Recently, I traveled to an open studio tour in the River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina. Excited to see some new work, I walked around, and looked at the jewelry that was on display in various studios. I noticed some things that a potential buyer not familiar with handmade jewelry might not immediately consider, but should, before they purchase their next fabulous pair of earrings or other handmade jewelry.
If you are going to purchase earrings, check to make sure that the end of the ear wire has been rounded off if the ear wires are handmade. Run your finger over the part that is inserted first into your ear to make sure there are no sharp edges. An experienced jewelry designer will have filed it smooth or used a cup burr (as in the photo) to make sure that the ear wire has been rounded off.
Some beginning designers, due to inexperience, will forget to flush cut the ends of their ear wires and instead, leave a cut that resembles this shape < on the end of the wire. This can cause micro tears in your earring hole and cause irritation or even an earring hole infection.
As for earring wire gauges, most designers use 20 gauge for their ear wires. This is the best gauge to use for a good, sturdy ear wire that won't end up warping after continued use. If you have stretched earring holes, and you need a larger gauge ear wire, don't hesitate to ask the artist to swap out a pair of ear wires with some made in 18 gauge. I have also used 22 gauge on occasion for women that have smaller than average earring holes.
Most handmade earrings can also be modified with clip-ons. It may take a few days to get them ordered, since most handmade jewelers won't have clip-ons in stock; but, it never hurts to ask if you can't wear pierced! Since I oxidize all of my jewelry, I need time to oxidize the clip-ons before I re-assemble the earrings. This allows for continuity to the earring design, even though I didn't make the clips myself.
Which brings up another great point about earring design for beginning jewelry designers. A great pair of earrings will have continuity and balance with regards to the earring wire and the rest of the design. It can be distracting from a style perspective if the ear wire and the earring design compete for attention. A gold toned ear wire with sterling silver earrings, if not done in a very deliberate way, can look 'off' and might be why those earrings aren't selling!
If the earrings, bracelet or necklace you are eyeing is wire wrapped, again, run your finger around where the ends have been clipped off, and make sure that there are not any sharp edges or wayward wires sticking out. If there are, you can ask the designer to flush cut the wire right there for you, and can rest assured that your new treasure won't end up poking you in the neck or face if you happen to fall asleep in them. Most designers will have their pliers there for this reason, so don't be shy about bringing it up! We all miss things from time to time, especially as we are preparing for an intensive arts/crafts show!
If the earrings have a post, make sure that the post back is easy enough to take on and off. If the ear backing nut is too tight, when you try and put them on, you might bend the post. That drives me nuts when a great pair of post earrings gets ruined because of this. Jewelry designers, here is a great article explaining how to fabricate and strengthen a handmade ear post.
If your jewelry has a clasp, make sure that it is secured well to the rest of the piece, and practice opening and closing it too. If the clasp is handmade, make sure that the S-hook fits the connector jump ring snugly. If it's a bracelet, jiggle it around or pretend you are writing something on a desk to make sure it stays secure when it slides across a flat surface. Like a great pair of shoes, jewelry must move with your body and not fall off!
If you are purchasing oxidized (artificially antiqued) jewelry, ask the designer how to clean, polish and store it once you get it home. Also, ask to see if the jewelry has been treated with Renaissance Wax or another sealant. When you put oxidized metal jewelry in a commercial cleaner, it will strip off the patina and will drastically alter the effects the designer was trying to convey.
I normally tell my customers to just use some toothpaste and an old toothbrush to polish up any jewelry that the purchase from me, then rinse it. This will give the high points a great shine, and leave the recessed or oxidized areas alone.
When you purchase from a designer, ask them what their replacement policy or lost earring policy is if they have one. Most of them will be happy to remake a favorite earring if it gets lost down the road so you can enjoy wearing your favorite pair.
We wanted to share this information with those that purchase and appreciate handmade jewelry, as well as with new designers that are venturing into the world of selling their jewelry. I also wanted to emphasize why it's great to purchase handmade jewelry from artists and develop a relationship with them if they make a style of jewelry you love. We do this because we are passionate about our craft, and want to give you, the owner of our creations, the very best that we are capable of making. And we LOVE to talk about our work! Ask us questions, and we will do our very best to help educate you about the thought and inspiration behind our work!