I was browsing some of the jewelry pages I watch, from Facebook to deviantART, and began to hear the rant muse in my head. I notice the differences in style and materials and workmanship... and then I start to twitch at the terrible disparity between cost of materials and what the so-called artist is charging for a piece made from three-dollar faux-bronze components, or fake pearls that should only be worn by a six-year-old at a fancy church function, or... ah, well, the list goes on.
Steampunk style seems to attract a large number of people taking pre-made elements of a brass or copper color, sometimes silver, and stringing them together and calling it jewelry. Now, while I do a lot of beadwork which, I'll admit, is essentially the same thing, I have to protest when someone goes to their local Michael's craft store, picks up half a dozen cheap metal findings, and slaps them together in a majorly haphazard fashion... and then has the guts to put it up on Etsy for 3-4 times what they paid for materials! I know, I've done the research. And I'll admit, I've gone to Michael's and picked up some of those bits and bobs to make some things, but I don't generally sell them in my shop or at shows - those, I play with for fun, or use as inspirational ideas for some of my other design elements. Those little components - the keys, the birds, the gears, the vintage-style filigree - can be gotten for a few bucks, and people sell pendants and necklaces of these things for upwards of $40. The best work I've ever seen done with these was a little shoddy solder-work to affix two or more pieces together that really don't match in the first place.
Now, there are a good number of steampunk jewelry artists that do actually work at their product. Many of them hunt down their components with care. They typically use authentic watch gears and actual vintage or antique bits in their work, and most of them tend to be very fair in their pricing, AND they are careful as to their materials - a lot of the cheap little components you get at craft stores are who-knows-what kind of alloy (in other words, you don't know if that pretty little bronze-colored pseudo-vintage style pendant you picked up at Michael's the other day contains lead or other toxic metals. No offense to Michaels - you can actually find quality components there for decent prices). My big complaint about these cheap little pieces that hobby-crafters expect you to wear, is that they can often contain sufficient amounts of toxic metals to make a measurable impact on your body, and these hobby-crafters don't always do their checking, or even know that they should be.
Personally, I try to make sure that the components I use in jewelry are lead-free pewter at the very least. Excepting that, I use sterling silver or jeweler's brass or a true bronze. Yes, it makes them a little more expensive, but it should be worth the extra money to create something that is actually safe to wear. This is one of the reasons I haven't done much "steampunk" jewelry. It's damn hard to find components that are steamy AND safe, for a price that isn't ridiculous.
And what about some of these sixty and seventy dollar pieces (or even the forty dollar ones) that are made from haphazard lumping-together of random beads that may or may not color match? Or people that don't realize that their lovely beaded strand is too much for the pendant they're trying to put it with. Lack of design sense applies to the crafter AND the customer. Something is only worth what a person is willing to pay for it, right? Too often, it proves true in the most wrong of ways. I see true artists put heart and soul into their work, only to have it passed over for a hobby-crafter's cheap attempt at making something to sell. The problem here is that the hobby-crafter often makes more money than the true artist, unless the true artist is very, very lucky.
Now, I truly have nothing against hobby-crafters. Some of my best friends are hobby-crafters. But they enact their hobbies with sense. And that is what I'm getting at... be a sensible hobbyist!
It's a ridiculous world. If I could make one request to the handmade community at large (to both hobby-crafters and professional artisans and everything in-between) it would be: Please, please consider the true worth of what you're trying to sell. Don't undercut the artists who spend hours and good money perfecting one piece, but don't overcharge for a piece that cost you virtually nothing to make, either.
And don't underestimate yourself, either.