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Designs on Your Money

Dr. Ogden identifies the need to consider design and craftsmanship as value attributes.

Jeweller working at the bench
A Jeweller working at the bench

The woman fixed me with an icy stare. The problem was a valuation - isn't it always? She was querying a valuation that she'd had for a ring, and I was trying to explain that there were almost as many different types of valuation as there are types of cheeses. Was it a valuation for insurance replacement, for liquidation, for probate...? ‘For goodness sake’ she glowered, ‘I just want to know its intrinsic value.’

So with a delicious combination of honesty and mischievousness I replied ‘Nothing. The diamond and the gold have been lying deep in the earth for millions of year, free for the taking.’ She walked away after a final, scornful snort, and the remainder of the party passed uneventfully. But I had told the truth. Money is for paying people and people only, the rest - animal, vegetable and mineral - come free.

That was a statement of the obvious, but few jewellery designers ponder the matter. The heirs of the pig that supplied the leather for a watch strap didn't receive any payment (even though it's appealing to think of them using a piggy bank). When people dig up the gold from some deep hole in a distant land they generally don't throw down the odd coin to appease mother nature. Every penny of the price paid for a piece of jewellery - or for anything else for that matter - goes towards paying people. The money pays the window cleaner who washes the jewellery shop window, it pays the guy that makes the ladder that the window cleaner uses, and it pays the person who chops down the tree they use to make the ladder. You pay for the food to feed the dogs guarding the gold mining compound ... and their vets. Figuratively speaking every penny paid for a piece of jewellery is divided into a near-infinite number of ever decreasing fractions, rippling out to pay all the people involved, from the exorbitant salaries of some to the subsistence wages of others.

Damien Hurst Shark Art
A Damien Hurst art installation

How much does a dead shark and 238 gallons of formaldehyde cost? Why was my solicitor's bill so much when all I got was fourteen sheets of paper and a fraction of a gram of printer cartridge refill? We know that the money always goes to people in payment for their artistic, business or other skills, but with jewellery we are the victims of five thousand years of equating jewellery with some sort of intrinsic worth. Of all the victims, the designers and the designer-makers fare the worst here because the jewellery-buying public have been largely brainwashed into only considering the materials and don't sufficiently value the time and skills of the designer and maker.

Lalique brooch
The Gulbenkian dragonfly brooch by René Lalique

Over the centuries the money you need to make to live has gone up far more than silver or even gold prices, and so the sad reality is that it is very hard indeed to make a good living today designing, making and selling one-off pieces of jewellery by hand. There are few options. Most designers simply have fun playing with precious metals and selling to family and friends, but seldom can they give up their day jobs. Most successful commercial jewellery designers design for others to mass-produce; or they or their employers use really expensive raw materials, such as fine gems, where the costs to design and make the jewellery are insignificant relative to the value of the materials. Only the really exceptional can become one of the rare breed of jewellery designer-makers where their work is valued for their name.

An alternative and equally valid reply to the woman at the party would have been to ask her how much she would be prepared to pay for the workmanship and design of her ring. If she didn't know that, then how could anyone else possibly put a value on it? I doubt such a response would have brought a smile to her face either. The big question is how do we re-educate more of the jewellery-buying public to understand that artistic excellence and fine craftsmanship can deserve to be as highly valued as the materials themselves?

This article first appeared in Fine Silver magazine in 2011.

Jewellery Historian - Jack Ogden


  • Dr. Jack Ogden, FSA, FGA
  • Jewellery Historian & Author
  • Henley-on-Thames, England


  • Appraisal (primary)
  • Design
  • Jewellery

Intended Audience

  • Consumers (primary)
  • Retailers
  • Appraisers / Valuers
  • Academics


  • June 2020
  • 3 mins reading time
  • Dale-Chall readability level:
    Easily understood by an average 12th Grade Student (US)
  • 5 mins speaking time

About the Author

Jewellery Historian - Dr Jack Ogden

Dr. Jack Ogden, FSA, FGA

Dr. Ogden is a British jewellery historian and author with a particular interest in the development of materials and technology. He is considered one of the foremost experts in his field. He is the current President of The Society of Jewellery Historians, having held the position since February 2018, and was appointed Visiting Professor of Ancient Jewellery, Material and Technology, at the Birmingham School of Jewellery Birmingham City University in 2019.


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