Original Jewelry Designs: Is It New or Just New to You?

Everything old is new again.

When I was in my teens, platform shoes came into fashion. Remember Elton John on his tall elevator boots? My mother was quick to point out that she’d worn platform shoes all through the 1930s and 1940s. Of course, I was not in a position to recall the 1930s or 1940s. But when bell-bottoms (or flared, as they’re called today) and hip-huggers (or low-rise, as they’re called today) came back into style in the 1990s, you can bet I had a laugh about how we’d all worn those in the 1970s. In fashion, if something is new to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s new.

I mention this because there are so many threads on jewelry forums about originality and copying of designs. Let’s be honest–Egyptians were coiling wire into beautiful jewelry a very, very long time ago. And chain maille is thousands of years old. Take a look at Jeanette Ryan’s earring project that will be out in the fall issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry, along with the chain maille set from Charlene Anderson. Both borrow age-old techniques.

Alexander Calder, better known for his fabulous wire sculpture, stabiles, and giant mobiles than for his jewelry, was making the most exquisite, yet not unfamiliar, twisted, coiled, swirled, hammered wire jewelry in the early 1900s. Calder was born in 1898 and started making jewelry as a young boy with telephone wire. When he met his wife, he made her a gold spiral wedding ring. And lots of his later jewelry was made with brass wire–just wire. No torch. Much like the projects in Step by Step Wire Jewelry.

It’s easy to think we’ve dreamt up something new and original when we’re holed up in our studios. Chances are, though, it’s been done before–possibly way before. That doesn’t diminish its beauty. But it does make the issue of copying a bit grayer. Because even if you bring some originality to a design and make it in your voice, you owe a great deal to many others who did it before you.

Alexander Calder’s jewelry is in a traveling museum exhibit, at the Philadelphia Art Museum until November and then at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. If you’re a wire jewelry maker, I wouldn’t miss it.

One Week Only!
New Free Project

Unexpected Pearl Earrings
by Denise Peck

Keshi pearls throw a wrench in your expectations of pearl jewelry.  Because of their irregular shapes, they look great when paired with a rougher, more organic metal setting. This five-minute earring project is an exclusive free preview from the upcoming fall issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry

The free preview period for this project has ended.  Look for this design in the fall 2008 issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry.


Denise Peck is editor in chief of Step by Step Wire Jewelry magazine, senior editor of Jewelry Artist, and author of the new book, Wire Style. An editor by trade and a lifelong lover of jewelry, she was able to pursue both when she joined Lapidary Journal in 2004. Denise has a bench jeweler's certificate from Studio Jeweler's Ltd.


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