What Makes Jewelry Valuable? The Gold or the Artistry?

Claire Choisne, the creative director of the Parisian jewelry business Boucheron, has been striving to give ordinary materials like pebbles and petals a more elegant look, a far cry from the conventional diamonds and emeralds found at Place Vendôme’s vitrines.

Read More: One Of A Kind Jewelry

The most recent material to come out of her innovation division was Cofalit, an industrial byproduct of asbestos waste that was vitrified—a process that turns a material into glass—and made inert. Often utilized for road embankments, it has surfaced in three new Jack de Boucheron Ultime patterns, faceted and polished like glossy obsidian—another example of Ms. Choisne’s ongoing endeavor to, as she has put it, “redefine what is precious.”

It is not only Boucheron. The German brand Hemmerle is well known for fusing pricey, five- or six-figure pieces of jewelry with commonplace elements like wood, iron, and shells to create pieces that evoke the oldest forms of body decoration. Silvia Furmanovich, a Brazilian jeweler, has supported Indigenous crafts by contrasting gold and gemstones with little carpets crafted by Uzbek artists, as well as woven bamboo and wood marquetry created by workers in the Amazon. Additionally, Valenza, Italy-based Francesca Villa dresses up small items she finds at thrift stores and online.

These designers’ methods are more like those of modern artists in a field where pricing has historically been determined by the price of raw materials. And rather than the monetary cost of its components, industry experts claim that the acknowledged worth of such products comes from their unique creative effect.

“Though their sentimental and historical value is worth more than gold or gemstones, in my opinion, the objects I incorporate are not traditionally considered valuable,” Ms. Villa stated. She upcycles vintage stamps, buttons, casino chips, handwritten notes, and toy soldiers into unique fine jewelry that sells for between 4,000 and 12,000 euros ($4,110 and $12,330) in her atelier’s drawers.

A certificate outlining the origin and history of the materials used in each work is included with the sale. The most costly designs, according to Ms. Villa, have rare discovered pieces that were obtained after protracted discussions. She also mentioned that it might be challenging to convince collectors to part with their one-of-a-kind items. They need to be persuaded that I will honor the object’s history.

There are plenty more modern instances. According to jewelry historian Joanna Hardy, “there is a very serious market for their work, which commands high prices.” Artist jewelers like as Wendy Ramshaw and Adam Paxon employ nonprecious materials. Houses like Van Cleef & Arpels employed a lot of wood in the 1970s and 1980s; those pieces are highly sought-after on the secondary market. More mainstream companies are now searching for alternatives to conventional materials.

In London, the Louisa Guinness Gallery works with modern artists to produce limited-edition jewelry, carrying on the art jewelry tradition started by sculptors Claude Lalanne and Alexander Calder in the middle of the 20th century. In addition to their own creations, Ms. Guinness’s gallery offers works created by artists such as Yinka Shonibare, Ron Arad, Cornelia Parker, and others in gold and diamonds, as well as those made of copper, porcelain, glass, crystal, and polyamide.

“As long as a piece is beautifully made, people are less concerned about the raw materials,” Ms. Guinness stated. “Wood, glass, and bronze in fine jewelry used to be looked down upon, but these days it’s more widely accepted.”

She compared the market for jewelry made by artists to that of modern art, citing a Calder silver necklace that brought in $2 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2013. “The materials’ cost is negligible,” the speaker stated. “Paint and canvases don’t cost much, but Picassos are extremely valuable.”

Modern manufacturing methods like 3-D printing and laser sintering have allowed artists working with everyday materials to accomplish finishes that were previously unattainable since Ms. Guinness founded the gallery in 2003. According to Ms. Guinness, “a piece made in bronze might sell for a little bit less than the same design in gold—but not a lot less.”

Even outside the realm of artists’ jewelry, Jane Collins, senior editor for accessories, footwear, and jewelry at trend forecasting company WGSN, observed that designers were increasingly using unusual materials. She stated that worries about sustainability and the public’s growing need for distinctiveness are two factors driving the trend.

The perceived worth of jewelry is now entirely based on its design and artistry, not the cost of raw materials, the speaker claimed. “Whether a designer uses wood, sea glass, or even asbestos, I don’t think it matters. Particularly in the case of limited-edition or unique items, the value lies in the combination of elements and the labor-intensive process.

According to Ms. Collins, meaningful design is the most persuasive need for buying jewelry, particularly as consumers choose items that commemorate significant relationships or life experiences since they allow the pieces to express their own feelings. “Using storytelling to connect with consumers adds value and plays into the idea of an heirloom,” stated Ms. Collins.

Some firms have discovered ways to really extract value from the rubbish, while houses like Boucheron and Hemmerle have elevated items that are typically deemed trash into precious gems via imaginative design.

There aren’t many jewelry companies that use recycled gold from electronic trash, including Lylie and 886 by The Royal Mint, two British brands. Selling buyers on the emotional and intrinsic worth of old laptops and SIM cards may be difficult.

“We need to develop the language,” stated Sean Millard, chief growth officer of The Royal Mint, a British government-owned company that has produced coins and commemorative objects for years. He stated that the Mint refers to its products as “reclaimed gold,” acknowledging the less-than-luxurious meaning associated with the phrase “recycled.” Additionally, Lylie’s creator Eliza Walter uses “salvaged.” (The Mint also offers jewelry fashioned with AgAIN Silver, which is recovered from medical X-ray images by its producer, Betts Metals, under its 886 line, which launched earlier this year.)

Ms. Walter stated that younger customers saw recycled gold as having significant value, in line with other industry experts who claim that jewelry purchasers today place more emphasis on design than on the price of a piece’s components.

“If he was buying his wife a gift, he wouldn’t think about sustainability because it’s a treat and should be luxurious, with the inference that luxury means brand-new,” the prospective Generation X investor in her company reportedly remarked, according to her. On the other hand, sustainability is the ultimate symbol of luxury according to Generation Z.