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Using Jewelry Design Elements

What is a jewelry design element?  An "element" is simply a design characteristic that you will use to make interesting designs.  Imagine a bracelet that is made up of a single strand of all white beads that are uniform in size and shape, and closed with a plain spring ring clasp.  Ok...simple and classic perhaps, but also not very interesting to look at.  It is more of an accent piece that fades into the background and doesn't draw much attention. 

Now imagine a bracelet made with a few large, brightly colored handmade lampwork glass beads, interspersed with smaller crystal beads, with some dangly bead charms attached, and completed with a very interesting sterling silver clasp.  Wow!  Now there is a focal bracelet that draws attention, and is a key part of your unique style and look!  Both bracelets we've just described have their place.  The whole point is that you can use design elements to express that certain look and feel and to make your jewelry less ho hum and boring, and more fun and exciting!   Ready to learn more?  Let's go!

Jewelry Design Elements - Defined

Color - use of color to set the mood of the piece

Shape - mix up the bead shapes to add interest

Size - always use a couple of different sizes in your design to give a little pizzazz

Metal Selection & Findings - choose silver, gold, or other metal colors, as well as interesting findings to make a statement

Texture and Light - Mix up interesting textures, smooth and faceted beads, and use sparkle to draw attention.

Woman wearing necklace

Jewelry Designer's Use of Color

Let's start with one of the most important elements in any design--color!  Why is color important in your jewelry design?  Well, to me color is the best design element to influence the overall mood and feel of a piece of jewelry.  Think about it...just like in fashion, certain colors reflect the season, the occasion, or the mood.  For example, white is pure and clean.  Therefore, a strand of white pearls is a common choice for the bride-to-be to wear in her special wedding.  Black is generally thought to be a more formal color.  Back in Victorian era times, women wore jet beads or other black jewelry as a sign that they were in mourning.  Basic black or basic white are always good jewelry choices because they also go with everything!  But beyond black and white jewelry, let's talk about branching out and thinking about how to use color to create exciting and interesting designs.

Here are some basic questions that a jewelry designer might ask when approaching a new design:

  • How do I use color in my jewelry designs?

  • What colors go well together?  And what colors don't?

  • What is the difference between color complements and contrasting colors? 

  • How can I use my knowledge of color to create interesting jewelry designs?

For centuries, master artists and painters have approached these very same issues when preparing for a painting.  Much thought and care went into the selection and use of color before the first brushstroke was ever touched to canvas.  Luckily, you don't need to fret too much over getting it all right the first time.  I can tell you from personal experience as an oil painter, as well as a jewelry designer--it's a lot harder in preparing a painting than with making jewelry!  Generally, if you don't like your color combination, you can simply unstring your design and start over!  And, it really doesn't have to be complicated.  Whenever I can't figure out what I want to do next in my design, I always just throw a whole bunch of different colored beads out on the table just to see what looks good together.

Color Wheel Resources

Basic Color Wheel

A color wheel can help you understand what colors are complementary and constrasting to give you some design ideas.  You can pick up a small hand-held color wheel in most craft stores where the paints are sold.  These are usually inexpensive cardboard or plastic color discs, and you can spin the window to get color ideas and to understand contrasting and complementary color schemes.

On-Line Color Wheels

There are many on-line color wheel software products available for purchase.  Just do a search for "color wheel" in your search engine.

Web Color Wheel

Here is a fantastic resource that I came across when trying to select color combinations to make this website. - A web color combinations tool and library for web designers.   But you don't have to use it to design websites--it's a great tool for jewelry designers as well!  They have already created many different color palettes that you can take a look at and get some inspiration on color combinations for your next design.  It's totally free and a lot of fun to go look at some of the color combinations you might not have thought of.  Find some glass, plastic or gemstone beads that closely match the color set you want to work with--and then get busy making a totally interesting and colorful new jewelry design!  Here is an example of how you might use this tool:

ColorCombo13 (View)

Looking at the above color combination, I would look for genuine amethyst beads in light and dark purple, blue lace agate beads for the mid tone, and perhaps some light grey pearls or white AB crystals to off-set the purple colors.  Can't you just see an amazing bracelet idea coming to life?

Jewelry Designer's Use of Shape

Change up the shapes of beads and components in your jewelry design.  Using beads that are identically shaped may create a static and boring design.  Try mixing round, oval, bead spacers, or bead chips in a design in mix things up.

Jewelry Designer's Use of Size

Try to alternate one or more bead sizes every few beads and experiment to see how you can make designs more interesting.  Using the same sized beads for the whole design is perfectly fine as long as it achieves the desired result.

Jewelry Designer's Use of Metal and Findings

Choosing your Metal Type

There are three things to consider when choosing the metal to be used in your jewelry design.  The most common popular metals include base metal, which comes in several colors and finishes, sterling silver, 14kt gold-filled, and 14kt gold.


First, you must know whether the wearer has a metal allergy, also known as contact dermatitis.  Nickel allergies are fairly common in people with sensitive skin, and this will dictate whether you have to use a precious metal (silver or gold) in your design, or whether you can stick with a less expensive base metal alternative.    14kt gold can usually be worn safely by people who have metal allergies, but ask to make sure before you invest in expensive components.  One other option for allergic wearers is a brand name called “Simply Whispers”.  These are made from surgical stainless steel with no nickel.  You can order their jewelry components on-line.    


The next thing to decide is the color of metal.  Metal comes in silver, gold, copper, bronze, and several other finishes such as “oxidized” metals that have a blackened finish.  The right color will purely depend on your own taste, but consider the color of your beads before making your piece.


The final thing to consider in choosing your metal is cost.  Base metal is very inexpensive.  Beyond base metal, going up in cost you can choose “plated” silver or gold finishes, sterling silver, 14kt gold-filled, and finally, true 14kt gold. 




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