How is jewelry – something that could arguably be considered a “tchotchke” – important to create in a world that’s already full of it?

The central question of this program is, “In a world already full of so much stuff, what is truly worth creating?” For a while, I was stuck on this question. I couldn’t think of a single viable thing to make via the 3D printer. One day, however, I was playing around with Tinkercad and eventually made a bead of sorts that I thought looked really cool, using solely the thin torus shape.



With this bead in mind, it suddenly occurred to me that I could make many different beads and print them out, and eventually string them together to create jewelry such as necklaces and bracelets. This bead is just one of many possible designs – although I ended up being so satisfied with this one that it may be the most printed and used bead. The possibilities really are nearly endless, considering how accessible Tinkercad is. Although it’s not the most powerful software, it will be more than effective for this project.

Some, including whoever had the audacity to slap a “NO TCHOTCHKES” sign near the 3D printer, would argue that these beads – and the jewelry that they would turn into – are the very definition of tchotchkes. I would argue the opposite. Jewelry certainly can be considered useless trinkets – however, many other cultures, including our own, consider jewelry to have incredible value, both monetary and sentimental. I would argue that for a lot of people, jewelry is bought and kept for its sentimental value – things such as wedding and engagement rings, and other  Many family heirlooms are pieces of jewelry that have been passed on from generation to generation – for example, in my extended family, there’s a ring that has been passed from daughter to daughter for generations.

Jewelry has had a profound effect on many, many cultures. In the words of Lois Sherr Dubin, for many Native American tribes, “[i]n the absence of written languages, adornment became an important element of Indian communication, conveying many levels of information.” After European imperialists arrived to the “New World,” jewelry and other  “…signaled resistance to assimilation. It remains a major statement of tribal and individual identity.”

Native Americans all over the country proudly adorned themselves with jewelry, made from a wide variety of materials. The Northeastern Native Americans used wampum shells – both white from the channeled whelk and purple from the quahog clam. In the Northwest, walrus ivory was used for the carving of bracelets and other items for many years until the 1820s, when a massive quarry of argillite was discovered on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the coast of British Columbia. These stones proved easier to carve and had the benefit of coming in multiple colors.



Copper was also a commonly used material, even before European contact. Tribes near the aptly named Coppermine River would trade it down the Northwestern coast, and it was worked into many different kinds of jewelry, although bracelets, which were given away at potlatches, were by far the most common. Silver and gold became popular materials later.

Although some people – definitely whoever put up that horrible sign – would feel that these beads and the subsequent jewelry are useless tchotchkes, I feel that the value of jewelry is entirely subjective, regardless of the actual cost. A relatively cheap engagement ring can mean the entire world to one person, while exorbitant, lavish necklaces and bracelets could mean absolutely nothing to another. We as individuals assign value to these trinkets and baubles. While monetary value is something that is definitely accounted for among all people, and is arguably the closest one can get to assigning objective value, sentimental and emotional value carries far more weight.

I hope to create at least one full piece of jewelry – whether it’s a necklace, ring, or bracelet. I will probably need to create several different bead models, although I already have one design that I’m very pleased with. I would also want to work in a few of the beads I made during our retreat to Deception Pass. I feel like this would made an interesting juxtaposition – the handcrafted beads paired with the mechanically made, although still originally designed beads. Whatever I create, however, will mean more to me than a simple, replaceable “tchotchke.” I feel like there is a lot of inherent sentimental value towards something that one created themselves, and I hope to get that same feeling out of making 3D printed jewelry.


Shearar, Cheryl. Understanding Northwest Coast Art: A Guide to Crests, Beings, and Symbols. Vancouver, B.C.: Douglas & McIntyre, 2000. 30-3-. Print.

Dubin, Lois Sherr., Togashi, and Paul Jones. North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment: From Prehistory to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999. 170-71. Print.

Dubin, Lois Sherr., Togashi, and Paul Jones. North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment: From Prehistory to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999. 169, 174. Print.