There has been a rising interest in artisan jewelry as of late. Yet, there is still a lot of confusion in the market about what is artisan jewelry. We’re here to break it down for you.
Fast fashion has dominated the entire fashion industry for decades, partly due to its attractive prices and trend-based styles. Unfortunately, jewelry has not escaped this narrative.
But the good news is that artisan jewelry has also been on the rise. With the general population’s increased appreciation for custom handmade jewelry pieces, everywhere you look there seems to be a new artisan jewelry brand.
Defining Artisan Handcrafted Jewelry
To understand the value of artisan jewelry, it is essential to define it first since there seems to be a lot of confusion about handmade jewelry.
Many businesses are marketing themselves as artisan jewelry brands and labeling their jewelry pieces as artisan-ish when neither is the case.
We like to think there are two main components to it: the creator and the creation.
For artisan handcrafted jewelry to stay true to its name, it has to be made by an artisan. An artisan is essentially someone who creates functional items and may integrate beauty into this functionality.
An artisan is not to be confused with an artist, although artisans are often artists but not the other way around. While an artist is focused on the aesthetic value of a piece, an artisan pays specific attention to how this value can be translated into function.
Artisans, therefore, create beautiful items that we can use in daily life (or a similar equivalent). The word artisan originates from artigiano, an Italian word for someone engaged and skilled at making things.
It is essential to consider that artisans are not better than artists and the other way around. We appreciate the work that our artists and artisans do for the community! These are simply two different approaches to creation, and one is not more important or takes precedence over the other.
The other main criteria for when jewelry items can be considered artisan is if they are handmade pieces. This means one of a kind, usually made by one individual, and original pieces.
Many jewelry designers use machinery to mass-produce their pieces, but the opposite is true for artisan jewelry pieces. For artisan jewelry makers, there is a specific focus on using traditional techniques that mainly use hand tools.
Most jewelry can be made with hand tools. However, some artisans choose to use specific power tools for some of their pieces. Does this still count as handmade? We think so!
Although it could be arguable that pieces made with power tools aren’t handmade, they are so different from the processes used in mass production and still retain the individuality of being made by hand. But this is one of the more gray areas in the discussion, so we’ll leave it up to you to come to a conclusion.
Handmade also entails creating a piece from scratch as much as possible. Assembly alone doesn’t cut it. Most artisan jewelers have to make their handcrafted ornaments from the metal sheet, then hammer, shape, embellish, and style from there.
However, there are also instances when assembly can be considered handmade work. Take, for example, beaded jewelry. These pieces can be regarded as actually handmade when the beads are raw or minimally processed materials.
Using plastic beads would defeat the purpose of calling the piece handmade since mass production was involved.
But in practice, the application of handmade isn’t this clear cut. Some companies will use the term handmade to make their products appeal better to a particular market even though their processes don’t actually reflect handmade.
Your best bet at avoiding mass-produced jewelry is to purchase artisan pieces from your local, highly skilled craftsman.
A Brief History Of Jewelry
It’s important to understand that, until very recently in the history of human beings, jewelry was handcrafted. People as early as 25,000 years ago were already using jewelry !
The first types of jewelry were made from colored pebbles or bones since hunter-gatherer societies still hadn’t found mineral deposits yet. Back then, handcrafted jewelry was most likely used to denote status or membership in a particular community.
Some of the first handcrafted ornaments were metal pieces often shaped to depict human and animal forms. Throughout history, there have been traces of beaded bracelets, wearable art, and so much more.
For quite a long time, jewelry was used to connote status. After all, only the very affluent could get access to those shiny stones. But, like many things, that all changed during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.
As mass-production became more prevalent, jewelry became more accessible to the general public, especially to the rising middle class . Of course, with this event also came the rise of large manufacturers that could churn out jewelry at industrial levels.
Some of those early jewelers are still around today, namely Cartier, Tiffany’s, and Bulgari. These jewelry giants have been dominating the industry for literally centuries.
But their existence does not make handcrafted jewelry less valuable. You may even get higher quality and better value from your local craftsman!
Is Handmade Jewelry Better?
You might still be skeptical about handcrafted jewelry. But rest assured, there are plenty of reasons why handcrafted jewelry is a better choice, especially if you want a one-of-a-kind piece that can be passed down for generations.
One of the significant issues in the jewelry industry is the use of questionable materials. From blood diamonds to unethically sourced fine metals, many of the components used to create the typical jewelry collection is born from abuse and exploitation.
Now, the use of ethical materials isn’t a given in handcrafted jewelry. The use of only the best ethical raw materials isn’t part of its definition.
However, it stands true that most artisan jewelry is produced with better attention to human rights abuses and the impact of jewelry on the environment.
Examples of these materials are:
- Recycled Metals
- Synthetic Diamonds
- Fair Trade Diamonds
- Ethically and Sustainably Sourced Fine Metals
This isn’t an exhaustive list either. There are plenty of ways many designers put in the effort to make their raw materials more ethical. Some businesses will use sourcing methods that support communities or create educational opportunities.
Here at Puratium, we also prioritize taking note of brands that actively reduce their carbon footprint or conduct similar eco friendly practices. It could even be something as simple as using sustainable packaging!
Perhaps one of the best selling points of handmade jewelry is you can get them customized.
Although not all people need custom-made pieces, they’re perfect for special occasions. For instance, if you want sustainable wedding bands that are really personal and one-of-a-kind, handmade is the answer.
And it isn’t just independent jewelers that do this. Many prominent artisan jewelry shops also produce bespoke jewelry.
This is also applicable for loose stones of a particular heirloom piece that needs some updating. Regardless of the custom work you need to be done, you can rest assured that your custom-made pieces will be worked on with love.
Supporting A Small Brand
We’ve mentioned that many of the largest jewelry brands today have dominated the jewelry landscape for generations. But today, there are now countless small businesses you can support that can give the same huge value and quality.
If you check, you can probably find a handful of small jewelry businesses in your area. By buying from them, you are supporting not only their business but also their dream! And how beautiful is it to contribute to that?
But supporting a small brand alone isn’t the best motivator on why you would get your wedding rings, beaded bracelets, or necklaces at a particular place. Some people are pretty skeptical of the value small artisans can offer.
But you would be surprised. Handcrafted jewelry from small brands and local artisans makes for some of the most unique pieces that really have a distinctive look to them.
Why Is Artisan Jewelry So Expensive?
There is one thing that makes artisan jewelry inaccessible to the general population, and that is its price. It is so much more tempting to purchase cheap necklaces and bracelets when more expensive handmade jewelry looks virtually the same.
However, let’s point out why artisan, handmade jewelry is costly for several – valid – reasons.
One of the most significant determinants is labor.
A piece of jewelry takes hours to make. And that isn’t even considering the time devoted to learning and practicing the craft. Even if it took only a few hours, the labor factor of jewelry design and creation is an undeniable facet of its high monetary value.
To add to that argument, most small business owners make their pieces on their own. Many of them do not have a team of employees who can create an assembly line and speed up production.
While machine-based jewelers can rely on machinery and the benefit of a team to work on production, a jeweler selling in your local markets will not have the extra hands or power to save on labor hours.
There is also the aspect of actually marketing and selling their product. It takes time to talk to customers, take their order, specifications, even take photos of the final product! Every step of the process takes time.
As buyers, we often overlook exactly what an artisan needs to do to create each handmade piece. But even if your gold bracelet looks deceptively simple, making it was not.
Another reason why jewelry from small businesses often has higher prices is that they can’t always purchase materials in bulk. One benefit most large-scale manufacturers have is buying materials in bulk, which usually ends up the cheaper option.
Plus, many of them might focus on ethically sourced materials—which might cost more money but are much better for the environment and society. Some materials might even be fair trade, which has a significantly higher price than those sourced conventionally.
It Isn’t Always Expensive
While it is true that artisan jewelry is typically more expensive than mass-produced jewelry, but that isn’t always the case. You can easily find artisan jewelry made from fair-trade components at a relatively affordable price.
The trick is finding jewelry that suits you and your budget. Sterling silver jewelry, for example, can be quite affordable even when handmade! The same goes for beaded bracelets or some earrings and rings.
Although we would like that eco friendly and sustainable items are as accessible to everyone as possible, we also know there’s still a long way to go before that happens. But we are looking forward to a future where more of us can enjoy little luxuries.
Looking For The Best Artisan Jewelry
Now that you have an idea of what artisan jewelry is, now comes the task of actually looking for the best ones! Here are some of the criteria we would typically follow:
We’ve talked about how artisan jewelry tends to lean towards local materials and fair trade components. This one is non-negotiable for us. If you’re going to buy jewelry, it has to come only from ethical sources of the highest quality.
Some artisan brands don’t source responsibly for their gold, silver, and other metals, so make sure to watch out for those.
One of the markers of a good artisan brand is its dedication to reducing its carbon footprint as much as possible. What they cannot mitigate should be offset in different ways. Be mindful of greenwashing practices, though.
Since a handcrafted piece of jewelry doesn’t take much power, this mostly boils down to shipping and miscellaneous activities. Brands or small businesses that offer carbon-neutral shipping or have carbon initiatives get a plus in our book.
However, not every single small seller can afford to track and reduce their emissions, which is entirely understandable. Instead, you should try looking for markers that they care about the environment.
Today’s marketing-inclined world has placed quite an emphasis on pretty packaging—with a greater emphasis on aesthetics over value.
But packaging doesn’t just have to be pretty; it has to be eco friendly and sustainable as well. This means no virgin plastic (recycled if any) and using recycled materials that can still be reused once they’ve served their purpose. Ideally, no packaging at all!
Community And Giving Back
Brands and businesses that give back to the community are some of the best places to buy any piece of jewelry. Whether their initiatives resonate with you on a personal level or you just like their community programs, any form of engagement with a community in need is much appreciated.
There you have it! We hope that after this discussion, you will no longer need to ask: “what is artisan jewelry” or be confused about what it really means.
In light of that, we also hope you find more appreciation in the things made by hand, with love especially for you. Whether you’re looking for wedding bands or jewelry for everyday wear, it’s always good to choose the best materials made from the hands of a small-scale artisan.
And lastly, don’t forget to look back at your current belongings whenever purchasing luxury items like rings or necklaces. It’s incredibly easy to get lost in the idea of consuming and consuming to make us happy, but that’s an unsustainable mindset.
At the end of each day, we always advocate for mindful consumption and ensure that we positively impact the community and our planet.