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What Makes a Piece of Jewelry Meaningful?

Karin Jacobson inspiration jewelry design

When you picture your favorite piece of jewelry, what emotions does it evoke?  Do you feel nostalgia for the neighborhood in Paris where you found it? Do you think fondly of your favorite aunt, who gave it to you? Are you filled with pride remembering that it was a gift for your graduation? Does it make you feel powerful or beautiful or loved?

Jewelry is so often used to commemorate an occasion – a birthday, an engagement, a wedding – and when we give it as a gift, we want the piece to be meaningful. But what gives a piece of jewelry real meaning?

The giver can make jewelry meaningful

Well, for starters, you do!  When you give a gift—even if it is the plainest, simplest, least original piece of jewelry in the world—it will have real meaning for the person who receives it. The fact that you sought out a piece you knew they’d love and generously gave it to them means it will always have special significance.   

Once my husband Adam came to visit my studio on a slow day. He was curious about what I was working on, and I said to him, “Want to try making a ring?” Now, Adam would be the first person to tell you that he’s not a natural artist. But being an engineer, he’s got focus and precision in spades. He did the *best* job making a little sterling silver ring, and with very little help from me. (OK, I made sure to help him light the torch because I didn’t want him to create a fireball and singe off his eyebrows. But other than that, all of my directions were verbal.) I was so impressed! And he was so proud! I wear that little silver ring every day. It’s often stacked with lots of other fun rings – I’m a jewelry designer, after all – but it’s always there! And every time I look at it, I feel a little surge of love for my husband. And I don’t even care if that sounds sappy.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design tiny silver band
Here's my little silver band, which I even wore temporarily as an engagement ring!
Adam had to propose without a ring because he knew I wanted to make my own, so instead he orchestrated a surprise getaway. Here's the photo I sent to my family after we got engaged!

The piece’s origin story can make jewelry meaningful

Time and place can also be big factors in how meaningful a piece of jewelry may become. Were you on a trip and picked up a pair of gorgeous earrings in your favorite vacation spot? Did you receive an elegant little necklace from your great grandmother, who inherited it from her own mother? Was it given to you at a turning point in your life? First day of high school? Last day on the job? Birthday of your first child? Did you buy it in your hometown the day you moved away? Was it made in the country of your ancestors? Any jewelry that is closely associated with travel, lifetime milestones, or strong memories will be loved forever.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design venice earrings
I bought these fun 3D printed earrings from a maker's shop in Venice, Italy last fall - they weren't fancy or expensive, but I loved them. As I was trying to get this photo of a bridge over the Grand Canal, I also managed to snap a great detail shot of my new hoops!

The piece’s maker can make jewelry meaningful

Jewelry becomes exponentially more special when you’ve met the person who designed and created it for you. Of course, I am a hand-maker of things, so I see this all of the time. And it doesn’t just happen when I create a piece of jewelry for my mom! Clients ordering custom jewelry just *love* the process of giving input on their project. Or even when clients visit my studio to buy something that isn’t custom, and get a peek at how and where my designs are made. (Meeting the person who actually made them helps, too! Not to toot my own horn, but I am awfully nice.)

Susan Elnora Jewelry necklace
I also love to I know the maker!
Here's a favorite piece of jewelry by another designer -  a raven necklace from my friend, fabulous designer, and all around delightful person Susan Elnora.

The piece’s symbolism can make jewelry meaningful

I saved this one for last because I think sometimes people worry a little *too* much about it. In fact, I’ve worked on projects where the clients are so caught up in the symbols, the actual design gets lost. When that happens, we need to back up and say, “But in the end, will it look good?” Sometimes less is more, and it works better to let the piece become a symbol in and of itself. A recent wedding ring that I made is a great example of this idea in practice. One member of the couple was from Montana, and the wedding would be held in Montana as well, so I suggested featuring a gorgeous Montana sapphire as the center stone! The ring was gorgeous and the couple was thrilled with the result.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design Montana sapphire custom engagement ring
My clients loved their Montana sapphire, and we also re-used diamonds from a grandmother's wedding ring!

That said,  symbolism can still be important and helps imbue a piece of jewelry with meaning. Repurposing family gemstones can be really lovely; meaningful symbols can evoke sweet memories; specific materials or designs can spark happy nostalgia. These kinds of touches can really make the piece shine, especially when it’s a gift.

But in the end, there’s really only one question you need to answer to know if a piece of jewelry will hold special meaning: Do you love it? Then it means the world.

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