There is a fine line between art and mass production, and the jewellery industry is no different. Recently I was part of a lunch time discussion that took place during an event where we exhibited our wares, I was one of seven female entrepreneurs at the table. There were two jewellery artists from Toronto, a novelty handbag company based in Oakville, a fashion accessories company, and a couple of agents. The discussion began when one of the women brought up how difficult it is to start and maintain a business. She talked about the many costs involved, and how there were not enough people willing to give budding entrepreneurs breaks, or encouragement, and because of this it has been difficult for her to grow her business. This led the other jewellery designer to declare ( who was very nice and also curious as to where I get my sterling silver jewelry components ) that designs cannot be considered art unless the jewellery designer makes each piece themselves, to have someone else make them amounts to mass production. I disagreed and hastily gave my reasons, embarrassed that I had contradicted her so reflexively and perhaps with less tact than I intended.
Art of any form, including jewellery design, is and should be almost entirely about the creative process, originality, and the work’s ability to invoke an emotion within the viewer. The great masters like Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci created prolific collections with the aid of apprentices. Likewise, Kostabi, a contemporary oil painter made himself famous by publicly denouncing the old masters, and created pieces almost entirely by guiding his students in the process of putting his ideas on canvas. I’m not a fan of Kostabi, and I don’t imagine he really had many true fans of his work, but he solidified the idea that art is thought. The thinker is the artist, I think jewellery design is the same. Whether the jewellery designer, or jewellery maker, puts the silver jewellery components together should have no bearing on the originality of the piece. How many pieces were produced from the same mould or with identical silver jewellery components in the exact way does have influence on uniqueness, but that’s not to be mistaken with artistry.
There are many arguments for not doing the final jewellery assembly yourself. I’m a big proponent of giving artistic direction to those who are technically more skilled and more dextrous than I am. I can focus on what I love; jewellery designing. Ideas are constantly cooking in my head, and building in my sleep. Apparently, this is how most artists and writers form their ideas, they build in their subconscious. So, when the pot boils over, the jewellery ideas overflow and you just need to catch as much as possible because this opportunity and idea crystallization might not come again for another few weeks. So, many of us work in spurts. When I’m on a roll, usually during the hours of 6 to 9 pm, I just throw down silver jewellery components onto sticky paper. I might even take a few notes and make some sketches, but often this just slows me down. If I tried to make the piece, e.g., wire wrap something or thread some crystals, a mental bottle neck happens. I usually just hand the concepts over to a sample maker to finish. I’ll be there to answer questions, check lengths, edit certain accents and oversee the actual cohesion of the collection, but I don’t stop to make entire pieces unless I absolutely have to. I have found the productivity of my time has increased exponentially since I adopted this method 8 years ago.
There is of course great pride in hand making a piece of jewellery you’ve designed. I might even be willing to pay more for a piece that I know the artist has laboured over assembling or polishing each and every single of of silver jewellery component, but I know they can’t make money unless the price is very high. I’m willing to pay for their work mainly as a subsidy, because I want that person to keep designing and live not only at a subsistence level, like many artists of the traditional school of thought do.