ELEMENTS OF JEWELLERY DESIGN: The Basic Units you need to Know

The principles of jewellery design provided the rules that should essentially get your pieces noticed (and hopefully bought at full price). But now we’ll look at the ingredients you’d actually need to apply these rules to. Elements of design are the foundation of any visual design which are used to deliver and develop a message optically. In the 1941 book by design theorist, Maitland E. Graves, ‘The Art of Colour and Design’, he defined the design elements on which all designs are built on as “Line, Direction, Shape, Size, Texture, Value, and Colour”. Each piece of jewellery you’ve encountered will have utilised multiple elements, and it’s these combinations that either make or break the final product. In this post, we’ll look at five of these basic elements:

[Image: Dawn Wain jewelry]

This is considered the ‘queen bee’ of elements, whether in a bold or subtle manner. What makes this the main element has something to do with colours ability to create moods and emotions. Colour psychology has been utilised in many consumer-related industries to help drive a product. Take for example, restaurants that utilise the colour red because the eye-catching colour stimulates appetite.

Setting the tone can be made easy using the colour wheel which provide schemes such as analogous, split complementary, complementary, primary (red, blue yellow), monochromatic, triadic and contrast. It may have been a while since your last art class, it has been for us, so we’ll explain these terms a little further. Monochromatic refers to a singular colour choice e.g. pink. Complementary colours are those that sit opposite each other on the colour wheel while the split complementary is a toned-down version of the former. This combination tends to deliver high energy and a touch of drama. Then there’s contrasting colours, which combines colours from different segments of the colour wheel. For example, the blue-orange mix takes the former from the cool half while the latter from the warm half of the colour wheel. Analogous are ‘desk mates’ on the wheel and are situated close to each other. You’d select which colour would be the dominant and then the other colour would act as the back-up singer. Triadic colours, as the name suggests, are three colours evenly spaced out on the colour wheel. You could literally draw a triangle across your colour wheel to choose the three.

Once selected what colour combination you want to go with, you can play around with values, tints, shades and saturation for the final desired effect. Remember that as you develop your colour strategy, cultural contexts can change the meaning you wish to portray.

[Image: Karen Hunter Jewellery]

This is the overall outline of the piece and is one of the first element’s people notice when they look at jewellery. To create a significant visual impact, many experts will advise utilising different types of shapes to build fascinating dimensions. Shape can be characterised as organic or geometric; with the former referring to irregular shapes or those that are naturally occurring. The complexity and fluidity of organic shapes offer a sense of freedom, spontaneity and unpredictability.
Geometric shapes, also known as mechanical shapes, are rigid, precise, angular and man-made shapes. Whether used in a complex or simple way, it has the effect of a controlled piece that structured or follows a clear-cut order. Think rectangles circles and squares. When you add in a variety of shapes into your design, the entire composition will lure in the mind subconsciously to analyse the differences. And in the process, the client can be won over by it all.

[Image: Caroline Kernick]

Remember how we mentioned the need to create a pathway for the eyes to follow? That’s where lines come in. Be it vertically, horizontally, diagonally or in a curve, lines lead the eye in a specific direction within a piece. Varying in texture and width, these lines can be used in an implied, broken or continuous manner. As always, determining the length and direction should take into consideration the length and size of the apparel and body type the jewellery aims to complement. Nonetheless, the dominant lines you choose to use can also convey a deeper meaning; making this another point of consideration.
• Vertical – The up and down motion the eyes will follow creates a sense of strength and stability that give the design composure and structure. These lines are also said to convey spirituality.
• Horizontal – Creating the motion of the eyes moving from left to right, it communicates a sense of calm or repose.
• Diagonal – Because they are placed at an angle, they are perfect for suggesting the sensation of activity or movement.
• Curved – When used in a soft and shallow manner, they communicate a form of familiarity and comfort that has a relaxing effect. On the other hand, if it has sharp angles, it can convey energy, enthusiasm or anger.

[Image: Irena Brynner]


When it comes to jewellery design, the area between and around objects is referred to as space and there are two ways to refer to it. Positive space is used to describe all the tangible bits of the piece while Negative space is the empty places where air can flow through easily. While formulating the entire composition, designers play with increasing or decreasing space within and around the design to have a desired effect. For example, you can use overlapping to make the top element in the jewellery appear closer to the observer
You may be wondering why you should be concerned with negative space, when it doesn’t require any material. Firstly, if you’re going for a more airy look, it can make the piece appear less busy for a softer finish. Secondly, negative space takes into consideration that the eyes are working overtime to scan the piece of jewellery. What it does is provide a moment of rest so that it can appreciate the next great thing on it’s the visual path you’ve laid out.

[Image: Toutva Bien Design]

Whether it’s done intentionally or not, this element is always incorporated into design. How will your piece feel once worn by a customer? We can’t help but reach out and touch surfaces that look appealing. You may also want to ask what perception you want the wearer to derive from it. Thus, texture comes into jewellery-design as the perceived or actual surface quality of the piece. There are two types to consider: the physical texture – which you can essentially touch – and visual texture – which utilises illusion to create dimension. It can be rough, smooth, woven, carved or pointy, either way, it adds an interesting component to the design that peeks a customer’s curiosity to come over and try it on. Again, playing around with different combinations draw more attention to the final product; that includes texture-less effects.

[Image: Pinterest]

Now that you’ve caught up on some of the basic elements that go into jewellery design, you can master the principles and apply applicable. Once you’ve mastered them, you could even go as far as learning to break those rules to create your own signature style. Not all principles and elements are used in each of your creations, but do go forth and experiment until you find the best combinations to bring your vision to fruition!

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