Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Name Game

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

I was reading my FaceBook news feed the other day and was struck by a comment from a maker I don't know on the wall of one of my friends. The writer was bemoaning the high cost of silver, but saying that she didn't want to start using base metal clays because she thought they presented more as 'costume' jewelry than pieces made with sterling or fine silver. That statement kind of stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking about how our own perception of the materials we use may subconsciously influence our customers' impressions of and appreciation for our work.

Cartier articulated tiger brooch
When I was a child, there was a definite difference between my mother's fine jewelry (almost all of it gold) and my baubles, bangles, and beads - almost all brightly colored plastic. Some of the things I wore were actually costume-like (who else had a pink plastic tiara studded with sparkly rhinestones?) so the appellation made sense. But even in earlier decades the description 'costume' was confusing. Chanel and Cartier offered whimsical designs made with precious materials that were considered costume jewelry. Today Miriam Haskell's brightly colored 'costume' confections from the '40's bring high prices on the collector market, although they were made with 'paste' gems and base metals.

Felieke van der Leest
Necklace: Brian the Lion
Today, with the rise of artisan/studio jewelry, more unusual materials are being used to adorn the body than ever before. Steel, powder coated copper, plastics, polymers, base metals, and even paper are just some of the materials being used in the manufacture of jewelry. But don't think that using less expensive supplies directly relates to the monetary worth and desirability of the finished product. An important element to remember when pricing and presenting your work is 'perceived value'. Take into account not only the cost of materials used - but the skill, labor, artistry, blood, sweat, and tears that were employed when you designed and built your work.

From Google:

Fine Jewelry - Jewelry made of precious metal such as gold or silver and set with precious or semi-precious stones. 

Bridge Jewelry - Bridge jewelry is jewelry that "bridges the gap" between fine (precious) jewelry and costume jewelry. An example of bridge jewelry is sterling silver pieces. Wait - I thought you just said that silver was 'fine' jewelry!

Costume Jewelry - Jewelry made with inexpensive materials or imitation gems.

As you can see, metal clay falls into all of these categories. There is yellow gold, rose gold, and green gold metal clay; sterling and fine silver metal clay; many of us use precious and semi precious stones either fired in place or set traditionally. We have also embraced the 'new' base metal clays and lab grown gems. The two examples I used to illustrate this post represent the far ends of the 'costume jewelry' market. Most of what we make as metal clay artisans will fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. A spectrum that is yet to be defined, because as far as jewelry is concerned - what's in a name? The only thing to consider is whether it brings you joy. Joy in the making, joy in the collecting, joy in the wearing.


Jennifer said...

Thanks for this, Lora. I've often held many conflicting ideas about where things fit in and what value they hold all at the same time. It's difficult with something that is part wealth and part art to pigeon hole.

Anonymous said...

a person has to ignore that kind of snobbery. The work of Wanaree Tanner comes to mind; it wouldn't be improved on by using silver. There's an art school here in Seattle; their attitude is, if it's not hammered sheet metal, it ain't art. Uninformed, narrow-minded, and just plain stupid.

thesilverpendant said...

Interesting, Lora. I especially like "may subconsciously influence our customers' impressions of and appreciation for our work." So true.