What is fine jewellery?
What is fine jewellery?
By Dean Millard
A very interesting debate erupted last week over the definition of fine
jewellery. Another questions was, at what point does something become
fashion jewellery. Can ‘fine jewellery’ be defined?
What started as a throw away line about Michael Hill stores being described as ‘fine jewellers’ sparked an interesting debate on the Young Jewellers Group’s (YJG) Facebook page.
The YJG has over 400 members, many active throughout the day and what began as an innocent comment eventually resulted in 92 posts debating the definition of ‘fine jewellery’.
From the outset it became obvious that, even among a group of industry tradespeople, defining what is and is not fine jewellery was near on impossible, but that didn’t stop anyone from trying.
Tim Haab from Tasmania first poked the ants’ nest when he drew attention to the use of the term ‘fine jewellers’ in an article on Jeweller’s website regarding Michael Hill’s decreased sales in Australia. While a handful of readers seemed to share his humour, it started to get interesting when Chris Botha of Melbourne challenged Haab that if Michael Hill outsells most other jewellery stores in Australia, surely by law of averages it sets the standard for what is fine jewellery if that is what it and its customers deem it to be.
The initial argument put forward was that if something is mass produced it cannot be classified as ‘fine jewellery’, and that the customer always gets good value for money from a manufacturing jeweller of fine jewellery.
Shortly after this statement, Jeweller editor Coleby Nicholson challenged those commenting on the post to provide a definition for ‘fine jewellery’ and asked where the line is drawn between ‘fine jewellery’ and ‘fashion jewellery’?
Botha said it was relative to who was buying the item and questioned whether price was a factor, arguing something quite inexpensive could be just as finely made as something retailing for more than $100,000. In addition to price as an indicator, questions were raised whether it was important where the item was sold and at that point reference guides were quoted and dictionaries produced.
Haab argued by definition fine jewellery must be made from fine materials and gems of fine quality and make and assembled with fine skills.
Playing the devil’s advocate, Nicholson questioned whether that definition was sufficient. He suggested most people would describe a stainless steel ring as fashion jewellery but asked what does the ring become if it’s set with a diamond?
Sydney jeweller Kathryn Grey entered the discussion and suggested fine jewellery should be something made to endure over a long period of time. She suggested that both fine and fashion jewellery had a place in the market, but it was when one was represented as the other that there was a concern.
“Where the trouble comes up is when stores misrepresent what their jewellery is,” Grey wrote. “I know friends (which I'm sure we ALL do) who thought they were buying something nice from a chain store which then fell apart. When they ask me to repair it for them, it turns out the earrings are hollow silver, which has such a weird alloy that the silver melts before my easy solder. While that chain store might have other pieces that are solid pieces that would be ‘fine’ jewellery, they then misrepresent their lower price range pieces claiming that those fashion pieces are of a same quality as the top end pieces.”
Botha disagreed with the argument that something produced en masse by machine cannot be fine jewellery. He said that in his experience, cast-in stones have better retention life and less fall out.
He believed it was the customers who would ultimately make the decision about what is and is not fine jewellery and that “going out of business with good principles is still going out of business.”
Haab said that for a store to be considered a fine jeweller it needed to be able to deliver the services of a fine jeweller.
Victorian jeweller Jacqueline Willmore chipped in saying that she had always believed it was as simple as ‘fine jewellery’ was made with precious materials and ‘costume jewellery’ is a replication of fine.
Melbourne retailer John Temelli suggested it came down to the value put on the piece by the consumer, saying he had seen consumers wear fashion jewellery more proudly than precious metal or gem crested jewellery.
Nicholson came back to the debate, observing that it had been jumping around. He said, “It seems that sometimes you are raising issues about the store (Michael Hill), then you seem to be talking about the quality of manufacture and then you seem to be raising issues about the manufacturing process. Therein lies the REAL issue; can we devise a universal definition for fine jewellery?”
The Australian jewellery industry can't agree on a definition for fine jewellery
“To me "fine" jewellery represents the best in its class and has been made with precision and skill by a finely trained craftsperson,” added Simon Grew another NSW jeweller.
Kiwi jeweller Callum Chowns noted that ‘fine’ definitely has a broad interpretation.
Haab had an interesting suggestion however when he said yesterday that it was the method of fabrication that was the most crucial element in deciding whether a piece was fine or not.
“If a great designer produces a masterpiece that is to be mass produced, then the original can be termed fine make but the subsequent mass cast items are not,” Haab wrote.
Haab believed that a definition of fine jewellery could be as simple as ‘better than average’. That turned the discussion to arithmetic including which retailers had the lion’s share of the Australian jewellery market.
Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Nicholson challenged anyone to provide an appropriate definition, saying, “if you can provide an iron-clad, non-subjective and inarguable definition of ‘fine jewellery’ then I will put it to CIBJO, the international governing body.”
Mark Mowatt-Wilson from Brisbane noted that the debate had “gone many different directions, it is still indecisive and always will be. English is an evolving language. Words are even back-engineered once a new use for the word comes into common usage.”
He then suggested a new debate for fun as we are chasing our tails.
Despite almost a week of debate, 92 posts from a wide range on the industry participants, it seemed there was no clear conclusion as to what classified as fine jewellery let along differentiating between fine and fashion jewellery; which perhaps begs the question: If the industry experts cannot form a conclusion on what classes as fine jewellery, what hope does the consumer have?
Coincidentally it is exactly 12 months ago that I called on young people in the jewellery industry to unite. In an editorial first published in April last year
and which subsequnetly caused a major debate, I wrote:
I regularly hear people complain about the lack of young talent in the jewellery industry. I’m also often asked for information about young designers or if I know any young salespeople, so I thought it was about time that young people in the industry formed their own group. It’s widely recognised that there is a shortage of young people taking up apprenticeships in many industries, including the jewellery industry. While many Australian sectors are experiencing difficulty in attracting young people, a recent survey by the JAA found that 54 per cent of members were 45 or older and 21 per cent were between 56 and 65.Interestingly, there are no JAA members under 25 and I believe it’s safe to assume that the average age of jewellery retailers and suppliers across the board is easily over 50.
From there a number of young people took up the challenge and formed a Facebook page called Young Jewellers Group
(YJG) and it quickly grew. In less than a year YJG now has more than 400 members and it has become an amazing industry forum.
The debate about defining ‘fine jewellery’ was not only most interesting it was done in healthy spirit and while an inarguable definition may not have been achieved, it shows the power of social media and demonstrates how interaction and communication has changed.
- Coleby NicholsonMore reading
Posted April 24, 2012