Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that amounts to the idea that perfect-looking design is not nearly as beautiful as design that incorporates imperfections.
It’s antithetical, in a lot of ways, to what we typically prize in the fine jewelry industry—namely metalsmithing and stone-cutting that’s so precise, it all but erases traces of the human hand.
And while the pursuit and mastery of “perfect” handcrafted fabrication will always be—and should always be—celebrated, the innate charm of imperfect design has recently infiltrated modern jewelry.
Designers such as Polly Wales, Page Sargisson, Fraser Hamilton, Ali Grace, Katherine Bowman, and Malcolm Betts are part of a wave of artisans whose aesthetics feature intentionally underworked—even primitive-feeling—metalsmithing and stone-setting.
Many elements of their designs embody “mistakes” bench jewelers are taught to fix: irregular lines; solid 14k yellow gold melted willy-nilly—cooled in mid-ooze like cheese in a quesadilla; clusters of rough-cut gems inset flush in a design, playing peekaboo instead of showcasing their complete dimensions.
The undone aesthetic ruffled some feathers in the industry last month, when National Jeweler‘s Ashley Davis wrote an article about the online bullying (from within the industry) that ensued after she posted an image of an intentionally rustic-looking gold-and-gemstone Page Sargisson ring.
But the organic-inspired designs coming from these, and other, designers are striking a chord with consumers. And fine jewelry retailers, including industry pacesetters such as Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus, are stocking them in response.
Here are a few wabi-sabi designs that, to us, illustrate how perfectly sublime the imperfect can be:
Twisted ring, $735; Malcolm Betts
Ring, price on request; Katherine Bowman
(Photo at top: Ring, price on request; Polly Wales)