Jewellery Design: It’s About the Principles

“Jewellery has the power to be this one little thing that can make you feel unique,” Jennie Kwon.

It’s for this reason that many of us will walk into a jewellery store and wait for the pieces to speak to us. Sure, there’s personal taste and trends to be considered. Nevertheless, it takes a few seconds to establish whether you’re in love, hate or indifferent to the piece of jewellery. According to Warren Feld, the Director at Jewellery Design Camp, a potential buyer uses their brain and eyes to perform two cognitive actions. They’ll both inspect the jewellery from one end to another. However, if anything interrupts this inspection, the consumer would then deem the piece ugly or simply lacklustre. Most likely, this happens because one of the basic jewellery design principles is off. These principles basically guide your artistic design concept to give your jewellery the completeness and stability that ‘speaks’ to the consumer and leads to a purchase. There are seven salient features to consider in the design process:

Symmetric balance [Image: Art Smith]


This refers to how you distribute elements such as space, colours, weight and size to create a proportioned piece. There are three ways to achieve balance; symmetric, asymmetric, and radial distribution. Symmetric is the formal one of the bunch and refers to evenly distributed features. When implemented, it gives off vibes of tradition, security, poise, and permanence due to its predictability. Asymmetric works with uneven distribution that plays with spontaneity provides more arrangements than the former; making it a standout piece.  The catch is, it still needs to be a planned, “balanced imbalance” using visual contrasts. Radial balance, on the other hand, will have a central focal point and distribute the jewellery’s elements from there in a circular fashion.

Asymmetrical Chrysocolla Necklace [Image: Lima Beads]


Where do you want the customer’s eyes to linger first? That’s what they refer to as the focal point. This dominant point will act as the entry way to the rest of the design and thus help the customer complete the mind/eye inspection. It’s  used to communicate clearly what your design perspective or narrative is. Once you’ve figured out what that is, it can be used to help select the supporting elements or materials that will compose the finished piece. There are different techniques to create dominance such as using a different colour from the rest of the jewellery. Think black stone on a white bracelet. You can also use a different size, shape or texture to create that distinguishing focal point. But bear in mind, there can only be one star of this show. Trying to make everything in the design with equal emphasis will either make the piece appear too busy or fall flat and dreary.

[Image: Etsy]


If you want their eyes to dawdle, you’ve got to provide a path for them to follow. Repetition, action and rhythm are used to create that characteristic which is referred to as movement. While repetition is straight forward, we’ll look a little more into the other two movements. In jewellery design, rhythm comes off as more visual than the audio-association we have with the word. Working with the notion that the human eye is adapted to monitor patterns such as colour repetitions, or size and shape progression, rhythm can be broken down into static and dynamic.  Static movement lays out the design so that the eye flows smoothly from one section to the next like classical music. On the other hand, dynamic movement wants the eyes to jump between separate piece components. Action refers to tactile movement which tags in the sense of feeling to enhance the playfulness and enjoyment of wearing a piece. This is done by adding components that physically move or dangle like pendants or tassels.

[Image: Amazon]


We all know the adage that opposites attract. The notion of how these opposing elements relate can be used in jewellery design to entice potential clients. The diversity relieves the monotony and can be used to accentuate different rudiments of the design. This can be through opposing shade intensity, working with complimentary colours which are colours opposite each other on the colour wheel, matching horizontal and vertical lines, or even playing with scale, shape and proportion. The ying and yang effect makes the piece more intriguing as the viewer is sucked in to comprehend the mixture.

[Image: Heritage Auctions]


How do the sum parts of the whole interact with each other? You could have quality minerals, stones and metals but if you can’t get these components of design to agree with each other, it won’t be aesthetically pleasing as a complete unit. One way of getting the elements to complement each other is to use similar ones in design. For example sin colours situated close to each other on the colour wheel can create and unpretentious look. The tricky part is finding the right balance. Creating complete unity makes the piece bland and doesn’t compel the client to engage with the piece. If overdone, the client’s brain will reject the chaos and dismiss your design. Hamstech advises a visual grouping to achieve this. For example, repeating gradients, colours or textures. It could also be clumping similar elements together as on unit or placing certain elements closer to each other.

Abrihet Necklace [Image: SHIKHAZURI]


This is similar to the harmony principle in that it relies on how the different essentials of the piece relate to each other. Judging this principles is usually considered difficult as you’d literally have to see all the pieces together to make a judgment call. If there’s even on part of the design out of proportion it’ll affect the overall effect of the jewellery. It’s like doing a painting, stepping back to look at it, and them tweaking things here and there until you feel that a sense of equilibrium has been achieve. When constructing the jewellery piece, the designer has to think of the agreement of features such as quantity, shape, size and colour.  But they also have to think three steps ahead and consider what attire and physiques it will work with as well. If the proportion is off, the design idea is basically dead in the water.

[Image: Vetro Caldo Designs]


Last but not least, we have the principle that uses the elements that give the design interest and makes the piece an attention-grabber. A simple way of achieving this is when the designer uses creates something that is strikingly different from the rest of the components of the artwork. Overall it’s playing with different forms or types of varying states and qualities which result in a visual fête. You can decide to keep the factors the same size but play around with the colour or perhaps maintain one shape throughout the piece but play with the size of the mechanisms. As Beading Design Jewellery elaborates, “In visual composition, there are many ways you can change something while simultaneously keeping it the same.”

[Image: Adele Dejak]

Knowing these principles of design can help you understand why certain pieces grasp the imagination of your clients while other’s sit stuck in inventory, long past its sell by date. It can therefore, help you have a more effective design process that results in more pieces that your clients readily appreciate. But these design principles are not set in stone. Once you’ve masters them, you’ll be able to know which principles to apply in your design process and which to leave out. Remember, they are there to help convey the desired message and create an emotional response in the customers (and future owners).

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