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by Elaine Luther

The Zoom Symposium was subtitled: Examining the Future of Craft, but we didn’t, as a group, actually figure that out or announce what the future would be. So I’ll be posting some of my conclusions about the Future of Craft right here, in hopes of getting a conversation going. Comments are welcome!

High tech jewelry – anything made with CAD, CAM, 3D printing, laser cutting – is still in its infancy. While there are exceptions (and please post those in the comments) I hold that the techniques, as used to create jewelry, are still a bit immature. Wait — not the techniques, more what we’re doing with them. The techniques themselves are well developed in many cases. We should still pursue the techniques though, because they are going somewhere cool and to avoid them is to be left behind at our peril.

The two primary speakers on tech in jewelry were Arthur Hash and Catarina Mota. Catrina covered the MAKEzine/LED light side of things.

What I’ve seen of the LED light category — the folks making these things, which are fun, but the making of them seems to be all about the “gee whiz!” aspect. Look! My ring lights up! Some day, we’ll look back on this the same way we look at the mood ring fad of the ‘70s.

The gee-whiz factor is high, it is cool. But the work is often poorly designed. Catarina showed us a video from MAKE featuring an LED bracelet made with industrial felt where the closure was made by slotting a battery into two slots in the felt. This was clunky and ugly. And impractical, as bracelets shouldn’t have a big tab sticking up with a battery sticking out of it.

I can forgive MAKE because it’s a how-to magazine and the bracelet project is in fact a useful exercise in learning to work with LEDs.

With tech jewelry, my criticism is that it tends to all look the same. There seems to be a bit of a tendency to make things that would be difficult to make with conventional metals — which makes sense in a way, why not exploit the technique to make it do what it’s best suited for?

But there is a tendency to make lots of “open in the center structures with connected lines” jewelry.

Or is it that I only recognize tech jewelry when it’s made that way? In the same way that some folks only recognize metal clay work when it looks blobby and clay-y and fail to recognize it when it looks awesome?

Arthur Hash, who teaches in the FABLAB at SUNY-New Paltz, while also having a strong background in metalsmithing, makes some laser cut enamels (laser cut!) that I wouldn’t necessarily have identified as laser cut. Those pieces are a combination of handwork, laser cutting and old school enameling technique. If I’ve read his blog posts correctly, the brooch frames for those are cast from an original he made.

(I’m super excited about laser cutting enamels and can’t wait to try that one.)

A questioner at the Symposium asked Arthur how he thinks of himself, which work he values more, the handcrafted or the computer-aided. Arthur said he sees both kinds of work as equally from his hand. (If you’d like to hear more about what Arthur says about being a hybrid craftsman, you can read or watch his six minute presentation from SNAG this year, here.

To sum up: I think tech jewelry is often made just because we can and that people haven’t yet figured out quite what to do with it. It’s sometimes ugly.

I wonder where it’s going? What should it be? What’s the best use of it?

What might we be missing out on if we don’t try it?

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