What do I mean when I describe my process as hand-fabricating jewelry? Below I will explain how I make my jewelry and describe the difference between my process and one of the most common processes.
Handmade vs Hand-fabricated
Handmade jewelry can also mean hand-fabricated, but it more often means some elements are pre-made/manufactured while the finishing work is done by hand. This is common for makers that use casting for their jewelry. Casting is the process by which molten metal is poured into a mold and that metal (gold, silver, etc) solidifies to take the shape of the design. This step is often outsourced to jewelry manufacturers that have the right equipment to heat precious metals to the point at which they become molten. This is how jewelry designers effectively copy their designs to manufacture multiples. This is very common and does not take away anything from the artistry of the jewelry designer. But, it's a different approach to making.
Hand-fabricated, on the other hand, uses no casting. This is the process I use when making jewelry. I start with sheets and wire of precious metals, like 18 karat gold. Using torches, hammers, saws and other traditional tools, I create each piece from these raw elements. No two pieces of mine are exactly alike, and I am free to design however I like since I can make whatever I "dream up". The only exception I make is when buying certain chains for pendants, or backs for some earrings. However, all the critical elements that are design driven are fabricated one-of-a-kind.
Again, handmade does not always mean "not hand-fabricated". There are no rules around these definitions, and it's common to say "handmade" because it's a term most people intuitively understand, whereas hand-fabricated is a little more nuanced. I prefer hand-fabricated because it's a distinct process that is rare in today's fine jewelry making. I first learned metalsmithing in college, at Rhode Island School of Design. From there, I perfected my craftsmanship as a goldsmith for a prestigious New York jewelry designer. It was those five years that tuned my hands to making intricate and delicate gold-work designs. Working on the bench eight-plus hours a day for years will give you the kind of muscle memory and technique that is hard to achieve without that effort.