One-click access to over 250 makers through the Online Artists Directory! Explore Now ×

Value Proposition

Value Proposition

Value Proposition

October/November 2013 issue of American Craft magazine
Author Monica Moses
Mediums Jewelry
Editor's Letter Photo

Editor's Letter photo: Mark LaFavor

I’m an official member of the middle class, but you might not know it from my wedding ring. It’s made of some quotient of yellow gold with two tiny (and I mean tiny) diamond chips. It has a little gold-nugget texture that was au courant when my husband bought it in Alaska, after a fight we had when I lost my original (even less impressive) wedding ring. If my ring cost more than $300, I’d be surprised.

But I don’t really care that it won’t turn heads, because to me the ring’s value is in the life experiences it encompasses. The innumerable little traditions, inside jokes, and communication shorthand my husband and I have developed over the years. The friends we’ve made all over the country, who know us as a unit. The hard-won triumphs of the early years, when we had to build a relationship, negotiation by painstaking negotiation. The literally life-changing decisions that have shaped our time together: Should we move to another city? Should we have children? Night after night of knowing that, if we need to, we can jostle awake that familiar lump next to us in bed and be comforted. My humble little ring has been on my third finger through it all.

Still, by conventional standards, I am wearing a beginner’s ring. I could have traded up long ago – at my 10th anniversary? My 20th? But I haven’t and I won’t, and in that I am flouting a kind of commercial ranking that measures value in karats and carats, with fixed numbers that don’t lie. The marketplace says that gold outranks silver, and platinum is worth even more. And, among rare gemstones, diamonds are the top of the pile. We’re amazed by the Harry Winston jewelry that celebrities wear on the red carpet – not because it’s particularly artful, but because it needs its own security guards and bazillion-dollar insurance policies.

Fortunately, there are other, more expansive ways to view jewelry. You won’t see any hierarchy of materials in our big jewelry feature, for example. We polled nine jewelry experts for their recommendations and chose 16 trendsetting artists to present to you. Their work – and others’ in this jewelry-themed issue – falls into the fascinating category of contemporary art jewelry, which is grounded in artistic expression and a willingness to question convention. A mostly modern phenomenon, contemporary art jewelry marks a departure from centuries of traditional jewelry in that its primary value is not derived from the materials – precious or otherwise – used to make it.

For contemporary art jewelry, preciousness is not the point. Materials range from paper and eggshells to 24k gold – and everything in between. And there is no template. “Contemporary jewelry doesn’t take anything for granted,” says Damian Skinner, editor of a new book on the subject. “A contemporary jeweler who makes a diamond ring will be in part consciously thinking about what a diamond ring is, and actively grappling with what this means, rather than just making a diamond ring.” In the end, Skinner says, that ring may not even include a diamond; it may not even be a ring.

Jewelry can represent many things: surprising materials, provocative concepts, shared lives. The least interesting, as I see it, is a dollar amount.