Generally speaking, when it comes to the makeup of the “jewelry world” there are typically four main categories: art, craft, fine, and fashion jewelry. Most jewelers fit into one of these territories and remain within the boundaries of each in order to market themselves to their ultimate customer. A decade ago, the dividing lines between each of these categories were firmly drawn and there were very few crossovers. A select few makers produced work that blended the lines between categories, but for the most part this was unheard of. Today however, the jewelry world is constantly evolving and now more than ever, jewelry designers are crossing the boundaries between these once distinct realms of the jewelry world.
Jewelry in the art category tends to push the boundaries of what is considered jewelry, terms like “wearable art” are commonly used to describe the work in this category and the finished pieces are often unwearable or unsaleable. For the makers in this category, self-expression is of the utmost importance and the jewelry becomes an art form, rather than a product. Art jewelry makers typically exhibit their work in galleries and sell their pieces to museums or collectors.
The craft jewelry market also values self-expresssion but only as it pertains to marketability. The materials used by craft jewelers can range from gold, silver, and fine gemstones to paper, glass, wood, plastic, resin, hair, fabric, and recycled materials. The work is handcrafted, often with a specific customer base in mind. In recent years the craft market has undergone a lot of changes, as the word “craft” has almost become a dirty word in the art world. Its negative connotation stems from the implication that the word “crafty” makes it second best to the jewelry of the art realm. Others argue that the word simply refers to a product that is handcrafted and of the utmost quality. Many jewelry makers are dodging the term altogether referring to the themselves as “artisans”, “jewelers”, “metal smiths”, and “designers” instead. Some institutions have even changed their names to avoid the term including the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum) and California College of the Arts (formerly California College of Arts and Crafts).
This category is what the vast majority of the public associates with the word “jewelry”. Fine jewelry typically incorporates precious materials such as gold, silver, and platinum as well as precious gemstones like diamonds and sapphires. Fine jewelers can range from the single designer working alone in his or her studio to large corporations with global manufacturing and retail outlets. Fine jewelers create both one-of-a-kind pieces as well as larger production lines and often focus on more traditional design styles and looks, though this is rapidly changing. Fine jewelry was for decades a very traditional realm of the jewelry world, but today many fine jewelry designers are pushing the limits and creating cutting edge and avant garde pieces of jewelry.
Caroline Glemann, Liloveve Jewelry
Makers of fashion jewelry are influenced by trends, the seasons, and what’s a hit on the runway. They pay close attention to what is happening in the fashion centers of the world- Paris, Milan, New York, and London and design their work with the goal of remaining fashion- forward. Fashion jewelry is typically made by large companies, with much of their manufacturing happening overseas, though this too is changing as more and more manufacturing returns to the States. Fashion jewelry is designed to be made in large quantities to sell for a few seasons at most.
What category do you belong (or hope to someday belong) to? Are the boundaries between the categories still relevant? Are they bound at some point to disappear? Is the word “craft” deserving of its negative reputation? What does craft mean to you? As the jewelry world continues to grow and change these questions are becoming more and more important to jewelry makers, especially those of us who wish the blur the the lines between the various jewelry circles, allowing them to enhance and complement one another.