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The Art of Design for Handmade Artisan Jewelry

From earrings and necklaces to rings, bracelets and pendants, each piece of handmade artisan jewelry showcases the skill of an artist while making a unique statement about his/her design style.

Before you can be effective at jewelry design, whether you are going to replicate your designs or are producing one-of-a-kind pieces you need to have a background in the basics of construction and also understand the materials you will be using.  Through an understanding of the basic elements of design which include materials, size, color and function you will be able to form a conceptual style of the piece you want to make based on the individual elements i.e. its geometric shape, symmetry/asymmetry and whether it will be more refined or more organic in nature. You will also need to understand how your design will “work” on the wearer. You will need to possess a basic knowledge of the essential tools needed to create each design element along with basic techniques for manipulating the materials used into the design you have envisioned.

That brings me to the point of the article, where to start? My advice, find a class either in person or online, perhaps a tutorial or two, try it out, and learn the basics. The internet is a huge source of such information, or try your local library, bead store or rock shop. Most offer classes by very talented people in the jewelry industry and you can “pick their brains” for information and knowledge related to the projects you create while in class. One on one instruction has its advantages as you can ask questions when you are unsure of what you are doing. See if you have a “knack” for the basics of construction using someone else’s design that teaches the techniques needed to make jewelry.

After you learn the basics, there are a thousand more steps to go through before you can start to design jewelry, For example, you may want to learn more advanced techniques in casting, metal fabrication, wire weaving and soldering. Act like a sponge and soak up every bit of knowledge you can, always push yourself to learn more whether it is new techniques, using different materials or just doing the same thing in a different way. You never know where it will take you. Unfortunately, like anything worthwhile, it does not come easily. You have to do some research and then work hard towards your goals once you figure them out.

Some won’t agree with me and may even argue that this isn’t the case because big brand-named designers didn’t learn this way, they went to design school or are just naturally talented…right?  However, I’ll bet you, that those very same big named designers were once young men/women who were sitting on a stool at a jewelers bench next to their teachers who were showing them the basics of construction and materials way before they started designing. 

My approach to jewelry design, as I am self-taught, is to draw out my designs on graph paper and use that as a reference for the final piece. After I draw it out, I let it soak for a couple of days to see if I need to make any changes. If with this, many times I have what I think is a good idea, but when I sit down to make the jewelry piece, it very rarely turns out like I want it to.

 Initial Design
Initial design didn’t work so I ended up with two pendants, some design elements were not used.


I separated the bow & arrow from the heart.

Through trial and error and past experience, it becomes easier as I try to learn from both past triumphs and mistakes, but still, I had to learn the basics of working with metal, gemstones, glass, and other materials before I got to this point; and I’m still learning. I may make a prototype of a design with less expensive materials and stones before I finalize a piece using more costly metals/materials such as silver, gold, or precious gemstones especially if I am unsure of how the design will look or wear. While I have sketch pads filled with ideas, these “ideas” require hands-on effort before they become physical pieces of jewelry to be worn and adorned by women and men everywhere.

When you have learned more about the jewelry making universe, more specifically jewelry making basics and techniques such as metalsmithing, lapidary-gemology and soldering, you will have a much better understanding of where your style fits in the jewelry community and how you might become a designer of fine artisan jewelry.

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