High School

Designing Jewelry with the Wearer in Mind

Last time I talked about my experience being a student in my mentor teacher’s jewelry class. At about the same time, there was one day when my mentor had to be absent, so I had to teach an almost totally unknown subject on the fly! Of course, I spoke with my mentor by phone that morning, so it wasn’t like I was totally alone. She said the students should work on their automotive-inspired designs by researching cars and car factories online. They had already spent a bit of time doing this and had submitted initial sketches. I suggested adding an element of figure drawing into it by having the students sketch people actually wearing the pieces they were coming up with. My mentor agreed, and I used the second period prep to put together a quick sample sketch.

Basic head and hand illustration to model jewelry on
Basic head and hand illustration to model jewelry on

At the time, this seemed like the most natural progression to me. After all, when you’re learning how to do fashion illustration, you first learn how to draw a basic human figure to put clothes on; you don’t start out with flat, technical drawings even though these would perhaps highlight the specific qualities (in terms of cut, color, and pattern) of the garment itself more than drawing it on a fashion figure.

So I told the students to start thinking about turning their automotive sketches into jewelry. At that point, most still had concepts that looked very obviously like car parts. How can we take the shapes we see on cars and turn them into jewelry? How would these pieces look actually being worn?

I sketched out one example, taking the Cadillac shield as inspiration. It would perhaps look tacky to use an actual Cadillac logo as earrings, but by taking the shape only, we can allude to the classic car aesthetic without simply copying it. I later colored the gems red to further the reference to cars, tail lights in particular.

Now, as many students in the two jewelry classes are taking the class as their art elective, they don’t necessarily have figure drawing skills (but some do). So I did a demo on how to draw a very basic head, face, and hand so everyone could at least get started. With this particular pose, they could have a model for nearly all the kinds of jewelry they could make in this class. I instructed them to put at least three pieces of jewelry on their model.

Students looked at the sketches they had done in a previous class to figure out how those pieces would look when actually being worn. These two students enjoyed putting lots of detail into their faces, not choosing to use the “cheat” of having the models’ eyes closed!


Some students were having a hard time making the conversion from “car parts” to “jewelry,” so I encouraged them to make up a personality for their model. This student even named his model, and got so into it, he came in on his lunch hour to further tweak the image!


What does this person like to do? What kind of clothes would they wear? If they were in a store looking to buy a new accessory, what would catch their eye?

Click the thumbnails below to see more examples of student work

Several days later, I asked my mentor teacher if it was more common to design jewelry by drawing only the jewelry, or by rendering as it would actually be worn. To my surprise she said jewelers always sketch the piece alone. They had to consider size and the balance of the piece itself (for example, how a brooch will hang on a garment), but otherwise, they didn’t think of it necessarily in context of the shapes of the human form it would eventually adorn. On the one hand I thought such an object-centered approach was a bit lacking in humanity. But on the other, it’s not as if the pieces that have been made this way don’t look good on people. Either way, I don’t think it would hurt to sometimes design jewelry while thinking of how it will harmonize with the lines of the person who will one day wear it. I’m sure this approach might generate ideas that might not otherwise occur to someone!


My favorite jeweler is silversmith Jigoro ARAKAWA, who makes jewelry under the brand name Gigor. I had seen this video long before I would be using some of the tools in it myself, but it was nice to come back to it and be able to say, “I know what he’s using that for now!”