What is Designer Jewelry?
What is Designer Jewelry? We hear that designer jewelry brands are prestigious and sought after. We read and see promotions and ads that inform us of the many brands and stores selling "designer jewelry." When we look deeper though, some of those so-called designer brands are predominantly manufacturing the same-looking commercial jewelry one sees everywhere. At first look, this shouldn't be a big deal. After all, aren't all jewelry designs made by designers? Some person (or persons) had to design a piece of jewelry in order to be produced. However, there is a real, tangible reason to appreciate Designer Jewelry as opposed to commercial jewelry. Designer Jewelry does have a prestige and grounds for admiration and appreciation. It's just that most people are not quite attuned or cognizant of the subtle, but significantly important distinction between Designer Jewelry and jewelry designs.
So what is the difference between jewelry designs and Designer Jewelry? Why should one be interested in Designer Jewelry? Why should one know and inquire about this distinction? Most importantly, why should one buy Designer Jewelry?
This post will be my nerdy, expansive (very expansive), and serious discussion into what is generally understood as "designer jewelry" and the appropriate designation of the genre. It is one humble perspective into the vastness of jewelry design. It is a discussion that should have been raised long ago. Perhaps it was discussed, and the jewelry industry decided to ignore the results. For whatever reason though, our wonderful jewelry industry is not categorizing Designer Jewelry in an appropriate way. So this is my attempt to clarify to those who may be interested in knowing the clear distinction between jewelry designs and Designer Jewelry.
I will first display various types of generally understood designer jewelry and why those types cannot fulfill the definition of Designer Jewelry. Then, I will present a more-refined definition of Designer Jewelry. I will also show a few more distinctions within the real Designer Jewelry segment. At the end of this exposition, one should come to the understanding that Designer Jewelry is jewelry that intimately and experientially connects the wearer to a certain point-of-view and to the designer who decided to express such perspective. It is a harmonious resonance between you, the designer, and the many others who support and follow the designer. This distinction is precious and makes the customer and admirer feel fantastic. A passionate fine art jewelry collector can also intimately connect to a designer line if they are aware how involved the designer is to the actual physical production of the fine jewelry.
What is Designer Jewelry
If one "googles" "What is designer jewelry?" there is not one article or page that clearly defines what is Designer Jewelry. Wikipedia defines jewelry designs as "the art or profession of designing or creating jewelry." Without a clear definition of what is Designer Jewelry, one assumes that Designer Jewelry is jewelry that is made by a designer and since all jewelry is made by some designer, then all jewelry must be designer jewelry. This simply is not the case. Designer Jewelry needs to be distinguished from most, if not all, of our industry's jewelry.
As we develop a clear definition of Designer Jewelry, I would like to go through various types of jewelry that are generally understood as designer jewelry. My investigation will focus on the distinction of "designer" in relation to his/hers intent, involvement, and expression. After this categorization, we will be able to understand what Designer Jewelry is and is not.
Types of Commonly Understood "Designer Jewelry"
The following is a brief description of several different forms of jewelry brands or companies that are commonly understood as "designer jewelry" brands. I will highlight their strengths and priorities; and what consumers might be drawn to that type of jewelry. I will also point out how the name of designer jewelry is not an accurate description for these groups as their brand mission and intention do not satisfy the definition of Designer Jewelry.
When we look at jewelry online, in certain stores, and in the media, a large portion of the jewelry seen and bought is commercial jewelry. I define commercial jewelry as jewelry designs that are produced with the intention of maximizing that company or brand's general or current strength in the industry. Whether that strength be gold, gems, diamonds, or design capacity, the company or brand intends to fabricate multiples of the same design. For example, there are some brands that have an immense investment and interconnection with the faceted diamond segment of our industry. This strength needs to be maximized by creating designs that will exploit the diamond color, shape, size, or quality. So as they design jewelry, the intent by the hired or contracted designer is to maximize said diamond characteristic.
That is not to say the designs are not elegant, beautiful, or worthwhile. Most of the jewelry that is considered "classic" have been developed by commercial manufacturers. They have a large budget to, among many other things, invest in designers who will produce many, many designs. Eventually and statistically, some of these designs will be very popular and considered "classics." This same classic design will be reproduced or slightly altered by other commercial jewelry manufacturers who's competitive advantage is manufacturing.
As such, customers and enthusiasts may want to buy or admire this type of jewelry designs because they are famous designs; they convey the current fashion trends; their prices, due to their mass production, benefit the customer; or because the brand is well recognized. For the most part though, such commercial jewelry designs are not sought after because the admirer shares the designer's vision or expression.
In this type of jewelry designs, the designer is not recognized nor does the company promote the designer's vision or intention. These jewelry brands usually promote their strengths. For the example above of a strong faceted diamond company, the brand will promote the type of diamond quality or the name of a specialized diamond look, and not the meaning behind the design or the intention expressed by the designer. The priority for this type of jewelry is not the designer or his/her expression. It is whatever their competitive advantage is. This jewelry should not be considered Designer Jewelry.
By "character" jewelry designs, I am referring to jewelry companies that brand their designs' character, intention, or expression. I am not referring to jewelry brands in general. I am specifically referring to companies that brand their design makeup and style. For example, there are some jewelry brands that are known for the way that their design's finish or shape is characterized. This distinction has become their brand recognition. Their collection and all designs are based on that branded characteristic. Another example may be of a company who expresses a radical or rebellious attitude and brand their company that way.
In this scenario, designers may or may not be involved in the branding decision and message or mission statement. So, although there is consistency in message and design, the designer may not necessarily be intimately connected to the brand. Any designer can create jewelry based on the brand's character. The designer's own passion and spirit may be hidden from the public. So instead of calling this type of jewelry "designer jewelry" as the designer is not an important factor in the company, it should be called "Character" jewelry.
Consumers who might be interested in character jewelry are drawn to the look and character of jewelry. A consumer's aesthetic would resonate well with the brand. They might want to connect their wardrobe to the attitude of the jewelry. For the most part, it's the character and tone of jewelry that the consumer connects with, not necessarily the designer.
Unfortunately to date, there is no such specific distinction between the above mentioned "character jewelry" and "designer jewelry," and are usually meshed into one. This does the consumer an injustice because such distinction would be fruitful to their buying decision—especially for future collection acquisitions. We like attaching ourselves to the fine art we invest in. Knowing more about the subtle distinction between jewelry that has a character or jewelry from a designer's intimate expression and philosophy would be an added benefit for all enthusiasts, aficionados, and cognoscenti.
Certain jewelry brands involve the designer in the character and intent of the brand. However, the level of involvement or how many designers are involved is not disclosed or presented. As such, this type of designer jewelry brand I call Inclusive Designer Jewelry. In this type, the connection to the designer's aesthetic and vision is stronger, though we are not certain whether the main designer designs all the jewelry. One or more designers may be involved in the designer's mission or the designer has some input in the way the design looks but is not entirely involved in the whole design objective.
Customers or enthusiasts who would be interested in this type of Designer Jewelry enjoy the character and look of the jewelry and are proud that the designer's vision, though limited is included in the designs.
There are so many great designers out in the world that I cannot disregard their contribution to our industry. The advent of computer-aided designs (CAD) have brought a lot capable graphic artists into the jewelry industry and many have not disappointed. Many jewelry stores or companies also have a great team of goldsmiths and designers who can create that dream item that a customer has in their heart/minds. There are also many great individual goldsmiths that design and create superb jewelry. Does the fact that these groups design beautiful jewelry make their finished creations "designer jewelry?" Custom or Bespoke jewelry is a very popular way to allow customers to be intimately involved in the design of their jewelry. There are several ways a customer can play a role and the distinction is based on degree-of-participation. The more the customer is involved in the design, the less the piece should be considered "designer" jewelry.
In the case where the customer is strictly involved, the customer consults with a jewelry designer with a specific vision and the designer satisfies said vision in a design. Advances in computer-aided design software has prepared a large cadre of CAD designers anywhere to create almost any jewelry design that a customer would envision. Whether a customer wants to reproduce a classic design or a design they found on the web; add some special, personalized elements to traditional looks; or has a particular artistic expression in mind, most CAD designers can create it. Yet this type of jewelry can hardly be considered Designer Jewelry. Sure, it was made and created by a jeweler and/or CAD designer, but the spirit of the jewelry is grounded on the customer's desires, not the designer's. The internet and your local custom jewelry store is a great source to get jewelry designed by CAD designers and professional jewelers. However, I would resist to call this type of jewelry, Designer Jewelry. Yet many stores and internet sites are calling themselves "Designer Jewelers." This subtle distinction is not a simple play of words. Some jewelry designs can be considered Designer Jewelry, but not all Designer Jewelry is made by jewelry designers. Jewelry designers play an important role for those customers who envision and want a particular design but Designer Jewelry is founded on the spirit and intention of designer.
On another case, a customer might come with some materials: mementoes, pictures, loose gemstones, ring samples, etc., to a jewelry store/professional, and the customer simply wants the designer to make something with the provided materials. In this scenario, the jewelry designer plays a more significant role in crafting a design that would resonate well with the customer's materials. The designer can use a variety of ways, including CAD, to design the item. Yet again, the designer can't be too intimately connected to the jewelry because he/she has to design within the parameters and expectations of the customer. Though these type of jewelry designs have the designer participating more intimately in the spirit of the design, the intention and foundation is derived from the customer and not the designer. This type of jewelry also cannot be considered Designer Jewelry.
One type of jewelry that can be considered "Designer Jewelry" is called Designer Commissioned Jewelry. In Designer Commissioned Jewelry, a customer contacts a particular designer jeweler to commission a unique, one-of-a-kind design for that customer. The designer might want to inquire the purpose, intention, or personality of the customer. After receiving whatever context the designer would like from the customer, the designer proceeds in interpreting and designing, with his or her own spirit, character, and intention,the commissioned piece of jewelry. This interpretation is a wonderful artistic expression and is by far one of the best forms of jewelry designs. As long as the customer allows the designer freedom to create based on his/her own interpretation, thought process, and aesthetic milieu, the beautiful fine art should be considered Designer Jewelry.
Thus far, and for the most part, I have discussed brands or companies that do not directly or explicitly involve their designers in the brand's mission. Some other designers are included in the brand's mission but do not have exclusive creative authority in the jewelry. I have mentioned what kind of consumer might be interested in such jewelry. I also discussed why one should understand the relationship between the Brand's mission and intention and the designer who creates the jewelry; and why it could be an important deciding factor when buying or admiring jewelry.
When attempting to refine the definition of designer jewelry, the obvious essential element is the designer. Above, we noticed that in a large portion of the commonly understood "designer jewelry" market, the designer is not intimately connected with the brand or company. Yet most consumers are not aware of this very fundamental distinction. Ultimately, Designer Jewelry should be clearly defined as:
Another interpretation was provided by Andrea Hill: "A [jewelry] designer will have a clear point of view, a body of work that expresses that point of view, and a recognizable evolution in their thought process over time."
With this definition, consumers and enthusiasts understand whether they are buying or admiring true Designer Jewelry, or some other form of jewelry. True Designer Jewelry carries prestige and admiration because one is drawn to the mindset and character of the designer. The customer and aficionado wants to be intimately connected to the designer's philosophy, spirit, message, and aesthetic. Designer Jewelry therefore must be strictly connected with the designer and his/her background. Any other types of jewelry designs should not belong in the same category.
As the above definition clearly distinguishes what Designer Jewelry is. I now want to point out three more types of true Designer Jewelry with various degrees of designer and production involvement from the designer. After all, a designer can input all the intention, mission, spirit, and character into the jewelry designs but not necessarily have the ability to participate in all facets of design and production of the actual jewelry. Therefore, I will highlight a few divisions that consumers might be interested in distinguishing for a more intimate connection to the jewelry one buys and collects.
Types of Designer Jewelry
Exclusive Designer Brands-Non-Production
This type of designer brands are strictly connected with the designer's vision and character and all the designs are developed and created by the designer. However, the designs are not produced by the designer. The designer is only involved in the creation of the design and intention, not the crafting of the jewelry. These brands either have their in-house goldsmiths produce the jewelry; have outside contractors to manufacture various aspects of production; or a combination of both.
Those consumers who want to be intimately connected to the designer's design intention and expression would be satisfied with this type of designer brand. One could resonate with the designer's style, aesthetic, and spirit. One can experience the same love of the designs that the designer and his/hers customers, enthusiasts, and cognoscenti enjoy.
Exclusive Designer Brand-Production Involved
Some consumers would like to feel even more intimately connected to the designer by wanting to wear and showcase jewelry that is designed by the designer and also produced by the designer. This is the purest form of Designer Jewelry and the highest degree of artistic expression. A consumer can rest assure that their jewelry has been created to the exact specifications and intention that the designer wants to express.
This type of designer brand has the designer fully involved in the craftsmanship of the jewelry along with the intention and mission of the designs. The designer involvement in the production can vary in degree. The designer can be the full manufacturer of the piece, or the designer can be involved in one or more aspects of the manufacturing process.
At any rate, this type of jewelry brand would express the full definition of Designer Jewelry as the designer is completely involved in the design and production of the jewelry. The customer can feel confident that the jewelry they buy is to the standard of the designer. If the customer wants to consider collecting the designer's designs, the customer would be pleased that the designer will always be involved in all aspects of the creation and evolution of the collection. This artistic and craftsmanship gratification is unparalleled in any other type of jewelry. It simply makes the wearer feel blissful.
Why is Designer Jewelry Sought After and Admired? Why Buy Designer Jewelry?
Above, we discussed that true Designer Jewelry is jewelry designed with the designer's artistic spirit, intention, and expression in mind. For all intents and purposes, designer jewelry is jewelry art—it is a creative expression of an individual's imagination, character, or philosophy. So Designer Jewelry is sought after because creative expression is rare, precious, and can resonate with a person's mindset or a mindset of a culture, or society. We admire art that can connect with us in different levels. Aside from an aesthetic resonance, jewelry that speaks to us—that can speak to others about ideas we cherish—is truly something beautiful.
With this in mind. One buys and becomes an enthusiast or collector because the intimate connection between the designer's intent and the buyer resonates loudly. This intimate resonance feels private, unique, and is a source of pride and confidence that one would want to share and wear. Where some buy jewelry to show status, those who buy designer jewelry show statements. These statements may or may not show status. What is truly important to the buyer and enthusiast is that one intimately connects to the expression and to those who agree and admire that expression beyond aesthetics. This is the true preciousness of Designer Jewelry and why one would want to buy it.
Closing Remarks: Make Sure You are Buying True Designer Jewelry
Now that one understands the distinction between jewelry designs and Designer Jewelry, one can truly determine if Designer Jewelry is what one wants. If you want to find a finely crafted piece of art that happens to express an idea that you intimately resonate with, then you want to buy Designer Jewelry. If you want to wear and flaunt a certain expression or idea that a designer integrated in their jewelry designs, then you want to buy Designer Jewelry. If you admire and appreciate a consistent artistic expression that is created and it evolves through time, then you want to buy Designer Jewelry.
If you are unsure whether a piece of jewelry is indeed Designer Jewelry. I do encourage everyone to inquire into the designer's participation. Ask: What did the designer want to express in this design? Was the designer involved in the intention and character of the design? Who designed this piece? What is his role in this design's expression? If the answer shows you that the designer or designers were not intimately connected with the intention, spirit, or message of the finished jewelry, then it probably isn't Designer Jewelry.
In closing, I must express that this is my humble exposition into a distinction that I feel should be more apparent within our jewelry industry. Perhaps it is not apparent for the sake of mutual co-existence. For those conspiracy theorists, perhaps our industry's greater powers decided to squash this distinction for their own benefit. Perhaps, the distinction is too complex for the industry to categorize and promote in an appropriate manner. Whatever the reason is, I feel that the buyers, collectors, aficionados, and cognoscenti of our wonderful industry deserve to understand and distinguish this difference. This can be an ongoing conversation and I encourage anyone to contact me regarding this distinction and we can discuss it as an open forum. I hope this presentation brings light to the spectacular world of Designer Jewelry.