How to Design an Effective Jewelry Collection
By Marlene Richey
“Only well executed objects can be beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products used everyday have an effect on people and their well-being.”
- Dieter Rams
“There are three responses to a piece of design, yes, no and WOW! WOW is the one to aim for.”
- Milton Glaser
There are so many “designers” in the world today that it is overwhelming at times, particularly if you are a “designer.” When I started teaching a class on designing a collection I did a lot of research into what a designer is, what the art of designing is, and what the basic elements and principles all of us should know and use when approaching design are. Having grown up in a family of artists, been married to an artist, having a daughter who is an artist, and having been a jewelry/metals major in college, the subject was not new, but I had never thought of it from this particular direction.
Here’s what I learned. A designer is a person who sets out to create a body of work that serves a purpose, fills a need and has the ultimate customer in mind. A designer creates work that is user friendly and captures his or her own personal design aesthetic and voice.
A collection is a group of pieces that have a similar design aesthetic, material/metal, feel, and they just work together or complement each other. Often a collection will have the same design element running through all of the pieces. This could be a cube, a horseshoe, a heart, a spiral … it could be anything tying the pieces together. And, yes, there are some basic design principles that can be observed if you want to have a well-designed collection.
I am going to write three articles on designing a collection. Each time I will go deeper into one of the areas below. I encourage you to send me your thoughts, experiences and ideas because these concepts can be subjective, and I welcome your perspective.
The term designer describes a person who understands that what she is creating speaks not only to her own personal artistic vision but also to serving the needs of the ultimate customer. She understands that the act of refining her designs is never finished. She takes a basic concept and keeps pulling at it to see where it will go, to see how many pieces she can make from a single element, material, or process as the basis for her work. Here are some questions you can ask yourself as a designer.
- Why did you decide to become a designer?
- What did/do you expect to get out of this decision?
- What is your passion and inspiration in your work?
- What designer/s do you emulate?
- What do you experience when you design?
- Do your designs reflect your personal aesthetic?
- Name a specific product that you think is well-designed, not jewelry.
- Name a specific product that you think is a bad design, not jewelry.
The 4C’s for a collection: clear, concise, cohesive, consistent.
A collection is a body of work that fits together seamlessly. You want galleries to see it as a whole so they can pick the individual pieces they feel are a good fit for their customer base. The ultimate customer prefers a cohesive collection rather than random pieces because it makes sense, and they know they can add pieces to it when they want. A collection tells a story and people love to tell stories about their personal purchase and connect it to your story.
Most designers have more than one collection. Think about all the great artists; whether they are composers, architects, painters, writers, dancers, actors, or jewelers, they all have something in common. When you think about them, you can draw a mental picture of their work. It is distinct yet consistent. Imagine Frank Lloyd Wright designing a Renaissance-inspired building. It just doesn’t work.
How do you create a collection? If you already have a body of work, invite some friends or peers over and lay out all your work for them to look at. Ask them what seems to go together. You aren’t asking for a critique, just a time to play with your jewelry. Let them move pieces around, put them together. You will often be surprised that others will see things, a common thread, in your work that you don’t. Listen. Take notes. Ask questions. Ask your guests to give you words describing your work. This will be handy later.
Here’s an exercise I give to all of my clients, even if they only have a few pieces or are just starting out. Pick out a single element in your work about which you feel strongly, that you really love. Then do at least 40 thumbnail sketches using this single element in all types of jewelry: bracelets, rings, pendants, bands, earrings, necklaces, pin/brooches, cuff links, charms, etc. I want you to pull your design, to discover new ways a single element can define your collection. This is when design gets really creative!
Here are some questions to get you thinking about your own collections.
- Does your work follow the 4C's outlined above?
- What is the strongest element in your work? Why?
- How many pieces can you create using this single element?
- Do you see a similarity in much of your work?
- Are there pieces you would be just as happy not having in your collection? If this is the case, move them out to make room for new pieces.
- What are your customers' needs? (affordable, comfort, one-of-a-kind, fashion-forward, a well-known name/brand, green, commitment, etc.)
- Does your collection fill the needs of your customers?
- Describe your collection.
- Why should someone purchase your work?
- Is it user friendly? (clasps easy to work, earrings not too heavy, necklaces hang right, pieces don’t snag, wearability, etc.)
- What emotion does your jewelry evoke?
- What is special about your collection? (the materials/metal, the process, the details, the main design element, the findings, etc.)
Basic Design Principle Guidelines
“Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.”
- Dieter Rams
There is a famous product designer, Deiter Rams, who designed cutting-edge products for Braun, was an architect, and designed furniture for Vitsoe. He is also well known for his Ten Principles for Good Design or as some call them, The Ten Commandments for Good Design. I am sharing these with you straight from him. I am going to be covering other points of view and philosophies about basic design guidelines, but this is the perfect place to begin.
Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design
Good design is innovative.
The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technical development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself
Good design makes a product useful.
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
Good design is aesthetic.
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. Only well-executed products can be beautiful.
Good design makes a product understandable.
It clarifies the product’s structure, better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
Good design is honest.
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It is not an attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained in order to leave room for the user’s self expression.
Good design is long lasting
It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. It lasts many years—even in today’s throw-away society.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect toward the consumer.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment.
It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Good design is as little design as possible.
Less but better—because it concentrates on the essential aspects and the products are not burdened with inessentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
As I mentioned earlier, I will be continuing this series of blogs going deeper in depth on each of the three categories about design and would love to have your thoughts and ideas. Please share them. In the meantime, here are some resources you can use to explore this topic a bit more.
- Watch the Netflix series Abstracta about designers in different fields.
- Watch the movie Objectified about designing a product.
- Watch the move Helvetica, a fascinating history of the font and that goes into product design.
- Read As Little Design as Possible by Sophie Lovell about Dieter Ram’s Ten Principles.
Marlene Richey started a jewelry design firm with no prior business experience. During the 35 years since, Marlene has run a wholesale business and a retail gallery, participated in hundreds of craft and trade shows, and traveled across America selling the pair’s jewelry.
She has served on the boards of SNAG, CJDG, Maine Craft Association, Metalwerx and WJA. Marlene consults with artists, teaches workshops and was professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Maine College of Art. She is also a contributor to various jewelry and craft publications and wrote an award-winning book on running a jewelry business, Profiting by Design.
Profile: Rachel Morris, Eclectic Nature Jewelry & Design
Rachel Morris of Eclectic Nature Jewelry & Design
Art is not just a medium that Rachel Morris brings to life; it is the reason for how she lives her life.
Rachel Morris is a self-described artist/educator—a silversmith who gains as much value from her remarkable craftsmanship as she does from teaching others the joy of jewelry making.
She is the owner of two businesses—M.G.C.D. Consulting and Eclectic Nature Jewelry & Design and is equally active in both. Rachel provides productivity consulting services to improve business processes for both small and large corporations. However, she is just as passionate about fabricating and producing original jewelry pieces that make her clients happy to wear.
Education is the cornerstone to Rachel’s success. As a lifelong learner, she is constantly seeking out experiences through others and books. But, she also teaches jewelry technique classes—pushing her own students to create beyond the thresholds of, ‘No, I can’t!’ In her free time, Rachel works with non-profits, like GiveCamp.org, and is vocal about protecting the value of artisan work and time.
Tell me a bit about your background.
I began taking enameling classes in the 70’s when I was about eight years old in Norman, Oklahoma. After a couple of workshops, I was granted permission to attend the adult silversmithing class. I was grateful for the opportunity and I continued those classes for a number of years. I entered some craft fairs and around the age of 12, my work was accepted into a gallery in Boston. Though my higher education focused in theater arts—with a B.A. in theater from Drew University and an M.A. in teaching from Monmouth University—I eventually found my way back to metal arts around 1999 thanks to some incredible mentors.
The first ring made by Rachel Morris.
How did you end up in an enameling class at such a young age?
My parents were pretty fabulous. They never said, “No, you can’t!” I could bike the three to four miles round trip to the Firehouse Art Center from my home. I still have the first ring I ever made and I keep it to talk to my students about progression.
Tell me more about your business Eclectic Nature Jewelry & Design.
I chose Eclectic Nature Jewelry & Design as a trade name that carries significance to my life, as I feel I need more of a reputation to brand on my name alone.
I lead a diverse life as an owner of two businesses resulting in a somewhat eclectic view of the world. I am comfortable working with analytical data and I am fascinated and inspired by nature—rock formations, plants, leaf shapes and everything else outside!
I started the company in 2012 when I decided to go back into designing pieces for sale rather than for gifts or for fun. It was about that time that I went from teaching myself techniques to become a better educator for my students to educating myself in the skills needed to evolve my own artistic path. My business is just one way of bringing my art into the hands of people who want to wear it.
What is your biggest challenge as a jeweler and as a business owner?
The answer to both is the same—time! If I could, I would be a perpetual student and a working jeweler. I could spend multiple lifetimes trying to become proficient in silversmithing.
As a business owner, I find myself wanting to do more with my website, but I choose to spend my time making, teaching or enjoying what others can craft with their hands.
Rachel Morris' new studio space
You recently moved from Connecticut to Oregon. Is your workspace in order? Which tools made the trek across country with you?
Not quite yet, but I am getting there. I haven’t been in the new place long but seeing as this is my first in-home studio, I am anxious to get it settled.
I am never more than three minutes away from my tool kit though. It is out of this that I teach. Some of the items always close to me are a set of files from 1923 (acquired from a third generation horologist estate sale), straight-tip French Shop Shears (a Rio tool that I call my ‘best value for the money’), basic wire, sheet, stones for inspiration and sketchbooks.
How do you stay motivated to produce new work?
I set annual personal goals to master skills and techniques that allow me to push my design capabilities. Sometimes the goals are specific to my business and other times to my jewelry. They always include educating myself to achieve, produce and live my life artistically and completely ‘hands-in.’
Can you talk to me about your Cascade collection?
The Cascade collection is formed and forged in silver, detailed with pearls and 24K gold keum-boo. Each piece is unique and displays elegantly to the wearer. I use wood or Delrin® mallets when forming them, because I can feel the response of the material with each blow reverberating up my arm. I also enjoy the challenge of balance—bending and folding each individual scallop to rest cohesively next to one another. If this piece falls off the neck ring, its arrangement order matters… So snap a photo before you wear it!
Selenograph necklace with center stone
What is your most successful sales channel?
I am most successful with private business sales, which are very similar to trunk shows. My client is the business professional who lacks the time to research but still enjoys picking out that special piece for that special occasion. I also sell in galleries, at shows and (less so) on my website and Etsy—where I find the marketplace to be a lot more saturated than when I began.
What words of wisdom have you discovered about the artistic process?
John Cogswell, one of my many mentors, always reminds his students to go forth to teach and share the knowledge. Pass along the art because it is the only way it will continue moving forward.
You can see more of Rachel Morris' work at eclecticnaturejewelry.com
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