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8 Days on How to Get Started: Treading Through the Murky Waters of the Term 'Handmade'

Defining the term 'handmade' is one of those things that every artist must face: what are your parameters when it comes to defining handmade?


As a beginning jeweler, this is something that I stumbled through for many years. In the jewelry world, you can buy pre-made parts like clasps, chain links, chain, fancy bezel wire (the metal that surrounds a gemstone), wire with patterns already pushed into the metal, the list goes on. Some jewelers are total purists where they create their own alloys by combining copper with fine silver to make sterling silver, or their own karat/color of gold, and some will cut and shape their own gemstones from rough material.


Jewelry in particular, is a field where the handmade can be taken to the extreme. It's quite normal for an oil painter to grind minerals to make their own paints, or even to stretch their own canvases on a frame. But in the jewelry world, there are many levels to the term 'handmade.'


I've taken a different approach and mentality to word just for my own sanity. The reason why I say 'sanity' is because the purist jewelers will make you feel really bad for not doing every single little step on your own and so for some time it made me feel guilty or ashamed to use the word 'handmade.'


My mindset switched when I realized how contemporary jewelry has changed over the more recent decades. Jewelers from previous centuries used to work in groups. One person would've been the master jeweler, then there would've been a stone-setter, an enamelist, a forger, a caster, someone who did the grunt work like polishing, and then the piece would've returned to the master jeweler for the finishing touches. Everyone would've specialized in a step in the making of a piece of jewelry.


Now a jeweler is expected to do every single step of the process, but I don't necessarily believe that you make better jewelry that way. When the work is divided, that person is exceptionally skilled in that technique and there was a cohesiveness between everyone. I personally prefer to know many techniques, but I also realize that I'm less skilled at some techniques than others and I continue to develop and improve the ones that I'm better at.


While I want to get good at many techniques, I am sometimes not comfortable with a few of them so I simply want to understand how it's done but not pursue it any further. For example, when I talk about making your own metal alloy, that means that you melt a variety of metals in a crucible until they become liquid and then you pour that molten liquid metal into an ingot, or brick, form and roll the ingot into a sheet. I do not like working with molten metal, I am extremely uncomfortable with anything that hot, so I purchase my sheets of silver, copper, bronze, already pre-made. I tend to refrain from other pre-made components because they don't usually fit my designs, so I stick with pre-made silver sheets and pre-made silver wire.


I believe that in order to remain relevant, to embrace what's new while also sticking to what's handmade, there has to be a balance between both technology and the handmade. Handmade takes time and I think that turns a lot of people off because we've been programmed to do stuff quickly. And because we've been taught to do things more efficiently (ie like factory work), we end up turning to technology and it becomes less and less about the human touch. I love work that has the human touch. There's a tenderness about the piece that can't be replicated by a machine, no matter how hard you try to program a computer to act like a human.


I think tomorrow I'll talk more about the relationship between technology and the artist because, especially in the contemporary jewelry world, the work is a tricky one to navigate especially if you're a buyer and prefer something really handmade.


That's all for today. Have a wonderful Monday and thanks so much for reading.

Take care,

Caitlin


Here's a beautiful example of handmade. Miniature handmade hammers to get the finest details.