PJ Book Club: Precious Jewellery from Plastics


Design techniques and advice for making plastic jewellery luxurious.

Plastic is rarely considered a luxury material but jewellery designers can date to make it precious, says Chris Bond, author of new book Design & Make: Precious Jeweller from Plastic. In this excerpt he discusses designer jewellery for different audiences and strategy to consider when creating new pieces.

When it comes to design and aesthetics there are many jewellery publications that deal with design, and good design is frequently seen through the lens of taste and fashion, which change over time. However, some factors remain constant, regardless of the changing fashions.

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Jewellery that cannot be worn, falls off or breaks too easily is unlikely to be successful and in general any piece of jewellery should be ‘fit for purpose’. This is not an absolute as there are examples of conceptual jewellery that are unwearable, but these items may not fit the general description of jewellery being an item of personal adornment that is worn by a person.

If you have mastered the techniques for working with a material, you are free to create whatever you wish — within the physical limitations of the material itself. Therefore, the design strategy should be the first point to consider when you sit down to develop your designs.

A design strategy considers the fundamental direction in which the work will go and the driving forces behind that direction. This, in turn, will impact on the sales of the work. Questions that you should ask yourself are: Why am I making this work? What do I want to achieve? Who is my audience? What do they want? The answers to these questions will influence the direction your design will take.

Art jewellery aims to demonstrate value through excellence in design, form and function. If the work attempts to meets these aspirations but is poorly constructed and badly finished, then these factors will undermine the aesthetic value.

A designer wishes to make work that proves their talent as an artist; they wish to receive recognition as a talented artist in the eyes of those who collect and review the contemporary jewellery market. In this case the financial rewards may be secondary to the artist’s achievement and the artist may hope that sales will follow artistic recognition. The work will be highly individual, ground-breaking and time-consuming to produce, and therefore it will be expensive.

The result could be that the designer will receive high levels of recognition and lead the market in design and innovation, however the financial rewards may be limited by the cost of the work and the limited number of people who will wear such avant-garde work.

The individual may wish to create a body of work that will provide sufficient income for them to live on, in which case their work must appeal to a wide audience and suit the tastes and needs of the potential customers, for example it must be easy to wear but sufficiently unusual and attractive to stand out from the rest of the jewellery on display. Its price should be high enough to reflect the work that went into making it, but not so high that the majority of people cannot afford it.

The designer would then be in a position to produce work on a regular basis, creating a wide distribution across their chosen market and receiving a steady return.

This work aims to create pieces that are attractive and available to the widest possible audience, with low production costs and lower prices. It is difficult for the individual maker to compete in this market as they lack the investment to utilise mass-production processes, however it represents the opposite extreme to the design-led art jewellery market.

The design strategy is really a simplified approach to the process that every product development group in every major corporation undertakes before investing their time and energy in developing a new product or service.

Once you have decided in which direction you wish to develop your work, you can consider the features that need to be incorporated into the design. These could include: how to make the work unique; how easy the work is to wear; how to reduce the production time.

Beauty, creativity, uniqueness and quality are all features that do not relate to the material from which an item is made — if plastic jewellery incorporates these features it will have a value in its own right.

However, there may still be some resistance to the fact that it has no intrinsic value. Some people may resist paying the price for designer jewellery if it is ‘just plastic’. One solution to this resistance is to combine the plastics with traditional jewellery materials such as silver and semi-precious stones. The cost of these is not prohibitive, but the work will be attributed a higher value because of the association with these traditional materials. In this way it is possible to enhance the appeal of the work to the widest possible audience, creating work that is innovative, high quality, unique and has some associated intrinsic value – beauty is down to the designer and the audience.

This PJ Book Club feature was taken from the August issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.

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