Contrary to popular belief, designing jewelry is not just about making something beautiful. There are a lot of details and considerations that go into designing a piece, and everything ultimately depends on the individual wearer.
Someone who types at a desk for the majority of their day will not have the same needs as someone who works for the post office or as an emergency room nurse or in construction. Similarly, someone with arthritis or other manual dexterity limitations will have unique needs when it comes to clasps and closures. And of course, the main consideration when it comes to jewelry is usually personal aesthetic preferences.
Geralyn has worked with many people to create custom pieces that bring them joy, but also really work for them individually. She incorporates all that she's learned through working with different individuals into her own designs to ensure they are both beautiful and functional.
It's helpful to have these factors in mind when you're buying jewelry for yourself or someone you care about, so we've compiled a list of the considerations when designing jewelry for a wearer.
Rings are highly impacted by an individual's needs. They stay on the fingers of the wearer for an entire day, and must not get in the way of how that person uses their hands. This is especially important when designing wedding bands and engagement rings.
When thinking about gem setting, it is important to think about occupation of the wearer. Using prongs to set a gem will allow plenty of light to hit the gem, but also is high risk for breaking or losing a gem. Prongs often catch on things like latex gloves and bend or break off entirely. This can result in a diamond being thrown away in the hospital trash can or lost in your washing machine. Bezel settings are much more secure and sturdy, because it is essentially a metal band running around the entire stone. But there are many setting styles to consider when designing jewelry, all with different pros and cons.
While you might not think band width is more of an aesthetic preference, there are actually functionality concerns for wider vs. thinner bands. In general, more metal is sturdier. If you have a thin band, it is going to be more prone to bending or breaking than a thicker, wider band. For someone who works in construction or regularly moves heavy items like boxes in a warehouse, a thicker band is usually a better, safer choice.
Settings contribute to the height of a ring from your finger. The higher the gem, or ring overall, is from your finger, the more likely it is to be bumped into or catch on things during daily wear. So when you're thinking of gem settings, also consider how high off the ring that would need to sit. Some of Geralyn's most interesting rings were designed with a shorter profile in mind, and therefore work well for people whose jobs keep their hands busy, like nurses and others in the medical field.
Choice of metal usually goes without saying, as it is probably one of the first visual preferences you think of when choosing jewelry. But whether you like a silver or gold look, there are options with different levels of durability. When considering material, it is also important to think about the future. Tungsten, for example, cannot be resized, so if you are prone to swelling or plan to lose weight you would not be able to resize that particular ring at all. If you work in construction or do heavy lifting daily, a softer metal like gold wouldn't be the best choice for you, but tungsten or platinum could be a better option.
Bracelets usually hinge on personal preferences, but there are also considerations regarding a person's individual needs in terms of health and ability. Ability levels are unique to the individual and invisible disabilities can affect the way someone wears jewelry in general, and when it comes to bracelets, the wearer needs to be able to put on and take off the piece with one hand.
Bangles are often thin and meant to be stacked with other bangle bracelets as a set. This style of bracelet has no clasp and is a solid ring of metal, but because of this it is not very secure on a person's wrist while worn. Bangles can be a fun and quick addition to an outfit, but are often problematic for people who work at a keyboard for hours on end. When resting on a surface, bangles get pushed upwards on the wrist and depending on size, can dig into the underside of the wrist. This can become increasingly uncomfortable for the wearer throughout the day. In addition there is a lot of movement associated with this bracelet type, so they don't tend to be used for daily wear.
Similarly to bangles, there is no clasp on a cuff bracelet. However, these bracelets have an opening and are meant to be slipped over one's wrist through the opening, rather than over the entire hand. These can be great for someone who wants a big, bold look and doesn't want to fuss with a clasp but also wants a bit more security on their wrist than a bangle. These bracelets are prone to bending, so it is important for the wearer to be considerate of that fact, but in general they are easy to use for someone who may have limits with manual dexterity.
Chain or pearl bracelets with clasps are the most secure for the wearer, but as with everything there are pros and cons. Pro: the bracelet fits snugly and cannot slip over one's hand. Con: the wearer must fumble around one handed with the clasp to put it on and take it off. This is more problematic for some people than others. For example, a clasped bracelet would not be a good choice for someone who has arthritis or issues with manual dexterity. There are certain types of clasps that can be less difficult to operate one handed though, such as a hook and eye closure. Clasps and closures are not only important for bracelets though, they are also important to think about when it comes to necklaces.
Necklaces have less limitations when it comes to occupation, but there are definitely functionality factors to consider based on ability, style, and unique personal preferences.
Length is more of an issue when purchasing something like pearls, which are generally strung on silk as one size with a fixed clasp. Length understandably varies based on the circumference of a person's neck, but also depends on where the wearer wants the necklace of pendant to lay on their décolleté. Considerations when designing for function with length also include a person's individual style. Do they wear low or high neckline shirts? Will the necklace lay directly on their skin or over clothing? Extenders allow for functionality and versatility with necklaces, giving the wearer the ability to adjust the length of their piece as needed. Extenders can be created for chains, custom necklaces, and pearls as long as the designer thinks outside the box.
Naturally, something hanging from a person's neck is going to move as they move, but size, shape, and weight contribute to a pendant's ability to move. For example, medallion style pendants that lay flat and wide will often will stick to the skin if worn with a low-cut blouse, which can be bothersome for the wearer. The same way that a pendant sticking will bother some, others may become frustrated by a pendant with too much movement. This factor really comes down to personal preference, but a designer hoping to create a piece someone will wear regularly should consider how the piece will move in different situations and with different outfits.
Clasps & Closures
Similarly to bracelets, the functionality of clasps and closures is important to consider with necklace design. Medical conditions that affect manual dexterity, such as arthritis, can impact a person's ability to use small, difficult clasps. This is especially true when considering pearl clasps, which traditionally use more unique mechanisms to ensure a pearl strand stays securely fastened during wear. This is why Geralyn often designs her own pearl clasps to be secure, simple, and also a beautiful design element for the necklace.
Earrings are among the easiest when it comes to functional design. There is no fit to consider when making earrings, so most of it comes down to personal preferences and more unique individual needs.
Closures & Security
Posts are a great and secure option for anyone with pierced ears. They are usually lightweight and because they fasten with an earring back, there is lower risk of loss than an earring with no back closure. Dangle earrings can have different types of closures, but one of the most common is the shepherd hook. The shape of the shepherd hook does not require an earring back because of the way it hooks through the piercing and out through the back of the earlobe, but this can make loss of an earring possible while worn. Still, these earrings are very popular and most people don't have issues. There are also options for added security, such as opting for a lever-back style or adding plastic earring backs.
Some people prefer certain earring types based on how their ears are pierced. Often times, a person's ears are not pierced symmetrically, but most earrings are meant to be seen from the same direction. Shepherd hook earrings can twist to the side if someone has asymmetrical piercings. Alternatively, post earrings can usually work for these individuals, and adding an earring jacket can add some length, flair, and movement to them.
All earlobes are not created equal. While some people have thinner or shorter lobes, others have longer, fleshier lobes. This impacts not only the size of earring they may prefer to wear, but also creates differences in what the wearer can handle in terms of earring weight. Many people know all too well what happens when you consistently wear earrings that are too heavy: a split lobe. And no one wants that. So designing earrings that have a big bold look can be dangerous, but it is possible to keep them lightweight if you try.
A person's hairstyle and neck length can also impact the length of earring they prefer. Too long, and the earring may hit the wearer's shoulders; too short and the earrings may fade into nothingness amongst the wearer's hair. Earrings that are too long or bulky can also get caught in an individual's hair, especially for those with curly hair.
Beauty is not the only factor when designing jewelry, and it is not the only thing to consider when purchasing jewelry. Of course, you should love the aesthetic of the designs you choose and the overall look of the piece. Still, the way a piece moves or lays and how it may impact you during daily wear, or while wearing it for a special occasion, are equally important factors.
Want to learn more about fine jewelry as a whole? Check out our Understanding Fine Jewelry page!