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Is Hand Made Jewelry really made by hand?


The artisan jewelry market is growing in recent years with more and more people turning their jewelry making hobby into a side business. One only has to walk through the craft section of a book store or the jewelry making aisle in your local craft store to see how popular it is to make jewelry.

So what is hand made jewelry? There are so many ways to interpret this phrase that a broader definition than the regurgitation of “jewelry made by hand” might be helpful.

• Are you making jewelry by hand if you are purchasing parts and assembling them?
• Are you making jewelry by hand if you are designing the work and hiring someone else to make it for you with their hands?
• Is your work handmade if you are using using a jig to bend wire exactly the same over and over?
• What about power tools?
• What about a laser cutter or a 3D printer? Are your designs hand made?

There is no absolute answer to these questions because every time another new technology comes along, it could be seen as “cheating” to call the products it produces as hand made.

The way I see it, it all comes down to process. Artists like myself explore many different processes, both traditional fabrication techniques like lost wax casting that go back thousands of years and newer technology like 3D printing and pattern making using computers. What is most important is to bring our artist’s vision to reality using the best tools available. My hands touch everything I make, no matter which processes are used.

Many of my pieces from the Ripples collection are precision cut from precious metal sheet by hand with a jewelers saw using a blade that measures .063 of an inch wide, some pieces like the Rogue Wave Earrings take hours for one person sitting at a bench. This can be contrasted to my Ripples Rainbow bracelets that were designed in a computer and 3D printed in a flexible nylon. Once printed they are hand dyed and sometimes assembled with sterling silver components. As the artist, I describe them both as hand made.


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Where does inspiration come from?

The inspiration for jewelry design can come in many different areas. Nature, architecture, even the human body itself can offer ideas and forms for creating a piece of jewelry. Because the jewelry is usually an expression of the person wearing it, design is as varied as individual people.

The nature of wave forms and my visualization of the way they travel through water and air has inspired much of my work in recent years. Doodles and sketches in the margins of my notebooks end as a labyrinth that grows organically to eventually take over a the entire page.

Once these ideas are transferred to a sheet of metal and the lines are cut, the real fun begins in expanding these two dimensional ideas into three dimensional wearable forms. I call these sketch models because I make them in easily malleable copper and I use them to analyze the patterns and how they work in three dimensions. They aren’t yet ready to be worn, but in handling and manipulating them, I can plan the final piece of jewelry which will be created in precious metal. The following images illustrate a little bit of the process.

Flat copper sketch with holes drilled and the pattern cut
Copper sketch with test monofiliment run through the drilled holes.
Ready to assemble into final version.
Cut and drilled silver for the second element. Here the piece has begun to be expanded into 3D in the center.
Lines and Ripples Neckpiece, completed