Have you always wanted to make your own jewelry? Yearn to know what makes a gem valuable? Think you aren’t artistic enough to design accessories? Well, think again!
At the Singapore Gem and Jewelry Fair, I happened to drop by the Jewelry Design & Management International School (JDMIS) booth, and won a free ticket to a two-hour “Art of Jewelry-Making” seminar, which was held at the school.
The insightful seminar, taught jointly by Dean and Founder Tanja Sadow and Director Alex Zupancich, exposed me to various new technological advancements incorporated in today’s jewelrymaking that has made the process much, much easier.
One of those advancements is the usage of metal clays to make fashion jewelry. Metal clays can be molded – like clay –into shapes, pendants, rings, etc. The name came about because the material is as easy to work with as clay itself, but the end product still winds up being a metallic piece of jewelry.
The discovery of metal clays came about when scientists involved in metal recovery and refining found new uses for the granular form of metal deposits that are produced during electrolysis. The granules are refined into a very fine powder before they are mixed with a small amount of water and organic binder to produce metal clays.
When the design is complete, the metal clay is fired either in the oven (it’s non-toxic) or gas stove, or by a gas torch – yes the one you use for crème brulee – to raise the temperature to just below the metal’s melting point and allow the particles to ‘sinter’ (partially melt). So the design keeps its shape, but the individual particles fuse to neighboring particles and produce a solid metal without the water or binder impurities. Pieces of the same or even different metal clays can also be combined by just sintering, without the need for soldering.
As a result of the ease and convenience of working with metal clays, it is commonly used by jewelry artists, though it is still not readily available in commercial art supply shops. “Some [investors] feel that there is still no market for [metal clay] among laypeople,” admits Mr. Zupancich.
Another technological tool used in jewelry design nowadays is the computer. Instead of simply sketching using a pen and paper, a designer can use specialized jewelry software to create shapes, designs, and even settings (such as mounting a virtual ring onto a virtual roll of gold cloth to make the design more presentable) in just a matter of minutes. And instead of tracing a design several times – still a necessary process in jewelry-making, as Ms. Sadow demonstrated using a pencil and paper – a designer can save his or her variations along the way. The software even provides tools to help with determining a piece’s manufacturability and size.
Although the techniques of jewelry making were fascinating, the highlight of the seminar, the part that made the over 30 people in attendance – mostly women – sit up straighter, was the gemologyportion, during which Ms. Sadow spoke about the methods of determining a gem’s value. Factors that affect value include the gem’s color, clarity, cut and carat weight. For example, a violet-blue sapphire is more valuable than a greenish-blue sapphire. A ruby with a light pinkish tone is called a pink sapphire, and therefore, has a diminished value as compared to a ruby with a red hue.
The clarity of gems refers to the number and type of internal and external characteristics (termed ‘inclusions’ and ‘blemishes’ respectively) the stone possesses. The Gemological Institute of America breaks them down into three categories: Types 1, 2 and 3. Type 1 gems generally appear clean to the naked eye, and few characteristics are seen under 10x magnification (e.g. Aquamarine, Topaz). Type 2 gems possess few characteristics visible to the naked eye, but they are clearly visible under 10xmagnification (e.g. Ruby, Sapphire). Type 3 gems have many clear characteristics visible to the naked eye, and they are clearly visible under 10x magnification (e.g. Emerald, Rubellite). Clarity in colorless gems like diamonds is especially important, since the gem’s value cannot be gauged from its color.
Ms. Sadow went on to explain carat weight versus price. “Price per carat increases exponentially with carat weight,” she says. “Until a point where a gem becomes unwearable because of its size. I mean, what can you do with a stone that big?”
As for the cut of the gems, common shapes are usually determined by the best shape to retain the greatest weight from the rough crystal, such as the round cut for diamonds and oval cut for rubies. “Even so, 50 to 60 percent of the gem is usually lost through cutting,” Ms. Sadow says.
Although this introductory seminar costs $58, the full courses at JDMIS range from $2,000 to $2,900 per course, and modules include those in fine and fashion jewelry design, precious metal arts, business and entrepreneurship for aspiring jewelers.
Mr. Zupancich says that 30 to 40 percent of students who enroll are already involved in the jewelry industry. “Sometimes they want to upgrade their skills,” he says. Another 50 percent are whom he calls “artisan entrepreneurs,” people who are not yet in the jewelry industry but want to do business in the future. About 20 percent are collectors, or people who think of jewelry as a hobby. “Most of our students are people who want to do something serious in the industry as our classes are very intensive – 40-hour classes.”
The most popular course, he says, is the jewelry design course. “There’s always a demand for jewelry designers. Because a normal fashion designer is often not trained to be able to tell the manufacturability of a piece of jewelry, its price, etc. But a jewelry designer is.”
With the jewelry market ranked the 7th largest contributor to retail GDP in Singapore, and with over 5,000 people employed in the industry and another 800-plus jewelers in the market, the industry is expected to grow in the near future.
Singapore is, after all, a country brimming with wealthy businessmen who are willing to pour money into the market, via investments or otherwise.
Report prepared by Candice