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Jewelry Design – Creating With Your Heart

Jewelry design is, if you look apart from the physical factors that must be present, an art form. The shape and color of the jewelry, the materials used, how they are put together and how it flows when worn, all comes together into an artistic statement.

Jewelry design can be anything from very simple and minimalistic to large, colorful and bold, it can be symmetrical or asymmetrical and as diverse as we are as human beings. Jewelry triggers, like all types of art, feelings in us, like a sense of luxury, joy, pride, boldness and lots of other emotions. We fall for the colors, the metals used, the substance of the elements and the combination of them, their glory or simplicity. We simply love jewelry, and regard it as something very personal.

When making handcrafted jewelry, we reach for the unusual and unique, and to create that, we use different elements of jewelry design:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Space
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Value
  • Balance
  • Emphasis
  • rhythm
  • contrast
  • Harmony

We use these elements deliberate or unconsciously when we make jewelry. The most expressive element used is color. Color is the first thing we notice whether it is the lack of it or the presence of it.

Color can be used in different ways in a jewelrhy design. You can use one element with a contrasting or complimentary color to the rest of the elements, to draw attention to this particular part of the jewelry. You can create harmony by using colors that are analogous or have toned down values. You can use strong colors to draw attention, contrasting colors to create interest or lack of colors to create a more serene anonymous effect. Color is the most powerful of the elements, and often decides whether we like the jewelry or not.

The knowledge about color and how to use it deliberately is therefor an important factor when designing jewelry. You can use colors actively to draw attention to your jewelry design, to make it stand out as something unique and special.

Color is particular important when you make polymer clay jewelry. There the combinations are endless. Polymer clay IS color, and allows you to play with them to create combinations that are stunning, patterns that leave people in awe. But again, the knowledge of how color behave is important, or you may end up with flat patterns where nothing stands out, or muddy colors that gives a dull and unclean result.

You find colors all around you. To challenge yourself when it comes to the use in your designs, make collages. Cut out pictures from magazines or photos and put them together to create different effects. Colors look different standing alone than what they do when put together with other colors. Making collages may give you combinations you haven't thought of before.

When I buy beads I always buy some extra in colors that I am not into at the moment. Over time I have built up a collection of beads this way, and when I need inspiration to create something new, I take them out and start to mix and match. This has resulted in color combinations that I have not thought about earlier.

Rhythm in jewelry design refers to the repetition of elements, textures, colors or shapes in a piece of jewelry. When your eyes move over the piece, it sees a repetition that gives a smooth path for the eyes, or a bumpy one. Rhythm, harmony and balance are close related. You can create rhythm with a repetitive colors, texture, types of elements and patterns. The rhythm can be even, like in a necklace of strung pearls, or uneven where some parts or elements stand out from the rest.

A calm and repetitive rhythm can be both boring and elegant, depending on the elements used. On the other hand a broken rhythm may be drawing attention, but can also look a bit mottled or untidy. The challenge is to find the right combination of the two and create an attractive rhythm, that makes your jewelry interesting but pleasing to look at.

This is what draws attention to your jewelry, what stands out and dominate the jewelry design. It may be a focal point, a strong color, a different texture or shape in some of the elements used. You can use this actively to draw attention and interest to your jewelry designs.

If you make all the elements stand out, or too many, you loose the interesting focus of the jewelry. If your contrasting color is too strong or is not in harmony with the rest of the piece, or you use a shape or texture that looks odd with the rest of the elements, it may trigger dislike instead of interest So emphasizing parts of your jewelry must be in some degree of balance with the rest of the piece, but still be bold enough to draw attention in a positive way.

Shape in jewelry design may be related to the shape of each of the elements or the shape of the whole jewelry. It is a powerful design element, as shape also brings emotions to the surface when we look at the jewelry.
The shapes of the elements, like the beads, may be uniform where all beads are shaped alike or may be of different shapes to create a different rhythm and look. In a piece of jewelry where all the beads have the same shape, a different shaped element in between will automatically become the center of interest.

Some jewelry shapes we are very familiar with and often accept as the only shape useful for that type of jewelry, like a jewelry ring. It is always round, to fit our fingers. Creating a square ring would be odd and not very comfortable to wear, but if you create a round shank and a square exterior on the ring, you have a designer ring that will draw attention.
Necklaces are generally shaped so that it drapes around your neck in a soft curve. A necklace that were designed to create a square or angular curve would be different and stand out.

Putting the clasp at the back of a necklace is the most usual way. Putting the clasp on the side or as a focal in the front may create a more interesting outcome. So may using beads of the same shape, but different sizes or different colors, or the same color and size, but different shapes. The important thing about the shape of the jewelry is that it must still be functional and comfortable and in weight balance.

The shaping of jewelry is an exiting challenge. It dare us to try something new, something out of the ordinary, but also challenge the physical properties of the jewelry. A new shape may result in another weight balance, so do elements of different shapes.

Asymmetrical designs, where the two halves of the jewelry are different, makes a piece of jewelry interesting, but again may be difficult when it comes to fulfilling the rules of weight balance.

Some shapes are uncomfortable to wear if they have sharp angles or raised textures, especially if they are heavy as well. Some shapes may be annoying as they get hung up in things like clothing. So when choosing the elements or shaping your jewelry, be aware that you may have to take considerations you wouldn't have to do if you made the ordinary. But please DO create the daring, the unusual. Experiment, explore and enjoy.

Composition means how you compose the jewelry. It is what makes your jewelry designer jewelry. This is where your artistic challenge lies, how you arrange the elements you have chosen and unite them into a piece of jewelry. All the other elements of design lies within this, the colors you use, the materials, the rhythm you create, what you choose to emphasize and so on. It is also the most challenging part of jewelry design.

Bead-desing-board hg There are many ways to make a composition. You can use a bead board, where you can put the elements in the order you have in mind. You can then rearrange them as many times you like, before you string them or put them together in other ways. You can do the same on a bead mat or a towel.

You can design the jewelry on a jewelry display, which demands a bit of planning on forehand, as you may have to add the clasp or several elements early to keep it on the display. The display will show you how the jewelry will act when worn, whether it is balanced in weight or not, something the bead board will not.

Sometimes drawing a sketch of the jewelry design or pattern you have in mind, may help you figuring out how to compose it, and in which order you have to do what. In bead weaving graphs papers of the different beading stitches may help you put the right colored beads or bead types in the right place, and to keep track of the pattern you want to use.

The challenge in composing a piece of jewelry is not to overdo it or under do it, but find the right balance of all the other elements of design and the physical properties that must be present to make stunning jewelry. To create jewelry that stands out as unique both in functionality and visual design.

The size of the jewelry is much dependent on who wears it. One piece may look small on a big person, but large on a smaller person. This however should not be of any concern when you design your jewelry. What you should consider however is standard sizes. Sizes that fits the average person. So unless you design jewelry for yourself or a particular person, standard sizes may be the solution.

I find that size belongs both to the physical properties of a piece of jewelry and to the artistic design, so I cover some of this element here and some in the first part of jewelry design. These are standard sizes for the jewelry length, not for the elements used:


Collar Hugs the neck 35,5 cm (14”)
Choker Fits at the base of the neck 40,5 cm (16”)
Princess Dips below the collarbone 45,5 – 51 cm (18” - 20”)
Matinee Hangs slightly above the chest 58,5 – 68,5 cm (23” - 27”)
Opera Hangs below the chest 89 – 94 cm (35” - 37”)

The standard bracelet size is 18 cm (7”), but may require some adjustments. There is a balance of too tight, which will be uncomfortable, and too wide, which may cause the bracelet to fall off or be extremely annoying to wear.

So, where do you start?
Where to start on a jewelry design is very individual. Some decides what kind of jewelry they want to make first and go from there. Others have the perfect bead or focal that they want to design something unique with, and start with that.

Either way, a good start may be to make a template or a sketch. Here you can let your creativity run loose and not much care about physical properties. This may be the phase where you design the shape of the jewelry you want to make. You decide the flow and line of the design and roughly the colors and shape of the elements.

Designing jewelry however, does not always go as planned. I have started so many pieces of jewelry, and even done them half before admitting that it was a flop from the start. I may have chosen the wrong colors, the wrong combination of materials, the wrong beads or simply had a bad day. Other times it is a hit from the very beginning, and I know that I have created something special. I may also start on one thing and finish with something entirely different, born along the way.

Being creative does not mean that everything you touch become gold. It is trying, failing, learning and succeeding in a huge messy tangle. I sometimes feel that I am in a big vacuum, where nothing creative happens, while I other times feel I am on some kind of creativity dope. But, that is what jewelry design is about. Creating, failing, winning, whimpering, crying, pride and joy. And the satisfaction when you have designed something truly amazing...well, nothing can compare to THAT feeling.

Despite what I have written above and in the first part of jewelry design, there are no laws that say you have to make jewelry this or that way, that you cannot combine these colors, shapes or sizes. If you can make it work – it rules. Some jewelry designers are amazing when it comes to combining creativity with functionality, pushing the limits to the brink. And luckily for us they sometimes write books, and make tutorials.

So, basically there are just one rule that applies to jewelry design: Enjoy the ride wherever it may take you!

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