Recently, I viewed jewelry on display at multiple galleries all in one day. Seeing so much jewelry in a short time allowed me to compare and contrast the quality and effectiveness of different display approaches.
Some jewelry displays were elegant and inspired, while others were horrendous and highly questionable. Trying to understand the cause of such disparities seemed to be a good subject for several posts and possibly an informative debate.
To add to the display confusion the various individuals responsible for the different display approaches (shown in this post) each considered themselves experts with years of experience. How would one know they had jewelry display expertise? They said so.
The inconsistencies of the jewelry displays remind me of the ancient Indian tale of the blind men describing an elephant. Each man touching a different part of the elephant confidently extrapolated their vision of what the whole elephant must look like. But their stories varied enormously, as you can imagine. Ultimately, "When a sighted man walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, the blind men also learn that while one's own experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth."
The elephant in the room -- or more specifically the "elephant" in this post -- is the lack of standards for quality jewelry display.
Putting all good intentions aside, there are some pretty clear display standards that merit universal implementation for the display of artist made jewelry.
SPACE applies to jewelry everywhere!
Space defines value. Crowded jewelry displays scream lesser quality, lesser importance. The more space around an object the more important it becomes. In the first photos, you see a crowded jewelry display photographed on the street. The attempt to squeeze in as much jewelry as possible diminishes the perceived value of the jewelry. The visual clutter reflected in the store window seems like an apt metaphor for the visual clutter of the merchandise.
When a jewelry display has too many items (whether in a case or on the wall) the message of value or uniqueness has been diminished. For example, laying bracelets on top of each other or squeezing as much work into a case is reducing the perception of value.
Compare the previous examples to how jewelry is displayed in a top quality museum where there may be 12" or more between objects. One piece of jewelry may even be allowed to occupy the entire case or placed on a pedestal by itself.
Space is a valuable resource. Space costs money. It doesn't matter whether it is a craft show booth or gallery or a museum. Space is a luxury. Space needs to be a physical and metaphorical component of effective display.
Space in retail context is a definition of value. We see this all the time. The space principle is applied to items in retail stores of all kinds. Discount stores crowd their racks with merchandise. Top quality stores place an object on a shelf away from other distractions. When you are selling, you are selling more than just merchandise. You are selling a perception of value.
Apply this principle to your display whether at a craft show or gallery exhibition. You want the work to look like it is worth buying.
Two more essential display attributes:
Consistency in display props. Ask Harriete has featured this topic on numerous occasions. Inconsistent display materials create an unattractive and distracting display. In the photo (left) there are two different commercial neck forms covered in brown textured linen, a clear Plexiglas support, black linen fabric, and a business card holder used as a prop. The wood framed case is awkwardly perched on top of a painted grey pedestal - not a good combination.
More awkward combinations (left) include a wood frame case with brown linen commercial neck form on a grey painted cube. Add Plexiglas props and white paper labels. It doesn't work.
Adding business cards in the middle of a display may provide contact information but they are unnecessary distractions from the work whether this is a million dollar gallery or a craft show booth. It looks bad. Keeping focus entirely on the jewelry is essential for quality jewelry display.
Avoid commercial display props. Commercial display props should not be used for artist made, hand crafted, handmade, or art jewelry. Purchased display props send the commercial jewelry message. No amputated fingers, collars, necks, or bracelet posts, ever.
Your clients easily sense the difference between retail commercial jewelry and art jewelry. Though I've heard some defense of commercial props after my previous post regarding "Purchased Racks and Props", it is my experienced opinion that purchased display props should be avoided. Ordering commercial displays may be a convenient time saver, but I am not convinced that they are worth the loss of perceived care and uniqueness. Display props are often necessary for jewelry display, but you have to make them.
More posts are coming, and the line of "elephants" is way too long. Stay tuned for a circus of jewelry display issues that you won't want to miss.
P.S. Most of these photos are not great. I don't want the jewelry recognized as victims of the display sins. All photos taken inside a gallery were taken with permission.