Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What’s so special about handmade jewelry?

Ever heard of “bespoke jewelry”? I hadn’t, at least not til the other day when I read this article on the New York Times website. If you’re short on time, I’ll save you a few minutes and summarize:

Bespoke jewelry = custom-made jewelry.

Evidently the trend is on the upswing and it’s helping lift high-end jewelry sales out of the slump caused by the 2008 recession.

Interestingly, I came across the article around the same time I got the disappointing news that Etsy—the formerly-handmade online marketplace—changed their guidelines to allow people to sell mass produced items. When Etsy started in 2005, it was a great alternative to the abundance of online marketplaces selling mass-produced products. It was a place where artisans could sell their handmade products. It was a place where shoppers could browse hundreds of thousands of artisans’ shops and they could have confidence that all the products were individually made by the seller. It was a place where we were all taking pledges to buy handmade: 
But now Etsy is focusing on “authorship,” which means as long as the artist came up with the concept, they can send it out to be mass produced and still sell it on Etsy. I’m not the only one who is upset about the change. As soon as the announcement was made, the internet was flooded with articles, blogs and forums where customers and creators expressed their disappointment.

It’s not like I have anything against mass produced products. I mean, that’s pretty much every item of clothing I own (with the exception of a hat I bought in Peru and my grandma-knitted slippers). IKEA makes an appearance in more than one room of my house. There’s no handmade stamp on the tumbler I use to polish titanium wire or the pliers I use to wrap it around precious stones. So of course mass produced is okay. I’m just bummed that Etsy is moving away from their commitment to handmade that compelled me to set up shop with them in the first place.

The Etsy announcement and the article about bespoke jewelry got me thinking. What’s so special about handmade jewelry anyway?

Whether it's a proud mama who receives a multicolored band of knotted strings from her little girl, or a wealthy traveler who commissions a custom-made ring from a chunk of sapphire she acquired on a trip to Madagascar, there’s something so very special about owning a piece of jewelry that no one else in the world has. This is why I adore handmade jewelry. Each piece is a little (or, in some cases, a lot!) different. 

These pure titanium pearl post earrings are one of my best-sellers, and I make a lot of them. Sometimes I make so many, I feel like I am mass producing them! I see these babies in my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep at night. But if you could come to my studio . . . [Sidebar: I don’t actually have a studio. I make jewelry in our guest room/office, and sometimes at my kitchen table. But writing "my studio" makes me feel glamorous.] Anyway, if you came to my studio/guest room/office/kitchen table on a day when I’m whipping up a batch of Titanium Grace earrings, and if you plucked two of them off the pearly pile, you’d notice small differences. The swirls go different directions. The spaces between the wire are different. Sometimes when I have an extra cup of coffee there's an extra swirl and I have to start over!
Then there are the pieces of custom jewelry—I mean, pieces of bespoke jewelry—which are totally, completely unique. A customer in Chicago often places orders for necklaces or earrings that incorporate a specific stone that has some meaning to her.

She’ll write to me: “I really love blue topaz. Can you make me something with blue topaz?”

Or she’ll send me a photo of a necklace she loves and ask me to create something similar but with pearl or smoky quartz.

These kinds of orders are a dream. It’s so much fun for me to get input from my customer and create a special piece that’s truly unique and meaningful to her. A piece no one else in the world has. Bespoken.

Because I hand make each piece of jewelry, my customers always have the option to customize their orders, even in small ways. Titanium and niobium earrings are hard to find, and pure titanium earrings are even harder to find. So those of us with metal allergies have really limited options in the earring department. People often contact me with specific requests for their sensitive ears or for their children’s sensitive ears, and I love being able to offer exactly what my customers need and expand their options. For example, earring posts are a standard length, which is a bit of a problem since human earlobes aren’t a standard size. So sometimes customers ask for longer or shorter titanium posts. Or they ask for smaller or larger titanium hoops

I hope Etsy doesn’t lose sight of how special handmade is, and I hope they work things out so that shoppers will know which products and shops are handmade and which aren’t. No matter what happens with Etsy, though, I’m 100% committed to keeping Variya 100% handmade.