Make Your Next Design a Winner

Merle White
is editor-in-chief
of Lapidary Journal

Jewelry Artist

Really? Only One?

Marcus Gillihan's 18K white and rose gold ring with 13mm freshwater pearl won the People's Choice in the 2010 All That Glitters competition. The jewelry design is also my idea of a stunner; photo: Joel Johnstone/NMJA.
Marcus Gillihan's 9.58 ct. blue sapphire ring in palladium with smaller sapphires and diamonds; winner in men's jewelry, 2010 All That Glitters; photo: Joel Johnstone/NMJA.

"If you could keep one for yourself, which one would it be?"

That question always drives me crazy, especially when it's a) about jewelry, and b) I really don't get to keep one, anyway. Still, it's an interesting exercise because it makes you explore jewelry design from many perspectives.

This time, the one was from among this year's entries to "All That Glitters," the New Mexico Jewelers Association's annual competition, which I was in Albuquerque to judge. Three of us had been examining the jewelry for hours, looking at it, holding it, seeing it worn, rating it according to the criteria established for the contest. 

That had been challenging enough, but at least those criteria had been selected for me. Picking just one piece "for the fun of it" meant I had to

David Ashleigh-Phear's 18K green and rose gold ring with 2.48 ct. green zircon; winner, gold and platinum over $3,000 division, 2010 All That Glitters;  photo: Joel Johnstone/NMJA.

Stephanie Johnstone's silver, copper, and bronze metal clay, reversible pendant with Delica beads, winner, metal clay with nontraditional materials, 2010 All That Glitters;  photo: Joel Johnstone/NMJA.

figure out my own criteria and then make the call, and the more I thought about it, the harder it became.

Special Occasion Ring
For instance, the two-colored-gold ring with peach-colored pearl and ribbons of diamonds was an absolute stunner.  The colors were warm and inviting, the sparkle delicious, the slender, divided band interesting without being overly conspicuous and surprisingly comfortable — but how often would I wear that?

Everyday Special Ring . . . Or Splashier Ring?
There was also a more straightforward ring, full of lovely but subtle detail and contrast from the swirling, woodgrain patterns in the mokume gane shank to the random, rainbow colors in the rectangular boulder opal centered between two round white diamonds. The ring's heft felt good in my hand, and I could easily imagine walking around with it on my finger all the time, yet the very subtleties that attracted me also made me waver toward something splashier. 

Compared to the scintillating green zircon in a green and rose gold ring, that opal was kind of low key, or for that matter, very low key compared to the amazing blue sapphire in a palladium ring, just forgetting for a moment that it's a man's ring. 

Updated Classic . . . or Secret Interest?
And what about that updated bib style, metal clay necklace? Its unevenly sized rectangles of copper metal clay, bronze metal clay and silver metal clay gently textured with blades of grass made it substantial enough to make a clear statement, different enough to invite close inspection, and both casual and traditional enough to be worn anywhere and with anything from jeans to a sequined dress. It would probably have been the most practical choice, but since when is jewelry supposed to be practical?

I was also intrigued with a two-sided, triangular necklace made from metal clay with seed beads. The variations in colors, textures — even the irregular triangular shape — created so much detail in the piece that I was drawn to it again and again.

Much of that detail would not be apparent when the piece was worn, only the wearer would know. When you wear a piece with a secret interest, it makes you feel very special — and that is what jewelry's supposed to do. 

What Makes Good Jewelry Design?
And so I went round and round the table, picking up and trying the jewelry on, asking myself endless questions about both the jewelry and myself.

Nancy Attaway's 14K yellow and white gold pendant with 18.4 mm Bolivian ametrine and diamonds, Premier winner and winner, gold and platinum over $3000, 2010 All That Glitters;  photo: Joel Johnstone/NMJA.

Who's It for and What's Her Taste?
Do I like the colors and shapes? Would this necklace look good with my own clothes? Would the earrings be visible if my hair weren't pulled back? Would I feel comfortable wearing this bracelet?  Would this ring make me feel special? Would I pay this much for it? 

Dennis Lee Gomez's sterling necklace with 18K and 22K gold, freshwater pearls, tourmaline, amethyst, drusy, mother-of-pearl clasp, winner, silver up to $750, 2010 All That Glitters;  photo: Joel Johnstone/NMJA.

How  Well Does It Function?
Can I open and close the clasp easily? Does the pendant hang nicely, even when I move about? Does the texture feel good on my skin? Is it well balanced or does it flop over?  Are any delicate elements adequately protected? Is it heavy enough to feel genuine but light enough to wear for hours on end?  

Does It Sing?
Is there a surprising element in it? Does it have a story to tell? Is it merely attractive, or is this a design that really calls to me?

Get Out and Look at Jewelry
Designing a piece of jewelry means focusing on aesthetics, function, intended wearer or market, costs and why you're making jewelry in the first place — and there is no better way to begin thinking about these issues than by looking at lots and lots of jewelry and asking yourself these questions and as many others as pop into your head.

Go to shops, shows, and fairs. Look online for gallery and designer sites. Page through magazines and books. Try out new jewelry techniques, tools, and materials to broaden your possibilities. Practice on jewelry making projects just to see how a piece works out and how you would evolve that design yourself. 

Find Loads of Jewelry Designs from Interweave

Cinderella by Daniel M. Nagy, First Place, Miscellaneous Jewelry, 2010 Jewelry Arts Awards, 18K white gold, Tahitian pearl, leather and other ordinary shoe materials. Photo: Daniel M. Nagy.

You can find more inspiring jewelry designs on JewelryMakingDaily under the "Galleries" tab at the top.  This is also where we've recently posted the winners of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist's own jewelry design competition, the Jewelry Arts Awards–always worth a gander. 

And then be sure to check out all of Interweave's jewelry making projects, magazines and more at There's even a sale going on right now: 40% off books, video downloads, eBooks, calendars, digital magazine dowloads, and many DVDs. So check it out — you can never have too many designs to look at.

What are your ideas about good jewelry design?  Post a comment with images of your jewelry and your thoughts to share with everyone.

Post a Comment