Let me begin by saying I have no intention of disrespecting anyone, or their work. We all do what we can at whatever level we are at. Most jewelry artists eased into doing what they do by being assemblers, as opposed to handcrafters. I know I certainly did.
We were at the Pensacola Seafood Festival recently, and part of that festival is the arts and craft vendors. There were all sorts of artisans, wood workers, leather crafters, soap makers, candle creators, metal sculptors, axe whittlers, and jewelry artists. As a jewelry artist myself, I walked around looking to see what my fellow artists were purveying. I found it very curious that the jewelry “assemblers” were charging as much as the jewelry “makers”. Even more curious was the fact that I saw people spending $20, $30, $40, and up on things they could have had for $5 or $10 if they simply went to Michael’s, or Hobby Lobby, or Joann Fabrics, and bought the pieces to put them together.
That’s what jewelry assemblers do. They take a trip to the big box arts and crafts store and buy all the parts they need to put a piece of jewelry together.
Let’s take earrings for example. Walk into the bead section of your local arts and crafts store and look for findings. When it comes to ear wires you’ll find plenty of variations of the shepherds hook ear wires. You’ll probably find a few of those loops that hook in back as well. examine them closely and you’ll find they are all perfectly symmetrical, just like all machine-made, mass-produced things are. Then have a look at the head pins. The majority of them will be either flat on the bottom, or have an eye on the bottom. You will find some fancier ones with some sort of embellishment connected to the bottom, but those are really dead give away, machine-made. Don’t forget the jump rings. In case you don’t know what they are, they are the little rings that connect one piece to another. There is a split in them so you can open them to attach pieces. I imagine some sort of machine spits them out by the thousands in the blink of eye. Once you select a string of beads you have everything you need to assemble a few pair of earrings.
While there is nothing wrong with doing it that way, I don’t really believe that they should be touted as “handcrafted” pieces.
Handcrafted pieces can use commercial elements. Most of them do. There are people out there that make custom beads, but they are far and in between. Whenever I run across a custom bead maker that has something I can use I try to purchase whatever I can afford at the time, but since I only use black beads, I mostly buy commercial. If you are creating a piece using ear posts, those will most likely have to be commercial. Personally, I’m researching high and low to see if I can find a way to make my own. Finally, there is chain. Sometimes nothing else will work, so little bits of chain are acceptable. The caveat here is that if you use any commercial material in a handcrafted piece, say so. Disclose the fact. Let it be known.
The picture I have used for this post is of my handcrafted, diamond-shaped ear wires. I make two sizes of these, and that works out really well when I am asked to make a set of earrings for clients with multiple piercings. I challenge you to find anything like that at the big box store. If you take a look at my Etsy Shop, Gene’s Joint, you will see how I utilize them. I also make a couple of variations of the shepherds hook, and I’m working on a few other avant-garde shapes. They are just not ready for public consumption yet. Add to that the fact that I make my own head pins in a few different variation, and I make my own jump rings in whatever size suits me. Oh yeah, I make my own yokes and drops too; we haven’t even mentioned them.
I guess I qualify as a jewelry artist.