Do you adopt trends immediately, or wait for them to settle? Are you a fashion follower or do you stick to the classics? You probably think of clothing when you think of fashion and trends, but jewellery definitely responds to the zeitgeist too, and trends surface which are emulated far and wide - think of the Pandora charm bracelets in the noughties, and the current trend for ‘stackables’ - whether rings, necklaces, or bracelets.
Jewellery has always been a cultural statement - but traditionally, jewellery has required significant investment. That meant people shied away from ‘fashion’ pieces in favour of something that would last forever.
It’s easier to buy cheaper pieces now which are fashion-led. But these pieces are often machine-manufactured, and churned out by the thousand. Until two hundred years ago all jewellery would’ve been handmade - but now we have a machine option. What is better? Handmade jewellery or machine made? We talk through the differences.
Is handmade jewellery better than machine made jewellery?
Whilst the wonders of modern manufacture can result in some beautiful artifacts, there’s no doubt that the uniqueness of jewellery is lost when it is machine rather than handmade. Many ancient civilizations venerated jewellery as part of their status and spirituality, and it was clearly an important symbol - that you were loved, and that you were important. Just like today, jewellery could be worn for prestige, or as a deeply personal gift. Jewellery wasn’t made available to all until after the Industrial Revolution and the rise of synthetic materials, which made mass-produced jewellery widely available and cheap. But does this democratisation of jewellery mean it has lost its importance, and is it important that the skilled hands behind the finest jewellery aren’t lost, as a dying art?
The lost art of jewellery making
A great reason to opt for handmade jewellery is to support the artisan who created it! Jewellery has been an important way to adorn ourselves, identify ourselves, or treat ourselves, for millennia. The earliest traces of jewellery can be traced back to the civilisations of present-day Iran, anywhere from 3000 - 400 BC! Many of the amulets and seals were adorned with stars and floral designs and are thought to carry spiritual meanings. The jewellery itself was used as offerings to the gods, and to dress up statues, and the Ancient Egyptians showcased a love of jewellery when The Royal Tombs in ancient Sumner, dating back to 3000 BC, were opened. Inside were found mummies absolutely covered in all sorts of jewellery, from necklaces and headdresses to earrings, rings, and pins. Jewellery manufacture has only been mechanised for a couple of centuries, so of course these were all handmade.
Handmade jewellery: A unique combination of art and fashion
Handmade allows for personality, and customisation, in design. A skilled jeweller can put their mark and their style on their creations in a way impossible for mass-produced, machine-created pieces. Meticulous craftsmanship and talent create a piece which may nod to trends - but is also a piece of wearable art. Whether custom designed by the wearer or the designer, a handmade bracelet, say, will have much more profound significance as a one-off, unique piece, than something off the factory line. As well as this more emotive reasoning, pragmatically it is usually much easier to create more delicate designs and finer bands without the use of casting, and making by hand allows the jeweller the freedom to mix metals, and use more unique materials.
Handmade jewellery is a Greener, more sustainable choice
Why? The obvious first reason that handmade jewellery is more Green, is that it’s made by hand - so no machines! Obviously handmade pieces can use tools too, but usually much less electricity is used than in machine-produced pieces. Jewellers often offer a more transparent process. Not always, but often, jewellers are committed to sustainably and ethically sourcing their materials. The pieces made are usually more culturally appropriate, too - handmade jewellery can connect you to the far-flung reaches of the earth and the amazing artisans who work there, and bring their talents into your world - instead of having an international seller copying someone’s cultural inheritance for mass-production.
Whether you’re buying handmade jewellery from your county or from a country halfway around the world from you, you’ll be supporting a small business. That means supporting a real person and their family; people who in turn are paying tax and contributing to their local economy. You’re helping a small entrepreneur with a business they’re passionate about by supporting a jeweller.
Allowing creativity and the unique to shine
We all know the most expensive jewellery is made from materials like gold, platinum, and diamonds. But handmade jewellery allows the maker to get creative, allowing overlooked materials to shine - and creating something completely unique. Take sea glass jewellery, for example. Sea glass is a waste product transformed from transparent shard to cloudy, soft-edged bead - the perfect symbol of transformation.
Artist Sue Jones takes seaglass she finds on beaches and, in combination with sterling silver, creates delicate earrings. Repurposing something discarded to create something beautiful and unique is amazing, and makes her pieces of jewellery all the more special.
The space for design to evolve
When the jewellery process isn’t stuck to a machine which replicates the same piece again and again, there is space for the artist to evolve their pieces, and their techniques. That’s why handmade jewellery will usually use more cutting edge techniques, and jewellers can practice, improve, and experiment within their art - resulting in more unusual, exciting, and up-to-date jewellery looks.
If you’re interested in making your own jewellery, then at Coastal Craft Collective we run a number of different jewellery making classes in which you will learn a range of techniques and will leave with beautiful hand-crafted pieces made by you!
Whether you consider jewellery fashion or art, it has a long history of importance to human civilisations. We still give it at one of the most important junctures in life - engagement and marriage - and we continue to prize it. So let’s continue to prize the artisanal hands behind this artwork, and value handmade!