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Individualism and the heritage of Craftsmanship. The revival of craftsmanship

4 min read

Individualism and the heritage of Craftsmanship. The revival of craftsmanship

The revival of craftsmanship 


A craftsman, also called an artisan is a skilled manual worker who uses tools and machinery in a particular craft, in this case in the jewellery craft.


Traditional jewellery techniques and jewels produced used to define regional and national cultural identities. Craftsmanship would be learnt from father to son and artisans working in the same region would commonly use the same forms and techniques[1].


Artisans were the main makers of products before the Industrial Revolution, after which many of the old techniques disappeared or became very hard to find; and production of objects became standardized.


Now, it seems there is a revival of traditional craftsmanship and the aesthetics that they represented. “Uber Luxury” and “Connoisseurship” were two of the top trends for the year 2007[2], both of them are defined by bespoke designs that display perfect craftsmanship and are produced in very limited editions. A recent conversation between fashion designer Alexander McQueen and jewellery designer Shaun Leane, they defined craftsmanship as the new direction in jewellery and fashion.[3]


Another example of the growing interest in craftsmanship is the coming exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum entitled “Out of the ordinary, 21st Century Craft”. It will run from 15 November 2007 until 13 February 2008 and will display work of different artists who use crafts and craftsmanship in a new and experimental way.

“Out of the Ordinary will bring together a group of international artists who place craft at the heart of their practice, transforming everyday subjects and materials into works that are truly extraordinary”. […] “The exhibition will showcase on a grand scale astonishing examples of meticulous making and attention to detail. Challenging conventional ideas about craft, the artists in the exhibition skilfully use tradition to achieve unexpected outcomes” [4]


This path is similar to the one taken by artist Dai Rees, whose work explores the role of craftsmanship in the 21st century.  He makes elaborated stitched leather objects that bring the viewer to think about raw hanging flesh.

“ In an attempt to explore the contemporary role of craftsmanship, he set himself the task of learning a historical skill- and then planned to see how this craft might be applied in a new and different form. “ I have always been curious about how we look at historical artifacts” [5]


Maybe the recent appeal of craftsmanship and individuality and away from just price points of a product is a response for higher-end luxury products. The exclusiveness of the luxury term has declined (but not the sales) due to the democratisation of the luxury market by the rised of standards of living. Now, luxury houses keep on expanding but are also looking for new ways of recovering its old status.




The contemporary design scene is full of forms that mentally transport the viewer to the complicated nature-representing patterns of the last century, and in textiles and embroidery work. With the development of laser cutting and similar techniques new language are been created in many design arenas, or reinventing the old ones.

A new sense for technological delicacy is taking place. There is some kind of “neo-nostalgia” for the old forms, as she calls it, in Susan Bradley work, and in Tord Boontje’s work.

Neo-nostalgia of flowers and other motifs that confirm their 'retour en force' at different trade shows like 100% Design in London or Ambiente in Frankfurt. 

The development of new languages and techniques has also taken place in jewellery design. It has been helped not only by laser processes, like scans and cut outs , but also by 3-D prototyping techniques which allow designers and makers to create very intrinsic pieces. Like Frank Tjepkema, and David Goodwin.                                                                                      


Taking these techniques as the context, it shows the recent interest into using bespoke designs that are influenced by old forms and the heritage of craftsmanship. These pieces combine new approaches with old languages and therefore communicate at different levels by carrying diverse narratives. Not is this only happening in the designer-maker sphere but also at trade-shows and street level.


[1] Perry.J, Bernal, L.  Life event research.  Appendix B. p.13, p.17

[2] TJF magazine, < http://www.tjfgroup.com/news_details.asp?nID=299> Accessed 3 December 2006.

[3] McQueen..A (2006) Interview.TJF magazine, Nu 2, p. 48.

[4] V&A museum.<http://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/future_exhibs/index.html> Accessed 4 April 2007.

[5] Field, M. (2007). “In The Teeth Of Your Skin” Crafts magazine, No 204, p. 19.


This is an excerpt from Arabel Lebrusan's MA paper "Individualism and the heritage of Craftsmanship. Questioning Spanish sensibility and sustainable processes in the contemporary jewellery practice". Central Saint Martins. 2007.

If you have enjoyed reading it you can download the full paper HERE

arabel lebrusan
arabel lebrusan

Arabel Lebrusan is an artist, designer and pioneer of the ethical jewellery movement, with almost two decades of industry experience behind her. She is a fount of knowledge when it comes to responsible sourcing, sustainable manufacture, and the preservation of traditional craft. Her engaging blog posts range from personal accounts of once-in-a-lifetime sourcing trips to helpful tips for buying and wearing jewellery and opinion pieces on pressing industry matters.