What is fashion jewelry, or art jewelry? Are they different from ‘arts and crafts jewelry’? What’s the difference between “modern” and “contemporary”? And what distinguishes them from each other’? All these questions – and so many different answers! Most people have a vague idea of fine vs fashion jewelry, yet even with these commonly used terms, people in the business of jewelry aren’t consistent. Fine jewelry is defined by many to be jewelry made with precious metals and fine gemstones – silver, gold, platinum, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. But some people exclude silver, others include semi-precious stones. So what of a gold and gem-quality aquamarine ring –  fine jewelry? Some say yes, others no! And still others define ‘fine jewelry’ as made old-school by hand, while their opposition feels it can be mass-produced.

Do a little search on the internet, and you see it’s a pretty common discussion engaged in by people from all areas of fashion, accessories and jewelry. Why is this so confusing? In large part because there is no single structure tying them together, so many angles to evaluate it from and no single authority to say one is better than another – the categories overlap, bringing further confusion to the discussion.

By most standards, these are ‘fine jewelry’ as they use gold and diamonds.

By most standards, these are ‘bridge jewelry’ since they use semi-precious stones and silver. The process is the same as the gold to the left.

These could be called studio jewelry as they were made in a jewelry studio (rather than a ‘crafts workshop’)

Jewelry. For some its a nice to have, for others, its an obsession. Some won’t leave the house without it on, others find it’s only mandatory for a special outing.

If I had my way, I’d wear jewelry, a great pair of heels and nothing else. – Jada Pinket

Regardless of your view, we know that jewelry is not going to save the world from cancer nor help cure any of the many social ills we see. Because of this, to some it can even seem superfluous, unessential, and an indulgence. If you deal in life or death situations on the regular, yeah, I can see why you may hold that view. But for most people its likely somewhere in between.

So what does jewelry do for us? Well for starters, it can be a thing of beauty, a work of art in its own right. Art fulfils a need for many to feel and experience the sublime. More often however, jewelry can be a way to demonstrate affection for someone else. It can be a memory of a loved one, and it can convey care and concern when you just don’t have the right words. It is an action and an expression rolled into one. It can bring you closer to someone who is far away. And if you believe the marketing of the jewelry and diamond industries, its quite important if you want to have any relationship at all! (but we know that’s just not true)

I freely admit it was my love of creating that drew me back to jewelry rather than any intellectual aspiration, but one of the things I find most interesting about jewelry is how it is rooted in cross-cultural human experience. It is not essential as eating or breathing, no, but it has been part of our collective history as far back as we can find – essential, no, relevant and important, yes. Jewelry can identify an entire culture; think of the Thai long-necked women and their stacks of neck coils, or the ear flares of the Mayan. It can unify a group of people; think of hip hop grills, body piercing jewelry, or even Mikimoto pearls. Jewelry identifies members of a group and provides a way to aspire to it – the age old desire to belong.

On the flip side, jewelry can also provide a subtle touch of individual expression for people when a ‘uniform’ is necessary. Tie tacks, cufflinks, and ‘business-approved’ jewelry are examples of these – and the area we get the most special requests for! While its human to want to belong, it is just as human to want to express individuality, especially in situations where most freedoms of expressions are forbidden by social norms or even by dress code. We need to feel connected, but independent.

There are of course other categories; the kind of jewelry that is germane to who you are like a wedding ring, an heirloom handed down, or possibly a pink ribbon, the kind that you wear because it is so perfectly in sync with you and who you are – a charm of a golf club for a golfer, or a bold ulua for a game fisherman. Jewelry is important to humans not for its intrinsic value, but for its ability to express our personalities and identify us as people. Its been a part of how we relate to each other from the time we have archeological clues! So really, the kind of jewelry you wear – fine, fine art, bridge, art or fashion jewelry – is far less important than what you do with it (gifting) how you wear it (expression) or simply to make yourself feel happy – a worthy endeavour on its own!