Designing and making jewellery is a costly procedure. When designing, we are always thinking about cost, whether that be the cost of the metal or the cost of manufacturing. These restrictions really do influence the way we choose to create a piece.
When looking at museum pieces, for example, we may often wonder why we are not able to produce work of a similar level of craftsmanship today. The problem is that we can produce this quality and level of craftsmanship too, but fewer consumers can afford the jewellery made to such levels of scale and detail.
These days, money has to go further, jewellery is in competition with the latest cars, modern televisions, new games consoles, clothing, white goods, and so the list goes on. We don’t have the same number of rich families and royals that commissioned items in the past; for the majority of individual commissions on a grander scale are gone forever.
I believe that cheaper mass production has caused a decline in production standards. CAD, CAM and 3D printing are just some recent examples of technology used in other industries that has been adopted for the jewellery industry, and is changing how we work. But, before we embrace this new technology, we should understand and perfect the basics first. If a designer does not have a good understanding of traditional jewellery-making techniques and the wearability of a design, time will be simply wasted on digital designs unsuitable for production.
I am sticking my head out here by stating that not everyone who has a flare for design can design jewellery; you only have to look at the fashion designers crossing the border into jewellery manufacture to see this for yourself. Is their jewellery any better than a true jewellery designer who has had many years of experience sat at the bench and who understands construction and setting techniques? Just because they have their own jewellery collection, does this always mean that it is a well-designed collection? It’s often mass produced in countries around the world where the cost of living is far cheaper than here in the UK, but many still charge the customer a high premium for a potentially substandard product.
So, is it better to get a penny from everyone, or a pound from a few? It is up to us British designers and British manufacturers to take the lead, educating the buying public that, when it comes to jewellery, good design and manufacture do come at a price.