top of page
Mastering Contemporary Jewelry Design

Mastering Contemporary Jewelry Design


Loretta Lam

“An accessible and easy-to-use guide to the principles and elements of jewelry design, this resource helps makers of all skill levels take their designs from good to great. Instructor and expert Loretta Lam offers guidance on working with a wide array of materials, along with exercises to help you explore new design concepts before applying them to your work directly.  Learn how to discover your personal inspiration and process, master the use of the design elements and principles, establish a design hierarchy and find your voice, draw on the inestimable value of critique, and more.”

“Loretta Lam is an [American] award-winning artist whose work is found in fine galleries and prestigious exhibitions and showcased in many publications. She is an internationally recognized teacher and speaker, regularly presenting workshops on jewelry design and technique.” ~ Synopsis


Firstly, I am going to tell you what this book is NOT:

It is not about polymer clay or polymer clay artists, although they are featured alongside work in other mediums. Nor is it a book of tutorials or lessons about the techniques of jewellery making, all of which are abundant in a plethora of books and online media. Neither is it just a book to browse through gorgeous examples of jewellery to drool over (but you can if you wish!).

What is it about?

This book is about upping your game, helping you to understand the process, from conception to execution, of creating eye-catching works of art jewellery that speak from YOUR heart. It includes thought-provoking exercises to work through while providing inspiration from talented jewellery designers from around the world.


Who is it aimed at?

Everyone who wants to create exciting and creative designs. Even though this book is aimed specifically at jewellery designers, all the principles can be applied to other creations. You should not be daunted by this book if you are at the beginning of your creative journey; indeed, it is possible that experienced designers will read it and think “I wish I had read this at the beginning of my career – it would’ve saved a lot of head scratching!”, and it is a fantastic reminder and prompt for professional artists.



The book is divided into three main sections, plus a final gallery.



  • Inspiration - The most personal part of the journey

  • Process - Getting from inspiration to design

  • Functional Considerations - Weight, safety and durability

  • A Word about Commerce


This section of the book focusses on you and what inspires you. Loretta reminds us to look for inspiration, whether that be externally or internally, and to gather those ideas together in a notebook, especially when inspiration strikes. Whatever your field of expertise, creating good designs requires research and preparation, practise and refinement. She encourages the use of sketching, over and over again, and not to be afraid to play and experiment. Regarding commerce, she doesn’t give a formula for working out a sale price, leaving that up to you, but goes further, suggesting that instead of thinking about what a customer might want, be authentic and true to ourselves and customers will find us. Even if we are personally unhappy with a piece we have made, it may speak to someone else. That is the beauty of art.



Part Two is the main part of the book, exploring the elements and principles of good design once you have found your inspiration.


Design Elements: The Tools of the Trade

  • Line – The three characteristics of line

  • Shape – When lines enclose space

  • Form – 3-D shapes, geometric or organic, representational or abstract

  • Color – A wonderland of energy, tone, emotion, and memory

  • Pattern – The organization and repetition of elements

  • Texture – The surface quality of the work, which can be seen or felt

  • Position – Where you put things matters


With each of the elements there is a fun exercise to explore as well as considering the practicalities required of jewellery. These alone are bound to spark ideas, so make sure you have your notebook handy!


Design Principles: The Overarching Concepts

  • Unity – Elements working together to create a whole

  • Movement – Directing the eye along a visual path

  • Balance – Finding the sweet spot through symmetry, radial symmetry, and symmetry

  • Contrast – The marriage of opposites

  • Variety – Creating lively energy using disparate elements

  • Rhythm – The dance of repeated and varied elements

  • Emphasis – Holding our attention with focal points

  • Proportion – The size of design parts in relation to each other

  • Scale – The size of the jewelry in relation to the body


The design principles help to bring all the elements together into a pleasing overall design, depending on the effect you want to create. There are lots of examples to ooh and aah over, and again, each design principle has an exercise to complete, but these are more thought provoking than the practical exercises of the design elements. This is where you can elevate your design ideas from good to great.



  • Design Hierarchy – Choosing dominant features for clear communication

  • Finding Your Voice – Listen closely and you will hear it

  • Critique – The best tool for growing your work


This final section asks you to summarise what you have learnt from the process and what your own key elements might be and to explore those further, which leads on to ‘finding your voice’ i.e. designs that are instantly recognisable as your work. Here, Loretta shows more examples of other artists work. For those in the polymer clay community, I bet you know instantly which pieces were made by which polymer clay artist featured.  There are more exercises here which may bring you full circle back to what inspires you in the first place. Finally, Loretta explores the importance of giving and receiving critique as a learning tool to keep growing as an artist and offers her five-step guidelines.



Let us just ooh and aah in this section, shall we?!



This is not a book to read in one sitting. It is worth taking the time to read each section and explore each of the exercises thoroughly, especially if you are feeling you have ‘design block’. For me personally, I am delighted to have a copy of this book. I do not wear a lot of jewellery, but I really appreciate good designs when I see them and would like to create pieces that are more than just stringing a bunch of pretty beads together. I will use the elements and principles in other areas of creativity too and I hope it will be become a constant companion in my studio. It might have a high price tag for a book, but I could not afford one-to-one tuition with Loretta, so this is without doubt the next best thing if you are looking to up your design game!

£33.99 Hardback from Amazon, 192 pages

Book Review by Lizzi Bucklow-Holt, May 2020

bottom of page