The Slow Jewelry Manifesto

May 12th, 2009 by James L. Sweaney, CGA, FGA. GG

An article on 60 Minutes about Alice Waters of ChezPanisse 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”.

Bug Ring 1

Bug Ring 1 1973

Sterling silver ring, set with “Beggar Bead” agate cabochon from India

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.

Moth Bracelet 1

Moth Bracelet 1 1973

This silver bracelet was made from 2 sterling silver butter-knives—I cut off the blades, joined them together in the middle, then overlaid my design and the malachite onto the resulting shape.  You can still see the souvenir engraving “Whitehorse” (Yukon Territory, Canada) on one of the blades.

tin can enameling

tin can enameling 1973

These enameled rings were fired with a propane can torch in a self-made muffle furnace crafted from 2 tin cans, Charlie the Tuna and Rosarita Refried Beans, as I recall.  I’ve always liked bright colors, didn’t know anyone who knew enameling, so I read some books and gave it a try.

fabricated gold rings

fabricated gold rings 1974

These delicate gold rings reflect early efforts with gold and my love of  nature and gemstones, the Art Nouveau style, and the jewelry of the early 20th century.  Note the economical use of metal!

To me, the idea of “Slow Jewelry” describes both the jewelry and the jewelers and businesses that sell it.

Slow Jewelry

> 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 aesthetic rooted in history, esp. the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau periods, Celtic, Native American, Asian cultures, etc. Design elements may reflect symbology, historic periods and cultures, tribal art

> Local products such as Mardon’s “Raincross Collection”, Richard Wise’s “Berkshire Collection” connect to the community

Slow Jewelers

> The jeweler, in creating the item, makes a statement of self-expression

> Slow jewelers may be self-taught

> 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 the jeweler’s design, presentation, and marketing

> Customer education is part of the creative process

> Slow Jewelers may be open to Hi Tech, esp. that which enhances the jewelry making process, i.e. new methods, recycling metals, networking, internet forums, expanded markets

Slow Jewelry Businesses

> Emphasis on personal mission, aesthetics, ethics and 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 your comments and discussion.

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3 Responses to “The Slow Jewelry Manifesto”

  1. Virginia Vivier Says:

    Bravo Jim! Your work is outstanding!

    You brought back a flood of memories. I too, spent college years at Cal Berkeley in the late 60’s and I did it all! Somehow I survived – In spite of being a Flower Child, Protester, and political activist, I turned into a peaceful soul, and passionate lover of the arts.

    Your work, and words, speak volumes to me! Your Blog touches my heart and reminds me of those unique individuals and ethnic spirits that influenced my life.

  2. Jim Sweaney Says:

    Virginia– Thanks very much for the lovely comments. I think the one single characteristic of what I call slow jewelry is a love for not only the work and materials but also the people. It’s not just mindless consumption.

  3. Natalie Says:

    Hello Jim,

    In love with your “moth bracelet” and wondering if it is still around and if so, for sale?


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