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Handmade Jewelry

Maker Stories

Inspirational Jewelry Artist Kathy Bransfield: Moved by Words Every Day of Her Life

October 6, 2015

Kathy Bransfield | UncommonGoods

When it comes to creating jewelry, Kathy Bransfield can’t stop, won’t stop. “My main drive is the fact that each piece has so many different meanings for its owner,” she says. “Whether it’s a piece with humor, a piece that can be a talisman of inner strength, a reminder of a precious friend or lover or a necklace that brings healing after a loss — this is what touches me the most and keeps my heart on fire.”

Bransfield, who works out of a studio three blocks from her home in Culver City, California — with her husband Eric and mother-in-law Rochelle — shared her off-the-chain story with us in a series of email exchanges.

When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?

As far back as I can remember! I loved to draw and do any type of craft project I could get my hands on. My dad told me I couldn’t refer to myself as an “artist” until I sold something. So when I was about 9 or 10, I would go door-to-door selling handmade Christmas tree ornaments. Later, I had the pleasure of painting alongside the ever so lovely Bob Ross (on his PBS show The Joy of Painting). I sold the oil paintings I did for $50 each — mainly to family, of course. I was 13 years old and felt I had proven dad wrong. Oddly, I still never refer to myself as an artist. Ha!

Nature is so integral to your work — and words, too. Why do you think that is?

As a kid I loved climbing trees so much that I would often sit on a specific high limb like a recliner and eat my lunch. I have always felt more connected to my own soul by being in nature. I’m also an avid scuba diver so a lot of my inspiration comes from under the sea as well as above. Seeing the shapes of the coral and the different types of grasses waving in the water is like being in a dream.

As for language, quotes have helped me through some of the most challenging times in my life. And they continue to aid me on a daily basis to keep things in perspective. They remind me about love, possibility and what’s important in life — how we should never give up on our dreams, never forget that dear loved one and, most importantly, never forget who we are.

KathySpace

What are your most essential tools?

By far, my vintage sets of letter stamps, my heart and my husband, Eric, who runs the business!

Is there a talisman you keep around you when you work?

Mostly, other artists’ work surrounds me in my studio — it reminds me of how much I want to strive to be more profound in my creative process. But I do display one thing I made in 1989 while living in Lake Tahoe. It hangs on the light of my bench and is made from an old pair of pants I had at the time, wooden and glass seed beads, vintage glass beads from the 1800s and amber teardrops. It’s filled with tiny treasures that have held meaning to me over my lifetime. The feather that sticks out represents my loving relationship with my husband.

Where do you typically draw inspiration for your pieces?

The obvious things make the list: hearing my children’s infectious laughter, traveling to beautiful places and engaging with great minds. I’m always trying to absorb the world around me with eyes wide open. I’ve found great quotes everywhere from a bathroom in a bar in Mexico to an inscription on a gravestone and everywhere in between. I love being moved by words every single day of my life.

Do you wear the pieces you make?

Never! I’ll be in conversation with someone that I’ve just met and they’ll ask me what I do. I tell them I make jewelry, and, immediately, they scan my empty neck and ears in confusion!

I'll Be There Necklace | UncommonGoods

Because sayings are so important in your jewelry, is there a quote or mantra that keeps you motivated?

There are probably too many, but I will try to restrain myself:
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” —Oscar Wilde
“Wherever you go… there you are.”  (That’s me running in circles!)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” —Marianne Williamson

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever gotten on one of your pieces?

Someone came to my booth at an arts and crafts show I did about 15 years ago. She showed me her necklace that she had bought from me years prior. It looked like it had been in a grease fire, and sat on by an elephant. A third of it consisted of her hair wound through it! I immediately offered to take it and clean it. She said absolutely not — she never ever took it off and never would. The story she told me of what it meant to her had me bowled over. She had only stopped by my booth to let me know and say thank you. It helped me to see my work and its meaning for others in a whole new light.

Best yet, Eric and I were up in the wine country in Northern California once. While standing in line to buy champagne, I noticed the couple behind us were wearing the matching Missing Piece Puzzle Necklaces. I awkwardly chatted them up asking where they had bought them. Their answer? UncommonGoods!

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See the Collection | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Margaret Dorfman Strives to be Sustainable in Drought-Afflicted California

July 17, 2015

As a B Corp certified company, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green” – we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always excited to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft – those who are making an uncommon impact. Meet Margaret Dorfman, designer of fruit and vegetable inspired jewelry and tableware like the Parchment Blossom Earrings and the Vegetable Parchment Platter, and see the ways that she’s striving to be sustainable in the face of drought in California.

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“Sustainability is important simply because the trajectory of consumption and waste around us is not supportable.”

Continue Reading…

Gift Guides

Unforgettable Birthday Gifts For Everyone

July 2, 2015

Whether you’re just meeting a friend for the first time or you’ve known someone all your life, odds are they probably have a birthday. For as long as birthdays have existed – Claudia Severa sent the first documented birthday invitation around 100 AD – so too has the pressure to find the perfect gift. Yet birthdays themselves actually aren’t all that distinguished; just today, 15 million people will celebrate their special day. How could anyone hope to stand out?

Fear not! Since one of the world’s most celebrated birthday months is nearly upon us, we’ve put together a list of our favorite uncommon gifts that are sure to make the other 14,999,999 people jealous! From all of us here at UncommonGoods, we hope this year is a good one!

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“I’m 21 This Year…Again!” (Beer, Wine, and Cocktail Gifts)

Whether a beer, wine, or cocktail connoisseur, these gifts are sure to quench those who have truly aged to perfection.

Birthday Wine Box | UncommonGoodsA bottle of wine is a nice gift, but it’s only a keepsake in the sense that the birthday boy or girl might keep it until their next dinner party–and then they’ll drink it already, for Pete’s sake! Gift that bottle in a Birthday Wine Box and they’ll have something special to actually keep. (And to stock with more wine once that gift bottle’s gone!)


Having trouble coming up with a gift for your beer-loving buddy? Drink outside the box with this Beer Caddy with Bottle Opener, made from reclaimed redwood beams – perfect for building your own six-pack!

 

 

Or, if liquor’s more their thing, bring some extra flare to their bar with a rock-solid embodiment of your appreciation. | Stone Drink Dispenser 


Don’t take a chance on a great birthday gift – but do with what cocktails you’ll serve for a little added spontaneity, surprise party or no. | Mixology Dice

 

Show the birthday guy or gal that they’re worth a bump up from the salt line and lime wedge standard. | Himalayan Salt Tequila Glasses

 

A clever take on the morning brunch favorite with the recipe built right in! | Bloody Mary Diagram Glassware

 

 

 

You might want to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song a few extra times this year… | Major Scale Musical Wine Glasses

 

 

Go for a DIY take on a crisp and classic drink without the stress of gift wrapping elaborate distillery equipment. | Homemade Gin Kit and Tonic Making Kit

(Not sure if your giftee will toast to homemade tonic? See the kit put to our test in this gift lab.)

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If gin’s not their thing, help ease the aging process for your favorite whiskey lover while accelerating the aging process of their favorite whiskey – with a personalized touch. | Personalized Whiskey Barrel

Bubba Jones crafts handmade steins as toastworthy as their recipient. Cheers to another year! | Tankard Stein

 

Still thirsty for more? Check out more beer, wine, and cocktail gifts here >>

 

Bag o’ Laughs (Funny Gifts)

If they’re more of a comic than a cook, you’ll need to up your humor game and pack the laughs. Any of these ironic, side-splitting gifts are sure to deliver.

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Should I get them this book? –> Is it their birthday? –> Yes –> Do they like funny books? –> Yes –> You should get them this book. | Inconsequential Dilemmas

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Ironic and iconic, this cup is meant to imitate the original paper version, a symbol of the NYC morning rush. | Ceramic Greek Coffee Cup

 

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Elwood’s distinctive colorful charm is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face, no matter what year you’re celebrating. | Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn Mug

 

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Judgmental Ned or any of his other overgrown avian pals are sure to be a big hit. | Ned – Ostrich Portrait

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These adorable and easy-to-care-for ducks come with cute boots, so you won’t have to worry about them waddling around and leaving a trail of frosting. Each is handmade, and has its own personality. | Spotted Wellies Garden Ducks

 

 

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Drop the big one on a coworker, or subtly tell your boss off on their special day. | F Bomb Paperweight

 

Searching for someone with an uncommon sense of humor? We’ve got plenty more laughs here >>

 

 

 

More Cake Please (Foodie gifts)

You’ll want to ensure that the foodie in your life has something new to whip up after the cake’s been devoured! Treat them to one of these cool culinary presents.

 

Crafted with wood from old European buildings and a natural beeswax glaze, this Reclaimed Wood Cookbook Stand is the perfect place for the birthday chef’s secret recipes.


Add a pinch of these Dessert and Baking Salts, each a scrumptiously curated flavor combination of sweet and salty. You might want to present this gift early, or you’ll wish you had come cake time!

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If they’re more into sour than salty, the Citrus Juicer is the way to go!

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Or, maybe spicy is their thing, and pre-made hot sauce falls short of their heat needs. | Make Your Own Hot Sauce Kit

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For the always-on-the-go BBQ lover, who’s sure to rule “Great Gift” when they take this case to court. | Portable Briefcase BBQ Grill

A robust gift for any coffee lover who loves to chill just as much as they love a hot cup of morning glory. | Coffee Cold Brew Gift Set

(Watch a member of our team whip up a batch of homemade cold brew in a very cool gift lab.)

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How many ounces is that? No one wants to break the flow of amazing cooking to check the metrics. Solution? A tasteful wrist piece for a cook that doubles as a measurement conversion tool. | Cooks Cuff

 

Want to see what else is cooking? Find more great foodie gifts here >>

 

 

More Exciting than Socks (Kid-Friendly Birthday)

Stop! Drop the socks and sweaters! Any of these kid-friendly gifts will elevate you to the coveted position of favorite aunt or uncle.

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Hard pressed to find something great for a sweet kid? Look no further! | Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press Set

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Treat the birthday boy or girl like royalty. | Ring Jewel Ice Pop Mold

This cute and customizable octopus is a great piece for kids’ rooms, especially those who love adventure or all things ocean. | Personalized Eight Legged Sailor

 

 

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He shoots, he scores! Perfect for hot cocoa, cereal, or tomato soup for a fun twist on a tasty treat. | The Mug With a Hoop

 

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Inspire your favorite whiz kid with creative fun and scientific knowledge with this set of super geeky science blocks. Each side of each block presents a different fact. For science! | Super Nerdy ABC Blocks

 

Still looking? Find toys, games, and loads more cool stuff for kiddo here >>

 

For the Sporty Sort (Gifts For Sports Fans)

Score big this year with the MVB (most valuable birthday) with one of these gifts for sports lovers and outdoorsy types. Whether a baseball, golf, or hockey fan, the MVB is sure to cheer like you got them tickets behind home plate.

 

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Score as many points as possible with the birthd – wait, it’s golf, so you’ll want to score as few points, got it? Point is: they’ll love it! | Golfer’s BBQ Set

 

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It’s never the wrong time of year to crack open a cold one for their favorite team. These bottle openers are game used by the players who provide the drink-worthy moments. | Game Used Hockey Stick Bottle Opener

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The Snow Ski Wine Rack is perfect for a slope-shredder with a taste for wine. Just don’t try to strap on the skis after the rack has been relieved of its charge…

 

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Grounded in baseball pastimes, this home-run hitting pen is made from authentic wood and paint from your baseball fan’s favorite stadium. | Ballpark Seat Pen

 

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You can’t gift wrap an actual college stadium, but this is the next best thing! | College Football Stadium Art

 

Gooooooooaaaalll! See more gifts for sports fans here >>

 

Put a Bow on Top (Jewelry & Style Gifts)

For the friend who already thinks they have the greatest gift – their sense of style – one of these fashionable pieces will have them looking nicer than the box you wrapped it in.

 

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Commemorate a special month with this timeless piece that will make her feel like a birthday girl all year long. | Dots Calendar Necklace

 

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Cherish the little bits of luck in her life so far with this spirited yet deeply sentimental piece. | Pennies from Heaven Locket

 

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For someone inspired by the natural world, celebrate her birth and the Earth’s. | Story of the Earth Bracelets

 

22302_zoom1Whether she stars in a solo show or has a supporting cast of bright young talent, she’ll love this shining necklace handmade by Catherine Weitzman. | My Lucky Stars Necklace

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Your favorite yogi might wake up with a series of sun salutations, but they’ll enjoy wearing this reminder of the morning’s practice throughout the day. | Yoga Cuff

 

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Keep them feeling homeward bound, even when they’re miles away. | Custom Map Key Ring

 

For someone with an exquisitely elusive sense of style – check out even more jewelry options here >>

 

Make a*Birth* Day of It (Relaxation & Grooming Gifts)

Sometimes the best gift for a busy person is simply a moment of respite, but all of these relaxing amenities are sure to pair nicely.

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Roll out the yoga mat for a calming, age defying birthday. Roll it back up into this beautiful Hand Loomed Yoga Bag.

 

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The collection of aromatic teas soothe the senses, all the while benefiting longevity and aging skin. ~ And many more! | Green Herbal Tea Kit

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Rather than gift someone in need of relaxation another errand, bring the spa right to them! | Spa in a Bag

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Three blissful mini-vacations in one, the Sea Glass Scents Bath Gift Box offers waves of relaxation inspired by the sea.

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A Deluxe Shave Set is perfect for the man who prefers a bare face over a deluxe beard.

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Kind of like gifting good vibes in a box, this Meditation Box is customizable for a personal touch.

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Who’s to say a rugged man’s man wouldn’t enjoy some TLC? These salves, scrubs, and balms are designed for course hands and aching feet. | Working Man’s Hygiene Kit

 

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Made from reclaimed Saris, this luxurious Upcycled Cotton Sari Robe adds a dash of exoticism to their around-the-house wardrobe.

 

Explore many more ways to relax here >>

 

 

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Judi Powers

December 11, 2014

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

When I received the smile-from-ear-to-ear news that I would be visiting Judi Powers’ workspace for a studio tour, I didn’t even try to hold back my excitment. As the go-to person who organized the design challenges from our Brooklyn headquarters, it wasn’t every day that I was able to schmooze with our talented design challenge winners in person. And being Judi’s number one fan girl, I knew this studio tour would be a special one.

I first met Judi at one of our How To Make It design events – not knowing that she was one of our contestants who submitted an entry into our Jewelry Design Challenge months before. I complimented the gorgeous necklace she was wearing, and that’s when she revealed to me that she actually tried to submit that same piece into one of our past Jewelry Design Challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. I immediately knew which entry she was speaking of – a poorly lit photo that didn’t capture the beautiful craftsmanship I saw in person. I told her to submit again with better photos, and didn’t think I’d hear from her anytime soon. Less than a month later, Judi sent in another submission except this time – with much better photos. After passing through three rounds of judging and receiving samples of Judi’s work, it was apparent that the jewelry judges were in love with the handmade A Tree Grows Necklace and crowned her our next jewelry grand prize winner.

Since then, Judi has repeatedly told me that her jewelry career has blossomed. She’s added two more lovely designs into our assortment (including this eye-catching Ear Climber) and has become an irreplaceable member of the shared space studios of Brooklyn Metal Works tucked away in the streets of Brooklyn — where she creates more of her nature-inspired pieces. Meet Judi Powers, an artist and advocate for sustainable jewelry, positive thinking, and good ol’ second chances.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I have two separate workspaces: my drawing table at home and my studio. I intentionally keep them separate. For me, the design process can be a really slow one so once I get to the studio I’m eager to start fabricating in wax or metal. Brooklyn Metal Works is more of a place of motivation for me. I look around at all of the talent, tools, and equipment that surround me and I can’t help but feel inspired to sit at my bench and be productive. Whenever I go to the studio, I’m just happy and excited!

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
Files, my saw, a rawhide mallet, the blowtorch, and my flex shaft are the tools I can’t live without. I know I’ll read this later and think “how did I forget to include that tool!”.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Well, I’m a “new” designer but not a young designer. I had a 22-year career in publishing that really helped me on so many levels, mostly on those related to business. I suppose the toughest lesson I’ve learned (even though I already knew this) is that you hear dozens of nos before you hear one yes. Also, having a daily schedule is key! It’s amazing how quickly a day passes when there’s no structure in it and, at the end of that day, it’s frightening to see how much you “didn’t” accomplish.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I thought about the special pieces of jewelry I’d received throughout my life and the memories I have around them. I wanted to create a collection that had special meaning for my customers and me. Every time I create a new design I tell a story about a special moment or place (despite a career in publishing, I never aspired to be a writer, but I do have a desire to tell stories via my jewelry). There are pieces in my collection that are inspired by my childhood in the country, travels in Asia, and my daily life in Brooklyn.

My education at a Rudolf Steiner High School also relates to my product. It’s because of the lessons I learned there about caring for our environment and our neighbors that I decided to do everything I possible to run an environmentally and socially responsible business.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Oh, there’s so much advice I’d give! Hearing “no” is never easy: get comfortable with that discomfort. Build a network of people who are happy to help you via professional organizations and educational settings. Don’t expect to know everything in a day. Be patient and be persistent. Stay organized. Don’t judge yourself so harshly!

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

How do you set goals for yourself?
This is an ever-evolving process that I’m still trying to perfect. I think about where I want to be in six months, a year, and five years from now and what I need to do get there. My goals always change but they never fail to be about the longevity of my business.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I know this will sound cliché but every day that I get to wake up and live my dream is a celebration. Being a professional jeweler is both my victory and my reward.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I recently put this quote by Amelia Earhart over my desk: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” It’s really scary to walk away from a stable career in order to pursue something you love but that’s completely untested and uncertain. This quote is my daily reminder to confront the paper tigers and to see the process of major change as a component of the joy that comes from having the job you never thought was possible.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time usually entails chatting with my studio mates about the projects we’re working on. I’m very lucky to work in a collaborative space with so many incredibly talented people. And, I make the occasional run to Ample Hills for an ice cream break. My father instilled a life-long love for ice cream in me and it’s both a reward and a pick me up when I’m working at the studio.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
If there were countless hours in the day—and if I were a better time manager—I’d take classes ALL THE TIME! I take classes where I learn new techniques, such as various forms of stone setting, and I’m always working to run a better business. Investing in learning both practical jewelry skills as well as business skills is really key to running a healthy business.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

How do you recharge your creativity?
I recharge my creativity by going to Montauk. It’s a really special place for me and I get so much inspiration there. I can stare at the ocean for hours. I can spend a whole afternoon beach combing. And my dog loves to run and play on the beach, which is a real treat for me too.

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’ve been very honored to have a number of custom orders and those are always collaborative. My clients come to me with an occasion or idea in mind, we discuss it, I make sketches, and then we work on the final design together. I love doing custom work because it is collaborative, because I get the honor of sharing in someone’s happy occasion, and because there’s always a story to it. And I admittedly love to tell stories!

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Design

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Handmade Jewelry

November 13, 2014

Handmade jewelry has been all the rage lately. The personal attention and love that makers and artisans infuse into their work is evident in the masterpieces that they create. What most people don’t understand is why handmade jewelry is more of an investment than its mass produced counterparts. There are many reasons why handmade jewelry is more of an investment than pieces that are mass produced, so I thought I would break it down for you!  Below are 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Handmade Jewelry.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods-548x421

1. No Mass Production Machinery Involved: By definition, handmade jewelry is literally just that, made by the “hands” of the artisan or maker.  The pieces are soldered, sawed, carved and shaped without the use of mass produced manufacturing machinery. A machine can crank out hundreds of units per hour while an individual can only make a finite quantity or fraction of the number of pieces in the same amount of time.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods

2. The Value of Time: As previously mentioned, since there are no machines involved, handmade jewelry takes an incredible amount of time to produce just a single piece. As a designer myself, I know I often spend hours designing a single piece of jewelry for a client. The time to make the piece often can take weeks.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods

3. The Maker’s Process: The maker has a very intimate relationship with each piece or design they create. The design process is key to the value that is inherent in each piece. Emilie Shapiro talks about her process and says, “While creating jewelry, there is a very intimate relationship with my work. I know every curve and line (is) put there with intention. As a maker your energy goes into the piece.”

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods

4. Materials: In almost every case, the value of the materials involved in a handmade piece are of stellar quality. It’s difficult to regulate or even know exactly what alloys are used in mass produced factories where dirty metals are blended together to create costume pieces. Handmade materials are generally sourced from highly reputable suppliers.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods-548x421

5. Sustainability: Jewelry Makers are often dedicated to sustainability and ethically sourced materials. By nature, being ethical can be much more costly than taking the easy route and purchasing from the refiner or dealer with low prices and shady sourcing. Once again, Emilie Shapiro always uses the highest quality materials sourced from suppliers who share her ethos about sustainability whenever possible. Smaller scale production is almost always higher quality.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods

6. Quality: Smaller scale production is almost always higher quality because the ability to track and control the process from start to finish is inherent in the making process. Makers and artisans are extremely proud of the work they produce. They aren’t going to let something of inferior quality leave their studio with their name on it.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods

7. Locally Made with Love: There is a lot of buzz with “buying local” these days. Reducing your carbon footprint and supporting local artisans is good for the environment and good for everyone. Artisans and makers infuse love and energy into each piece of work. There is HUGE value in supporting local from a sustainability and energetic standpoint. Along with the extra value inherent in handmade jewelry you are also buying a truly one-of-a-kind product. Even if the handmade piece is part of an edition – no maker creates two pieces that are exactly identical. You are the only person with that specific piece of jewelry which says a lot.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods

The next time you consider purchasing a handmade piece of jewelry, remember that even though the piece may be an investment, you are supporting something even bigger. You should feel really good about your purchase knowing that you have a special piece of the artist in your jewelry collection.

Handmade | UncommonGoodsKeep an eye out for this blue hand icon while shopping at UncommonGoods for handmade products!

7 Things You Didn't Know About Handmade Jewelry | UncommonGoods-548x421