Costume Jewelry) normally refers to jewelry created primarily as an accessory to current fashion trends. It is not meant to stand the test of time. It is meant to be a spur of the moment, add-on sale to accompany an outfit being purchased. It is therefore made of less expensive materials like base metals (including plated metals like vermeil), plastics, man-made "stones" and other man-made focal points. Craftsmanship, artistry, and quality can range from almost none to very well done. The very well done becomes the sought after "vintage" jewelry on a going forward basis.

Fine Jewelry ("Real" Jewelry) normally refers to jewelry created for long-term wear. It is classic, timeless, and suitable for becoming future heirlooms. It is made from precious metals and genuine stones. Traditionally it may have referred to jewelry featuring "precious gems" (diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls & more recently alexandrite, tanzanite, and ammolite), but in today’s market there are so many rare gems and cabochons (ex: sugilite, lapis lazuli, etc) being used in jewelry that the terms precious gems and semi-precious gems have fallen out of use.

Precious Metals include gold filled and precious metal clay (pmc). Gold filled is often lambasted by jewelers that use heat to create jewelry since gold filled is very difficult to solder properly. 14K Gold filled wire is basically a tube of 14K gold with a jeweller’s wire down the center for flexibility. Made specifically for wire jewelry, the 14K gold is "real gold", but it is not solid gold. If you file through the gold layer, you will get to the jeweller’s wire. If you overheat gold filled, you can comingle the two components, wrecking the gold layer. Gold filled is a great value, giving the benefits of gold at a price closer to fine silver. It is not a plate, so you don’t see issues with wear, tarnish or allergies - if someone can wear 14K they can wear 14K gold filled. It does not have the same value as 14K solid gold, but still is "real" jewelry.

"Bridge Jewelry" refers to jewelry that doesn’t neatly fit into either end of the spectrum. If you think of a line going from left to right with the cheapest costume jewelry to the far left and the most expensive fine jewelry to the far right, then bridge jewelry is the gray area in the middle. Obvious things here would be man-made stones like dichroic glass or labratory grown stones set in precious metals. Mass produced, trendy, low cost items done in precious metal (especially sterling silver), but not necessarily meant to stand the test of time, also fall here. Cabochon jewelry might also be a candidate, as many people think only of faceted stones when they talk about fine jewelry.

Longevity and workmanship can push fine jewelry down or costume jewelry up into this middle ground. Fine jewelers don’t always back up the notion that fine jewelry is meant to stand the test of time. I’ll never forget the tennis bracelet that came off my wrist within two weeks. The jeweler told me I could not expect jewelry to last if I wore it every day. I finally took it to a different jeweler who replaced the clasp with a different style. Regardless of materials, workmanship and artistry still play into jewelry quality and pricing.

Art jewelry can be timeless fine jewelry, trendy costume jewelry, or some where-in-the-middle bridge jewelry. It often falls into the middle ground since artists have a knack of merging what hits their fancy, without regard to set guidelines. Most dedicated artists are very aware of workmanship however. Many of us are women that are hard on jewelry and strive to make jewelry that stands up to being worn by us.

As a final note, it is natural to refer to art jewelry as hand crafted or hand made. The term hand made has legal implications however. According to the FTC "Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries":

§ 23.3 Misuse of the terms "hand-made," "hand-polished," etc.

(a) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-made or hand-wrought unless the entire shaping and forming of such product from raw materials and its finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the construction, shape, design, and finish of each part of each individual product. 

Note to paragraph (a): As used herein, "raw materials" include bulk sheet, strip, wire, and similar items that have not been cut, shaped, or formed into jewelry parts, semi-finished parts, or blanks.

(b) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-forged, hand-engraved, hand-finished, or hand-polished, or has been otherwise hand-processed, unless the operation described was accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the type, amount, and effect of such operation on each part of each individual product.
Most artists, including myself, do not mean to deceive if they use the terms handcrafted or handmade. But technically, the use of purchased ear wires, a purchased setting for a faceted gem accent, or purchased beads disqualifies the use of the term hand made, according the FTC guidelines. The guidelines do not say that all hand labor has to be completed by the same person though, so as long as each person has complete control of their end product, the use of hand cut stones and hand blown glass focal points probably do not disqualify the use of the term hand made when a wire artist incorporates products produced by other lapidary or glass artists into their creations. If it matters to you, don’t be afraid to ask what parts of the jewelry were made directly by the wire artist and which parts were not.