Chances are especially if you're a woman that you're wearing a piece of jewelry right now. And chances are you think of that ring, bracelet, necklace or pair of earrings more as a fashion accessory than as a piece of art. Jim Meyer, chairman of Virginia Commonwealth University's Crafts Department, is hoping a group of upcoming exhibitions will change that perception. From March 1 through April 29, eight local venues will feature hundreds of examples of cutting-edge, experimental metal works and jewelry as part of the Society of North American Goldsmiths' annual conference which is being held in Richmond Feb. 28-March 3. "For most of us, our perception of the jeweler's art is formed by what we see in shops and advertising," Meyer says. "We organized these exhibitions to help the public begin to understand how today's artists are challenging conventional thought." The exhibitions will feature works that use traditional materials such as gold and gemstones in nontraditional ways, and works that pair such precious materials with found objects such as river rocks, telephone wire and fabric. "As a professor here at VCU, when I talk to my students, I talk about the fact that the experience of creation is the same whether they're picking up a piece of metal and soldering things together or picking of a brush and approaching a canvas," says Meyer, who teaches metalwork and jewelry. "The function of a huge piece of sculpture is different from a piece of jewelry or a painting. Jewelry can communicate in an intimate way that I don't know other art forms can. You don't normally go around wearing a painting or a sculpture." Meyer, whose own work often juxtaposes gold, diamonds and platinum with found rocks and scraps of metal, has been a member of SNAG since the early '70s. He volunteered to host the group's annual conference, which will attract about 600 artists, to showcase VCU's new fine arts building. And, he adds, "Richmond is an incredibly rich town for metalwork." Hoover & Strong, the conference's main sponsor, is a major fine-metal refinery located in Richmond. Meyer and fellow Richmond artist Annie Publow organized the eight exhibitions with the help of guest curators. The free, public exhibitions include: "Tiaras Will Be Worn," a juried exhibition of tiaras created in mixed media through March 4 in "Finely Tuned," an invitational exhibit of works in traditional materials used in untraditional ways, through March 15 at Carreras Omni Salon, 1041 E. Cary St. "Other Voices," a national invitational exhibition of mixed-media works, through March 3 at Dransfield Jewelers, 1308 E. Cary St. "Aluminations," an invitational exhibition of works in aluminum, through March 3 at Cudahy's Gallery, 1314 E. Cary St. "Zierat: International Contemporary Jewelry," a 90-piece exhibition of works from American and European artists at the Hand Workshop, 1812 W. Main St., through April 29 "Selections: VCU Alumni," featuring works by VCU School of the Arts alumni at Jay Sharpe Gallery, 3405 W. Cary St., through March 2 "Millennium Metal 2001 Exhibition" through April 15 at Artemis Gallery, 1601 W. Main St. A juried exhibition of mixed-media works that challenges perceived limits of the materials The SNAG National Student Juried Exhibition through March 9 in the 1000 West Broad Gallery at VCU Call 828-1477 for details.