What’s Killing the Indie Craft Fairs? Artisan Made vs. Component Assembled Jewelry


Let me just drag my soapbox out here and shout from the mountain tops an opinion about the quality of fine craftsmanship that one might encounter at an indie craft show.

First let’s identify the problem:

When indie craft fairs first came on the scene it was an awesome opportunity for craft enthusiasts (those who love to buy handmade) because the shows were more funky, more quirky and more unique than the well-known craft fairs. The items for sale at indie craft shows were almost always guaranteed to be very different while maintaining high quality. Indie craft fairs originally took pride in the fact that there were no crocheted toilet paper covers or corny, kitschy, country signs. There were no crafts by hobbyists because many of the shows were juried and they were thus able to maintain a high standard of quality and selection.

In the town where I live there is a big craft show called the Craftsman’s Classic that comes to the fairgrounds two to four times a year. It too started out with some of the most unique finds in all the land, but over the years they have lowered their standards and the crocheted toilet paper covers and country signs are back in spades, mixed in, of course with all the artisan made, high-end, and fine crafts.

The problem is that the facilitators of indie craft shows are following suit and succumbing to the pop-jewelers, the component assemblers who buy store-bought beads and findings and assemble them with jump rings. The juries at these shows are falling for this quasi-craft and choosing it over the more unique and soulful artisan-made jewelry.

The three types of jewelry

There are three main types of handcrafted jewelry that appear at craft shows and I have a favorite which you will clearly discover as you read on.

Precious Jewelry

Precious jewelry is made using precious metals (gold and silver mainly) and precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, etc. This jewelry is often well designed and very beautiful (although I have seen many soulless pieces in this category that match the production jewelry of retail stores… but this is a subject for a different post). There is only one downfall with this type of jewelry for the shopper and that is the price point. Beautiful? Yes. Unique? Sometimes. Affordable? No.

Artisan Jewelry

Artisan jewelry is made using base metals (copper and brass mainly) and semi-precious stones such as quartz crystals, turquoise, basalt, etc., and sometimes found or natural objects. This jewelry is often very well designed, very beautiful, but also very unique. Because it is artisan jewelry it is often one-of-a-kind and that means you’ll never see another person wearing the exact same piece. Beautiful? Yes. Unique? Yes. Affordable?  Yes.

Component Assembled Jewelry

Component assembled jewelry is a mixed bag. It is often made by hobbyists who do not rely on craftsman-like skills. If they can open and close a jump ring, they can hook just about anything together and call it jewelry.


That is not to say that CAs (component assemblers) are without creativity. There are colors and shapes and materials to choose from and a certain degree of composition or arrangement required to make a piece of jewelry look good. And some of the CAs are masters at it. But all their materials are store-bought and the pieces can be duplicated. Nothing is made from scratch.
Beautiful? Sometimes. Unique? Not if it can be duplicated. Affordable? Yes.

Artisan jewelry is my favorite because it satisfies the one criteria I hold most dear to my heart; artisan jewelry is unique. I have been to many craft shows and consider myself a connoisseur of handmade items. Full disclosure: I am also a craftsman myself and, so far, prefer the wearable art that I make over the more expensive precious jewelry or the oft duplicated component assembly.

If the indie craft shows allow the crocheted toilet paper covers and country signs and component assembled jewelry into their shows, I predict the whole industry will die a needless and avoidable death. If Portland can keep itself weird, indie craft shows should be able to keep themselves unique.

Next time you find yourself at a craft show, try this experiment. Lift a piece of component assembled jewelry in your hands (you’ll know it’s by a CA if it is just strung store-bought beads) and feel the spirit of the piece. Then go find some artisan jewelry and do the same. If my opinion holds true, you should feel a notable difference. Those who make jewelry from scratch, especially artisan jewelry, will often imbue the piece with spirit as they are designing it.

It’s true that any of the three types of jewelry can be soulless, but artisan jewelry almost always contains the most spirit, has the fairest price point, and will be the most authentic and unique. All three of these attributes add up to the most satisfaction.

Jewelry is one of the most intimate things we wear. It is close to the body and it often tells the world something about us. Make sure you never wear anything without soul. It will go a long way to help assure our indie craft shows stay funky.

Do you have an opinion on this subject? Please comment and make your opinion known.





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