Slow Jewelry Manifesto

September 5th, 2009 by James L. Sweaney, CGA, FGA. GG

An article on 60 Minutes about Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame reminded me of my early days of making jewelry. Watching the piece on Alice and the Slow Food movement, I had an epiphany and realized that for most of my career, I’ve been making “Slow Jewelry”.

Moth Bracelet 1

Moth Bracelet 1

My roots in jewelry making began in northern California during the early 70’s. Recently graduated from college, newly wed and dropped out, I fell into making spoon rings for cash and soon discovered a knack for jewelry. I began hanging out with craftspeople and jewelry makers. My first mentor, a red-headed jeweler/philosopher/reprobate named Kelly Green, taught me to “sell my palette”–to try new things and put them out there. Ken Darling, a refugee from the high skill jewelry shops of New York City showed me what really well made beautifully designed jewelry was all about.

Days spent selling, bartering and trading my pieces on Telegraph Avenue in Bezerkly exposed me to the full gamut of the counter culture, including the Civil Rights, Free Speech and Anti-war movements, Hippies, and of course, organic foods & lots of brown rice. Nobody was in a rush to make a lot of money, so everything was pretty much hand-made, often from found or inexpensive materials.

Interesting design, intricate craftsmanship and pride of workmanship mattered. The conversation was often as important as the sale.

To me, the idea of “Slow Jewelry” describes hand crafted jewelry, the jewelers and businesses that sell it, and the persons who own, love, and wear it.

* The jeweler, in making the item, learns and self-expresses
* The owner/wearer, in purchasing the items, learns and self-expresses
* Clients may be involved in the production process, especially in the conceptual phase
* Knowledge and love of jewelry, including history and lore, technique, materials, is      important in both design, presentation, and marketing
* Items are individually made, not mass-produced
* Quality/Design driven, not price driven
* Beautiful workmanship, often traditional techniques
* High quality but not necessarily expensive materials
* Recycled, Fair Trade, found materials preferred, where appropriate
* Design esthetic rooted in history, tribal art, esp. the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau periods, Celtic, Native American, Asian cultures, etc. Design elements may reflect symbology, historic periods and cultures
* Hi tech may enhance the jewelry making process, i.e. new methods of recycling metals, networking, internet forums, expanded markets
* Local products such as Mardon’s “Raincross Collection”, Richard Wise’s “Berkshire Collection” connect to the community

The characteristics of “Slow Jewelry Businesses” are:
* Emphasis on personal mission, ethics and esthetics, lifestyle rather than just expanding and growing the business
* Emphasis on keeping dollars within community
* Local sources of materials, services and labor where possible
* Ownership and marketing within a community, generally proprietary not corporate
* Continuity of business relationships very important, with both clients and vendors
* Alternative forms of exchange, including barter, may be used

I welcome comments and discussion.

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