Jewelry as a Symbol of Status
The on-going discussion about renaming polymer clay, as well as some comments I received even on my humble post about this issue, returned me to my old thoughts about the implied value of jewelry.
Obviously, there is something we, as jewelry makers, cannot ignore. Yes, the downgrading of polymer clay, based on it's classification as “just plastic” in people's minds, IS real. Not all, but some customers do think about gold, silver, and precious stones when they think about “real jewelry”. I think the reason lies in the history and is implanted in the buyer's sub-consciousness.
Now, these are just my thoughts, I am not a historian, and I do not pretend to have answers to these kind of questions. However, at least for myself, this is how I explain this phenomenon.
A long time ago (think Medieval times), only reach and noble people could afford jewelry. Right? It was expensive, and it was one of the attributes of power and money. The original purpose of jewelry, therefore, was to manifest it's owners wealth to the rest of the world. It was the mark of the status. Those, who had jewelry, belonged to the higher class than those, who did not. The price of the finished jewelry was directly proportional to the size and rarity of the gems used to make it. The work that went into creating the finished piece of jewelry was if not insignificant, then definitely secondary to the other parameters, when it came to the price of jewelry. Also important, that at that time, there were no ways to mimic the gemstones convincingly enough. The glass was of low quality. There were no lab-grown gems, no cubic zirconium... So, once again, the original and most important purpose of jewelry was the status symbol, and it was an accurate connection, because every piece of jewelry was equivalent to that much extra money.
Later, in late 19-th, and even more so in 20-th century, we see the development of all these alternative processes and materials I just mentioned. What they create are surrogate status symbols – cheaper jewelry, that looks pretty much as “the real thing”. With this more affordable jewelry more people are able to pose as if they, too, belong to the rich and noble group.
I think, that for some people, jewelry is still “the status thing”. And these are the people who look first of all at the material, not the craftsmanship. These are the people who think that “gold” equals “value”, and “plastic” equals “cheap”. I am not talking about poorly-made polymer clay items (which is an issue in itself). I am talking about pieces with high craftsmanship, original, and well-executed, but still "not made of gold".
If people thought logically, and remembered that the manufacturing processes are getting more and more economical, while the manual labor gets more and more expensive, they would have to realize that a high-quality hand-made piece is a better manifest of its price than a piece of “real jewelry”.
I just hope this realization comes while we are still in business.