Like sustainable food and fashion, handmade, artisan jewelry has become increasingly popular, as people have begun to value a higher level of materials, craftsmanship and that special quality often missing in mass-produced items.
There are a number of reasons to buy artisan jewelry, particularly since fast fashion shows no signs of slowing down among today's consumers. Handcrafted artisan jewelry is synonymous with quality and brings a high level of detailing to the table — the stuff that you just won’t find at any jewelry store.
If you still aren’t quite sure what makes artisan jewelry worth the investment, read on. We’ll lay out exactly what artisan jewelry is, and why it packs more bang for your buck, whether you’re looking for the perfect gift, wedding band, engagement ring or, heck, even if you want to treat yourself to something extra special.
What Is Artisan Jewelry?
Artisan jewelry most simply can be defined as wearable pieces custom-made by a skilled craftsperson. These days you can buy custom pieces from just about anywhere, from online to boutiques and even local farmer’s markets and craft fairs. The rise of sites such as Etsy and others have made artisan pieces ever more accessible, catering to all price points and varying tastes and sensibilities.
Crafted from a variety of materials, artisan jewelry is a wide-ranging category that includes beaded bracelets to fine metal working, stone cutting or other wearable, applied arts. The unifying factor here is, with artisan jewelry, is everything is handmade and one-of-a-kind. That means there’s going to be some variation from piece to piece, even if the artist is working from the same source design.
Because of the extra care it takes to create each item from scratch, rather than operating an assembly line, you may find artisanal jewelry has a higher price point compared to mass-produced jewelry. In most cases, the cost depends on the quality of the raw materials used to make that rose gold bracelet, plus labor.
But keep in mind, you can find some high-quality pieces at a reasonable price point. A simple piece made from sterling silver costs the buyer less than a custom engagement ring or a pendant featuring a large precious stone.
Who Is Considered an Artisan?
While things like artisan pizza and other foods once strictly associated with the masses now come equipped with the premium-sounding label “artisan,” the real meaning of the word has gotten a bit convoluted with the rise in popularity of this term.
An artisan is someone who creates something that is functional — whether that’s something edible or wearable, or a piece of furniture. They are slightly different from an artist, as an artist creates something meant to be enjoyed purely from its aesthetic merit — like music or visual art forms such as painting or drawing. An artisan, on the other hand, might make pottery that’s both beautiful and functional, such as a tea cup you drink from each day or matching wedding bands for you and your spouse or a special heirloom rocking chair.
The Handmade Myth
Anything classified as artisan jewelry should be “handmade,” but one thing that comes up time and time again is the difference between a jewelry maker who creates pieces from a pool of premade materials versus someone who truly crafts a piece from start to finish.
Unfortunately, handmade is also a term co-opted by marketers to make products seem more valuable than they are. And as a result, many people try to pass off things that have been assembled or altered by hand as the real deal.
Yes, jewelry designers working with premade materials make beautiful pieces, which take a real eye for design when done correctly — but to compare the act of putting something together with already-existing items versus making a custom piece with raw materials is comparing apples to oranges.
Technically, a product advertised as being handmade must be made by hand, from start to finish. In the case of real artisanal jewelry, there’s no mass production of machinery involved in the process — each piece is soldered and shaped with care, while machine-made jewelry relies on a mold to crank out hundreds of pieces at a time.
Because handmade jewelry is crafted one piece at a time, it takes an enormous commitment from the designer — meaning consumers must often wait a few weeks for a custom job to be completed. Even if you’re buying a custom piece off the rack, the overall cost is determined by the amount of time spent making a piece as well as the intimate process involved in cutting each curve and line.
Why Buy Artisan Jewelry?
It’s tempting to buy something made from a machine if you need to save money. But think about it this way — purchasing a custom item is kind of like buying an original painting versus a poster print of a famous artwork. Sure, the poster has some aesthetic merit, but the original contains that special touch by the artist. Here’s a look at what you’re paying for when you buy an artisanal piece.
Getting a Higher Quality of Materials
When you shell out for a custom necklace, bracelet or ring, the value of the materials is often superior to those used to make mass-produced jewelry. When you make each piece by hand, there’s more of a connection between the suppliers of metals and stones used to make each piece, as well as attention to detail.
Helping Small Businesses
If you purchase from a local artisan, you can proudly buy local and contribute to your city’s commerce. There’s also the added benefit of lowering your carbon footprint, not to mention supporting someone’s livelihood. It’s true you often pay more for a particular piece made by hand, but you’re helping preserve something special by opting to patronize an artist’s work — plus, you never know if it’ll be an investment down the road.
And you don’t have to stay in your hometown to feel good about making your purchase — there are countless small-scale entrepreneurs across the globe selling their unique handmade jewelry to support their local economies. Do your research first, but plenty of designers, often women from developing countries, craft a variety of beaded jewelry, textile arts and more that both help them support their families and make great gifts you can feel good about buying.
At the end of the day, despite the merits of all the “buy local” efforts, if you’re buying from an independent artist online, or even a more established, high-end designer, you’re still helping sustain a smaller, more personal level of economic growth, a growth that spans the entire supply chain and that’s worth preserving, no matter what the zip code.
Ethically Sourced Materials
In most cases, the materials used to make a handmade piece are at a high degree of quality. Plus, craftspeople tend to be more cognizant of where their materials are from and can identify each part of the sourcing process.
Many jewelry makers are committed to sustainability as well as using ethically sourced materials. One of the reasons a lot of custom pieces tend to cost more than their mass-market counterparts is the artist often has a relationship with the refiners and dealers, but may not get the price cuts associated with buying in bulk. Being ethical can be difficult when you’re trying to make a buck, but purchasing on a small scale provides a buyer with more transparency as far as supply chain ethics are concerned.
With many mass-produced jewelry lines, there are a host of ethical dilemmas that emerge, particularly when a company becomes quite large, such as:
- Using conflict diamonds financed by abusive regimes
- Using metals mined through ecologically damaging means
- Trading in high usage energy and resources
- Contributing to toxic mine drainage
When you buy from an artisan, they’ll have a relationship with the person they’re buying metals and stones from, and you’ll be able to ask questions about the process, should you be on the lookout for a piece as beautiful as it is ethical. Chances are the designer you choose to buy from will be happy to talk about their process — whether they’ve got a story about their gold guy or their adventures in sourcing certain hard-to-find materials.
These days, people are more conscious about the impacts of mining and more. Many jewelers work with recycled metals or are reusing stones from vintage pieces, which come with both a history and a lower carbon footprint.
Unique Handmade Jewelry Is Made From Durable Materials
No one wants to purchase cheap jewelry. Everyone has had the unfortunate experience of wearing earrings for a night out, only to find yourself cursed with throbbing, itchy lobes, or wearing copper hidden inside rings that turn your fingers green. When you invest in artisan jewelry, you don’t just get the benefit of owning a one-of-a-kind investment. You also buy something that’s built to last — so long as you don’t lose it.
At a smaller scale, production is generally of a higher quality than your typical selection of costume jewelry targeted at an audience who typically buys a piece to wear once and then discard. End-to-end operations for small-scale jewelry artisans don't involve multiple teams, but rather a few people with a smaller order load, making it easier to keep track of quality control measures.
While we understand the impulse to have variety at your fingertips, especially if you’re going to a lot of events where you may need to look nice, costume jewelry is generally poorly made and could break apart. And, let's face it, that may happen in the middle of a first date, networking event or whatever other awkward situation that may arise. Durable artisan jewelry, on the other hand, is far more likely to stay intact through thick and thin, lasting through several lifetimes, if cared for properly.
Enjoying a One-of-a-Kind Piece of Handcrafted Jewelry
No matter what you decide to buy, the benefit of going with artisan jewelry is you’re always getting a unique item no matter what the price point. Even if the designer makes several pieces that look like what you have in mind, no two earrings, rings or necklaces are the same. And that’s a really beautiful thing, if you ask us.
And while many people are perfectly happy sticking with whatever the look du jour happens to be, the cool thing about owning a one-of-a-kind design is it often transcends fleeting trends. Be true to your own style or celebrate the fashion sense of a loved one.
In our opinion, it’s far more worthwhile to invest in a classic piece that’ll last a lifetime. Whoever the lucky recipient is, they’ll be gifted with something they can pass along to the next generation.
You May Get Something With a Fascinating Backstory
Jewelry, handmade or otherwise, often signifies a particular moment in life — from milestone birthdates marked by a unique stone to anniversary gifts remembered for years to come. As humans, we’ve been connected to jewelry for thousands upon thousands of years.
The thing about custom-made anything is the fact that often there’s a story behind why the artisan chose a particular design or materials. When you buy a handmade piece, you’re buying the history that goes along with it — perhaps emotional and told through the materials used to put together a beautiful piece of wearable art.
Brand Versus Uniqueness
While most people are over the moon after being gifted a high-end handmade necklace or bracelet, some prefer brand recognition to personalization. If that’s the case, you may want to save your attention to detail and appreciation of the one-of-a-kind for a more receptive recipient or, you know, get yourself something nice.
That said, there are plenty of designers working in high-end metals and stones, with craftsmanship rivaling that of some of the oldest and most established wearable status symbols. And while we get that a certain logo or a subtle engraving can mean something — especially if you see jewelry as an investment — the value of a handmade item can be equally high, especially when handmade by a known designer who handpicks all materials from start to finish.
For example, one of the gifted artists we sell, John Hardy, offers a strong collection of handmade pieces that are eye-catching and provide a certain attention to detail just about anyone can appreciate.
Looking for a Piece of a Story? Shop Mountz Jewelers Today
If you’re shopping for a gift for someone you love very much or want to start building the quality jewelry box you’ve always dreamed of, Mountz Jewelers offers a broad selection of handmade jewelry for every occasion. From custom wedding bands that add an extra layer of meaning to the ritual of marriage to necklaces or earrings perfect for a daughter’s graduation, a big anniversary or just because, shoppers are sure to find the right piece — and one that outlasts a lifetime of trends, at that. Trust Your Special Moments to Mountz.