Explore the Architecture of Jewelry

Lexi Erickson is a contributing author to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

This combines many elements and principles of Design.  Color, emphasis, line, shape, repetition, and texture of the tiny petrified turtle shell and the druzy play off against each other, and the druzy adds some sparkle.  (This was inspired by my recent trip to Peru.)

One thing I've noticed as a jewelry teacher is everyone wants to know of how things are done and the techniques used, but very few ever ask: "How do you design jewelry?" Everyone thinks you just start putting beads on a string or cutting a plate of sterling. It's really not that easy, though, is it?

The 5 Elements of Design 
You can make designing your next piece of jewelry much easier and more fun by paying attention to what are known as the elements and principles of design. These amount to just a few simple ideas that will help make your designs more successful.  All artists work with these principles, and they will help jewelers, too. Whether you work in silver, high-karat gold, or glass beads, you can apply these ideas to your designs every time.

Line, color, shape, value, texture are the elements.

Line
Line draws the eye around the piece. Think about the line of your piece: will it lie gracefully against the body when worn?

Color
Use color to create an emotion, something the wearer will emotionally enjoy. This is a very powerful principle to employ.  Create different emotions with different colors.

The tiny 3mm sapphire provides some visual interest on this glorious piece of Texas Petrified Palmwood cut by Gary Wilson.  The 1.5 mm semi-bezel holds the stone in from the bottom and the prongs grasp it from the top.

Shape
Shape is pretty self-explanatory. Is the shape of a pendant graceful, dramatic, pleasing, or otherwise interesting?  How does it work with the line of your piece?

Value
Value describes how light or dark a color is. You can use color and value to create a range of feelings.

Texture
Texture is the actual or perceived texture of the surfaces of your work. Texture is life, and it adds interest to the piece.

Pattern and More 

The holes show repetition but also an assumed line that moves the eye around the piece.

Artists also work with the design principles of rhythm, repetition, movement, proportion, balance, variety, harmony, unity, and emphasis. Once the eye sees a particular shape, when that shape is repeated, it makes the eye comfortable. Repeating a shape more than three times in a regular design makes it a pattern.

Patterns are enjoyable, and if you can use them without causing too much hardship (like having to cut out 12 silver daisies), pattern makes your design more organized. Of course, those of you who string know this already. 

Emphasis is the placement of a single element, such as a stone or other focal element, to draw in the eye. The effect is to make that point special by showcasing it.

Proportion and harmony are important to give a piece balance, and variety keeps the eye interested.

For these earrings, the movement of the dangles add interest.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, but the more you think about these ideas as you work through a design, the more you'll understand how to use these elements and principles, and the easier designing will become for you.  

A terrific resource for learning more about jewelry design and all the elements that go into it is Kate McKinnon's new book, The Jewelry Architect. It's a great help for anyone who wants to explore the art of jewelry making. Be sure to stop by the Jewelry Making Daily forums and share your jewelry designs and creations with the rest of us!

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