As art jewelry comes into its own in America, galleries are clasping onto the trend and finding success with the art/jewelry mix.

Throughout the world, body ornamentation is an ancient and time-honored art form. Yet in the United States, jewelry as art has only recently come into its own.

Such art is not the series of gold tennis bracelets lined up in a glass case at the mall. Nor is it the design of a single artist whose staff puts it into mass production. These are handcrafted, one-of-a-kind works conceived and executed by the artist with all the technical elements and aesthetics that carry it across the line into the realm of fine art.

“The distinction between mass-produced jewelry and art jewelry is not just in the quantity but the design,” said jewelry artist Gretchen Kubacky of Los Angeles. “I’ve seen some stunningly high-quality designs in a department store that wouldn’t be considered fine art, and I’ve seen $5,000 diamond earrings that have no design quality to them. Art is in the eye of the beholder.” All kinds of jewelry such as wholesale costume jewelry,fashion jewelry wholesale,wholesale jewelry,jewelry supply,pearl jewelry,body jewelry

Kubacky identifies her own work as “ethnicized contemporary” jewelry drawn from historical images, as well as craft and folk art. She uses sterling silver, high-quality stones and pearls, but she likes to mix them up, putting hand-made stones from India with cultured pearls–the fine and the not-so-fine–to create a more hand-made appearance.

“Jewelry-as-art depends on function and intimacy,” wrote Carolyn Morris Bach, who exhibits her bone-and-precious metal jewelry at high-end expositions and in select fine art galleries across the country. “Every piece of jewelry that leaves the studio is entirely hand-fabricated by me. While I strive for perfection in my design and craftsmanship, I am not overly concerned that every form requires perfectly rounded edges or that every element be an exact replication of its counterpart. If this is art, it should be individual and unique and preserve for the viewer deliberate traces of the decisions for fabrication; the passage of the hands through materials.”

Herein lies the realm of distinction between commercial jewelry and jewelry as fine art. Part of the departure lies in the purpose or intention behind the piece, whether it was made to be sold in quantity at a profit and ultimately worn, or if it was created for the sake of art–art that was hand crafted, using unconventional materials or traditional materials in unconventional ways. The closer the artist remains to the creative process, the closer the jewelry is to fine art.

“The difference is the same for jewelry as it is for the other decorative arts, such as glass and ceramics,” said jewelry artist and photographer Douglas Steakley, who exhibits jewelry and other fine crafts at his Concepts Gallery in Carmel, Calif. “You can tell when they change into fine art because they cease being functional, or they become sculptural objects themselves,” Steakley said. “Still, there remains a huge gray area of pieces that are semi-functional or are artistic but identifiable, wearable jewelry.”

Steakley and his wife Jacqueline founded Concepts 15 years ago as a gallery featuring the work of jewelry artists like Carolyn Morris Bach, Sydney Lynch and more. Their criteria were that each piece had to be unique, well-developed and identifiable–the artist had to create a signature.

“Concepts hasn’t changed much,” he said, “except to introduce glass and photography that follow the same artistic criteria. It’s a good mix. Glass, in particular, provides a nice contrast to the jewelry. It’s larger, visually interesting and colorful. It’s also more accessible than jewelry.”

Jewelry continues to make inroads into fine art venues such as galleries, high-end shows and expos, and it is creating quite a presence in the marketplace.

Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., dedicates half of its expansive space to art jewelry and the balance to other fine crafts. Owned by Allison Barnett and directed by her husband, jewelry artist Ivan Barnett, the nearly two-year-old gallery is renowned for representing some of the finest art jewelry in the world.

“We make a huge commitment to European jewelry artists,” said Ivan. “At lot of what I would call the cutting-edge of art jewelry is coming out of Europe. Theirs is a different, cleaner aesthetic. American jewelry artists are more decadent–not in a bad way–but there is a pared-down quality about the European designs. Americans are still tied a little more to the precious materials, largely because America is so market driven. Not to misrepresent the quality and aesthetic of many fine American artists, but Europeans are more closely aligned with our philosophy; creating surprises for people who have great sensibilities and want something way off the track.”

For the past 23 years, the William Zimmer Gallery in Mendocino, Calif., has presented an “eclectic, expansive and imaginative collection of contemporary arts” in both traditional and craft media. Along with sculpture, painting and furniture, it specializes in fine art jewelry with work from Morris Bach, Lynch, Abrasha and others.