Thursday, January 27, 2022

Jewelry… The Progress of Design


Submitted Photo

In past articles, I have touched on the how and why and the subject of personal jewelry beginning with the dawn of man. It can be called speculation, and it could be the result of my vivid imagination, who knows?  The first gift of jewelry could have been the fang of a recently killed saber-toothed creature, simply bound with a leather cord and presented to the apple of the ancient hunter’s eye, or simply used as a token reminder (and proof) of a successful life-or-death conflict.

As a designer and a creator of fine jewelry, not only do I possess a vivid imagination but also a photographic memory, meaning I can picture in my mind what the imagined one-of-a-kind piece of non-existent jewelry will look like in its finished state.

Call it a gift if you like. I haven’t personally met too many people who share the same phenomenon. Which would be very few of my own customers.

Designing jewelry in the past always involved a one-on-one consultation of the person’s tastes and desires, the metal and color of the metal, and in what precious metal the piece is to be executed; gold, silver or in platinum? Pure gold can be alloyed into so many different colors today, innumerous shades of the known yellow variety, then there is pink or rose, green, gray or black. The white (chrome colored) precious metals are silver, white gold, platinum and palladium.

Then add in the endless selection of precious and semi-precious gems and minerals, both natural and manmade, making the combinations of design infinite! Boggles the mind, mine included!

A showable creation idea could begin with a simple pencil sketch, embellished with color to give the wearer of the finished piece an idea of design, a simple pair of earrings for example.

Questions are asked, single color or combinations, with or without gemstones to be worn on the lobe or dangling off? Long, short, narrow, or wide? Now, I think you can comprehend the complex process.

As I mentioned before, I can picture the piece finished in my mind. Unfortunately most folks can’t, and this is where the interpretation of important information gleaned from the customer comes into play. As a practicing designer and goldsmith in the real world, I have no room for misunderstandings of design. Besides, the fact is that precious metals and precious gemstones are expensive and the artist most often uses a combination of many other related skills that I will mention later.

Beginning commissioned pieces for wanting individuals can be a long exhausting process, especially if the customer is not 100% sure what he or she is looking for. Progress can be slowed down depending on how complex the raw materials are, and of course, how complicated and intricate the handwork. The finished piece should be spot on, there is no room for a dress rehearsal — it’s a one time, no do-over thing. The customer is made aware that there is no magical Ken and Barbie easy and instant jewelry-making oven. Fine handcrafted jewelry takes time, one month to several months.

Time is money; fine specially designed jewelry will never be inexpensive and my experience has shown it’s not for everyone, especially once the cost and time involved is discussed.

I received a phone call one late Christmas Eve as I was closing the store. It was a gentleman who wanted me to create a unique piece of jewelry he needed finished that Christmas morning. The line went dead upon his hearing my uncontrollable laughter, not caused by my indulging in some holiday cheer!

The latest breakthrough in time saving technology, though not inexpensive, is the use of computer rendering (cad-cam), where the designed piece in question (after a skilled and tedious process) is shown right on the screen in full colored 3-D picture, right down to the color of metal, gemstones and finger size. This leaves no doubt to the client what the finished piece   will look like, making them pull the trigger (so to speak) without doubts, and enabling the goldsmith to proceed and work to create a finalized piece.

Before the days of computer rendering and presently, I still call the custom client in to view the work in progress in various stages so that any changes needed can be corrected before the final finished piece. This avoids unwanted extra costs and insures satisfaction with the creation.

Last thing I want to hear after spending weeks, days and hours creating what I presumed is exactly what the customer ordered is… “Gee I didn’t expect it to look like that! Can we start over?”

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and the owner of the Harbor Goldsmith, and has been Marco’s island jeweler for over 25 years. He welcomes your inquiries to create commissioned pieces and questions or comments about “All That Glitters.” Call 239-394-9275 or email; website:

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