What is considered as handmade jewellery?
Technically speaking, to be classed as 'handmade' a product is generally made exactly that way, by hand without the use of machinery or electric tools of any kind employed in the creation of the product. Shapes are cut with a hand saw, filed and smoothed with various grades of cutting cloths (emery cloth, sand paper, micro finishing cloths etc.), holes are drilled with a hand drill and filed out to be made larger and so on. Unless you live in a jungle without any power supply, a lot of the time not many products are made this way and most employ the use on machinery or electric tools to help make the job easier to create.
Handmade and handcrafted are basically the same, but the two terms have some subtle differences. The main criteria to mention with both though, is that mass production techniques have not been used in the creation of an end product but, with a handcrafted product, the item could be assembled by hand from components that have been mass produced by machine. Confused? Yes, I'm not surprised! :-)
What it all boils down to is that when you buy a product that is genuinely classed as handmade or hand-crafted, it's usually been made by a crafter in a small workshop environment. They would generally be working with a combination of bought in components and making components 'by hand' with the benefit of specialised machinery.
There has been a recent shift from mass produced products in many areas, luxury items, furniture and shoes to name a few; jewellery is probably one area where handmade is becoming the most popular option. The whole story behind a piece is just as important as the piece itself and adds value to the product in a way that mass produced items can't. Nobody ever really gets excited by telling a story on their wedding day about how their wedding rings were banged out in amongst a batch of thousands in a Far East factory, but, compare that to how the rings were carefully planned and the design sketched out by a jewellery designer/maker. Then the diamonds were selected from a choice of stones and personalisation engraving was added before the rings were completed, to create a truly one off item that no one else would have, and it becomes much more memorable and personal to the owners.
Which is better, handmade/crafted or mass produced?
If you choose to go down the hand crafted route (we'll use this term from now on as it's generally encompasses hand making along with the use of machinery), deciding if this is better than mass produced products is usually down to how you feel about production methods and your budget. Mass production techniques can replicate the look and quality of a handmade product and even surpass it in many instances, but, more often than not, gives away the fact that it's mass produced. Especially where jewellery is concerned, slight differences or blemishes in the item set it aside from a mass produced item and give it character; even just knowing that it was handcrafted can raise it's appeal in the eyes of the owner.
Mass produced items are generally cheaper to produce and give the impression of a quality item, hiding the fact that clever manufacturing methods are able to be used that compromise on quality and substance. On the other hand, mass produced items sold in a high street shop carry a high markup from the retailer and by utilising the services of a designer/maker, you can offset the cost of extra time for handcrafting against the fact that you aren't paying for the overheads of a large shop in a busy high street. (Or not so busy these days! :-)
Whether a product is hand crafted or mass produced doesn't necessarily determine which is better, your decision on the direction to go should be based on all factors but, ultimately may be decided simply on how you feel about it.
The quality of a product is sometimes dependent on the quality of the materials it consists of. Manufacturers of mass produced items sometimes compromise on the quality of their materials to give the impression of a better quality product. For example, in jewellery, white gold is often plated with Rhodium to make it appear a brighter, whiter colour. High quality white gold alloys can be left unplated to show the natural colour of the gold. It's not uncommon for Rhodium plating to wear off a gold ring to reveal the true colour of the gold underneath; some manufacturers simply plate yellow gold to make it white and natural wear and tear of the ring soon removes the Rhodium plate to show the yellow colour underneath.