The Tropical Studio - a Post

Define “handmade”. Does it mean the artist made it?

Define “handmade”. Does it mean the artist made it?

Let’s define handmade. But first a little story …

Unique accessories are your signature, so you happily dive into the Etsy “handmade” search and come up with the most intriguing stacking necklaces. It said there was one item available, so you scramble to buy it before someone else snatches your treasure.

At lunch you tell your best friend and show her the listing on your iPad … but the darnedest thing! It is shown as a sold item, but there it is also listed as available again!

In fact, as the two of you search the sold pieces you notice it has been a shop favorite. How could this same piece be handmade when this seller has sold 45 of them just this month? So much for unique!

Jeez Louise! What went wrong?

It isn’t just Etsy. This can happen at an art fair, at a studio visit, even a prestigious craft show. (of course, there are true Art Jewelry pieces on Etsy and all these venues, but you need to ferret them out.)

It can be aggravating to check out a supposed “handmade” venue and find questionable pieces! I buy other artists’ pieces myself! As a collector, as well as a maker I find it frustrating to find the term “handmade” misunderstood, misused and undefined.

Rant over. Not sorry, though, because I am obsessively passionate about designing AND making! It’s my life.

“Handmade” labels aren’t enough.

The piece was formed how? Was it fabricated and forged, or carved in wax and cast? And by whom? This can be tricky!

Many designers draw the design, by hand or with computer software, or carve a wax model, and send this off to a casting house or to a bench jeweler to be made. This contractor could be local, in Asia or anywhere.

The piece might be original, even one-of-a-kind AND made by hand, just not actually made by the designer who may not even know how to solder silver. What he receives back from the hired worker is a finished piece with set stones, but who did all that? It wasn’t the designer.

What does handmade mean to you?

The question is, how do you define handmade? Is it important who hammered, soldered, filed and polished your new piece? If you are expecting your silver cuff bracelet to be the product of a named artist, you might have to be more inquisitive.

Handmade / not handmade “cheat sheet”

  • Cast pieces may not be handmade unless the designer/artist poured the molten silver herself. They may just be hand-finished, and there may be thousands of a design.
  • 3D printed pieces are not handmade. Designed on the computer, and extruded by a machine, they also are hand-finished and can be made in limited numbers on demand.
  • Artist designed pieces that are made by a hired bench jeweler may be handmade and hand fabricated, but not by the artist whose name is on it. It may be one-of-a-kind, or the jeweler may be producing a limited number out of a production house.
  • Once an artist rises to a certain level and starts selling as much as she can produce in a month, she might hire an assistant to do simple preliminary steps, such as winding jumprings, cutting lengths of wire, or cleaning the studio. Designing and fabricating the jewelry wouldn’t be included.

Designer-craftsmen produce true handmade Studio Art Jewelry

Artisan jewelers that are designing and making their own pieces will most likely be producing only single pieces or a collection of related pieces. Find them in galleries, online, art fairs, high-end boutiques and other artsy places. Ask a lot of questions! Trust me, the artist LOVES to talk about what she does. This is how you define true Studio Art Jewelry.


Tell me how you define handmade pieces. I’d love to hear your take!