Ethics and the Handmade Artist

Ethics is doing the right thing. How does this apply to the handmade artist? Fortunately, almost all of us do the right thing automatically because we were raised by our parents and society to perform in that manner. Unfortunately, some persons do not. Therefore, the government steps in and controls, at least in some part, the way in which things must be done.  In the United States, several Federal agencies have regulations that apply to handmade artists.  For me, the regulations regarding jewelry apply to my art.  These are primarily promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission.

Of special importance is their definition of handmade:

§ 23.3 Misuse of the terms “hand-made,” “hand-polished,” etc.

(a) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-made or hand-wrought unless the entire shaping and forming of such product from raw materials and its finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the construction, shape, design, and finish of each part of each individual product.

Note to paragraph (a):  As used herein, “raw materials” include bulk sheet, strip, wire, and similar items that have not been cut, shaped, or formed into jewelry parts, semi-finished parts, or blanks.

(b) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-forged, hand-engraved, hand-finished, or hand-polished, or has been otherwise hand-processed, unless the operation described was accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the type, amount, and effect of such operation on each part of each individual product.

Handmade Wire Wrapped PendantEveryone in the handmade industry should be aware and follow the regulations that apply to their art.  This pendant meets all the parts to the above definition since the stone was hand cut from rough stone.

Following the rules and regulations and acting ethically is everyone’s personal responsibility.  This forum and shops group works very hard to insure that all products offered in the shops are truly handmade.  That is the very reason why I maintain my shop here and not on other venues, as I have found the owners and other artists here to be ethical.


Posted by Rasmussen Gems and Jewelry LLC


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10 Responses to “Ethics and the Handmade Artist”

  • Great information John. I always ask myself just how much of the item is made by hand, meaning someone has used both hands with tools and other implements to create something. Hand verses Machine made has always been a sticking point in a lot of crafting, jewelry or otherwise. That pendant by the way is just lovely.

  • This is an example of what I believe is too much government regulation. I do not raise livestock for wool, or spin the wool for yarn, so does that mean the scarves I create are not handmade? I make beaded jewelry, but I do not make each bead, or the wire, so is my jewelry not handmade? What about the card makers, since they do not chop down the trees to make the paper…does that mean they can’t call their items handmade?
    Regardless of what the FTC mandates…I am an artist and my items are handmade.
    Thanks John for another thought provoking post.

  • I hand make, hand twist, hand wrap, and do everything myself except make my own glass beads and cut and polish stones.. so is my jewelry not hand made? :-( I work VERY hard on my products for them to not be “hand made” … kind of confused..

  • chainmaille says:

    Angela your work is wonderful and you are more than welcome here. John is merely pointing out the federal definitions. The point is ethics, those that say they are and are not handmade. Frauds. Our terms of use clearing point out what is allowed and what is not allowed. There is always gray area and I think that is why John brought this up. As people take advantage of gray area all the time, that is why the government makes laws, to help get rid of the gray area.

  • gemlover says:

    OK folks! The defiinition of “handmade” is not mine, it is from the Jewelry rules from the Federal Trade Commission. it only applies to jewelry. I don’t agree with it, personally. However, it is a way to look at what you do and disclose in your description. In the Jewelry sections are many definitions, such as using the terms “gold” and “silver.” Every artist should be aware of the rules and regulations regarding their genre. As I stated, ethics is doing what is right. So if I use dyed stones, I should state that my stones are dyed, etc. If I don’t know that the stone is a genuine tourquoise, then I should not use the term tourquoise in my description. I so appreciate that enough people read the article to actually start thinking, am I doing right? If you believe that you are doing the right thing, then you are ethical. By the way, the ethical thing is not necessarily the legal thing. Dang, that just makes me think even more.


  • Uniqlets says:

    Thank you for this post. Though I think that the bulk of it applies more to legalities than ethics and, yes, I do believe that there is often a big difference between the two. However, knowing that there is a legal definition of handmade, I will no longer use that term for my jewelry. Perhaps what I do falls more into the category of designer/maker.

  • […] is Handmade? A recent blog post on the ethics of handmade brought into question the definition of handmade and suggested a legal definition. “23.3 […]

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