I find myself explaining art jewelry a lot. Most people who aren't collectors of crafts don't know what art jewelry is.
And that's probably because it's a hard thing to define. So let's talk about it!
To talk about art jewelry, you first have to talk about jewelry in general.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, jewelry is:
jew·el·ry noun \ˈjü-əl-rē, ˈjül-rē, ˈju̇l-; ÷ˈjü-lə-rē\ : decorative objects (such as rings, necklaces, and earrings) that people wear on their body
Which is a decent definition, as far as the basics go.
So: "decorative," which assumes not functional. And "worn on the body," which means not sculptural, or freestanding.
But obviously there are different types of jewelry, because you expect different things from jewelry bought at Tiffany than you do from jewelry bought at Claire's.
Which brings us to fine jewelry and fashion jewelry.
Fine jewelry (like Tiffany, Cartier, Lalique, and so on) often contains precious metals, like platinum, gold, or silver. Gemstones are a staple of fine jewelry, particularly "the big three," emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. And, of course, diamonds. Engagement rings almost always fall into the realm of fine jewelry. Fine jewelry is sometimes one of a kind at the very high end, and sometimes produced in quantity.
And then there is fashion jewelry, which is another beast entirely. It is primarily not made from precious materials, although it is often made to look like it is. Plastics, imitations, and inexpensive materials are key to fashion jewelry. Fashion jewelry is trendy, and often has a limited life because of it. It also tends to be produced in massive quantities.
But neither of these is art jewelry. Art jewelry is more nebulous. It can be made from diamonds and gold. But it can also be made from plastic, wood, or paper. Materials don't define art jewelry.
Neither does quantity. (Well, to an extent.) While much art jewelry is one of a kind, many artists have production lines as well, producing multiples of popular pieces.
But what was that word? Artists! Art jewelry is defined by the hands behind it. Art jewelers (and metalsmiths, as there is often an overlap) define art jewelry. It is the mark of art jewelry to have been made by one person (or, in some cases, by an artist and an assistant or two). And not only made by, but designed by. The integration of design and craftsmanship is key.
And yet, there is art jewelry made on computers, made in collaboration with insects, made from found objects.
There is art jewelry which is not wearable.
There is art jewelry that is not decorative.
And there is art jewelry that exists only in photographs.
Which brings us to the art part of the equation. What is art? Art is what artists, or critics, or the audience, say it is.
And art jewelry? Well it's art, which means it could be anything. But, often it harkens back to the traditional definition, and exists as a wearable object on the body. Or it makes a commentary about the body, or a commentary about the traditional definition of jewelry.