Have you ever wondered where the jewellery in modern high street jewellery stores comes from? Chances are that much of what is sold at the high street stores is made using mass-produced standardized parts or other components marketed by wholesalers to the jewellery market. In contrast, handmade jewellery pieces now have the reputation of being of a higher cost than pieces that the high street jewellers sell. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Up until recent times, ALL jewellery that was produced was, in fact, made by hand. Examples of different jewellery items exist throughout the world that date back thousands of years. Museums in every country are full of pieces of surprisingly complex and sophisticated works made by craftsmen from carved gemstones and gold work in the ancient Egyptian, carved jade from the ancient Chinese, carved shells and stone beads from ancient Africa, and inlaid jade and gold work from ancient Mayan civilizations, just to name a few. Even earlier evidence from the archaeological record points to the fact that items like stone carvings, carved bones or animal teeth strung together found as grave goods in Neanderthal burials were likely worn as jewellery.
From these early beginnings, the craftspeople that made jewellery were highly valued by those who ordered the work. They started out as individual artisans passing on their know-how to a select few, but during the Middle Ages artisans gathered together and formed guilds or schools to pass on knowledge to apprentices who would then carry on what they learned at the masters' sides and then improve upon that technique under the auspices of that particular school. This was true, right up through the late Victorian era when improvements in technology began to allow the manufacture of components on a larger scale. By this time, a goodly portion of the apprentice system had been assumed more by economic entities like famous jewellery companies who became more interested in producing pieces for a greater segment of society now able to afford to buy their goods due to changing economic factors.
Today we find ourselves in a situation where standardized, mass-produced jewellery offered provides maximum profit margins with minimum effort for the vendors. Many come completely ready-made from wholesalers requiring nothing more than putting them out for sale to the public. Some high street retailers even have to send pieces out for repair to other locations since they have no skilled craftsmen any longer, but rather employ just sales staff in their showrooms. Because so little work is done on premises, the chance for defects in the mass-produced article is greater, and the customer may face the situation where they are not even sure the store can make repairs on what they sell.
Despite the fact that unique, handmade jewellery has earned the reputation of being over-priced, quite the reverse is true. High street stores might seem to be less expensive at first glance, but unlike the smaller artisan who might work from home, they have to mark up their profit margin sufficiently to cover the leasing costs of their location, insurance on inventory and the property, business licenses, staff salaries, etc. The quality of their offerings may be significantly less than that of the individual artisan who personally sees the piece through every single step of the manufacturing process from start to finish.
The high street shops often cannot offer design services to create a truly one-of-a-kind piece for the customer. A unique, well-designed creation is often more valuable in the long run than pieces that might have thousands of reproductions available over a wide market area.