By Hand

In this blog, I have used the descriptor “hand drawn” a few times.  By that, I mean that the jewelry designer has created a three-dimensional object — an unyielding form — that also manages to have the charm and spontaneity of a drawing.  It can mean that the designer has tactfully left something looking less finished or added details in a way that seems so fluid and casual.  For me, it is among the highest design compliments.  While, of course, I didn’t make up the words hand drawn, I sort of feel as if I made up its use in this context — I suppose it was time to define it.

Laura from Octopus Studio has a line available on Etsy which displays the best of what it means for jewelry to have a hand drawn quality.

I Like This Stuff

Hello All:  Yesterday, I posted by 50th post!  Just saying. Thanks for reading, sharing and re-posting!

So, on to today’s post.

Normally, I try to find a theme for my posts — bracelets, enamel, lost wax casting etc.  Maybe, I am just tired but I’ve found this wonderful designer who I’d like to write about but I can’t find a unifying theme.  So, rather than try to create a tortured context, I will just share some of the beautiful pieces of anatomi in her Etsy store.

Maybe it is the awesome selection of stones.  Maybe not.  I just like this stuff.

Brass and Silver Cloudburst Earrings

Cloudburst Earrings - by Noelle Powell

These little guys are very familiar items to anyone who knows me.  I made them myself and, ever since their creation a couple months ago, I have worn them frequently.  To an experienced metalsmith they are very simple pieces to fabricate.  For me, not so much.  I sketched out a design that was small and would require some tiny torch work specifically to have a reason to experiment with that skill.

The bottom of each earring, the “cloud,” was simply cut out of brass.  As I have worn these, the brass has turned several different shades.  I haven’t polished them and I just let them go until they finally landed at the patina you see today. When I cut out the brass, I left little tabs which were then looped over and the ends soldered down. Thus, the tubes were made that the earring wire goes through.

The earring wires are silver, of course, and they gave me the chance to practice using the torch to ball the silver.  On these, a good eye would notice that the silver is a bit pitted, which, as I understand from my teacher, means that I let the torch stay on the metal just a nanosecond longer than I should have.  Practice, practice.

What was I thinking when I designed them?  I was trying to achieve that casual functionality that I appreciate in jewelry.  The functional component (the earring wire) as design element.  I wanted to create something that worked with negative space and that had some movement.  In the end, I really like them but I think it could be done better.  I intend to make another version in the future with, perhaps, a focal point that has a more fluid shape.

Negative Space to a New Level

The use of negative space should be a consideration in jewelry design.  When earrings hang from ears — suspended in space — how are they interacting with that space around them?  How does the shape of a pendant appear against the backdrop of skin.  Filigree, of course, a style that has appeared throughout the ages, is all about making shapes out of negative space.

Lorena Martinez-Neustadt brings negative space to a new level with her line of jewelry (available on Etsy in the shop Gemagenta).

The first two pieces below, designed to be two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional things, like faceted stones, are so clever.  Lorena made the wise choice to leave some of the piece undisturbed.  Perhaps, to suggest a glare off of the stone or even just to let our imagination do some of the work.  Either way, it strikes me as well-considered design element.  In a way, by leaving some of it “blank,” she is using negative space in two ways.  (Does that equal a positive?)  Those little omissions are also what set Lorena’s “gem” pieces apart from some other similar concepts that have shown up in the mass produced market in the last few years.

Faceted Brilliant Pendant - by Lorena Martinez-Neustadt

Faceted Emerald Pendant - by Lorena Martinez-Neustadt

Beyond these gem pieces, Lorena’s collection has a consistent use of negative space that feels fresh.  I especially love these:

Lingerie Elongated Pendant - by Lorena Martinez-Neustadt

Lingerie Ring - by Lorena Martinez-Neustadt

The designs are lacy, yet clean.  Inspired by lace and lingerie without overdoing the concept.  The pieces are flattering against the skin and appear to be very wearable.

I’m No Expert

I’m no expert but, as they say, I know what I like.

Look, I don’t really have any bona fides when it comes to art or fashion or jewelry.  I dropped out of my art major one semester in to pursue other academic interests.  I’ve never been very good in art classes and I don’t play well with other artists generally.  Although I am a fairly compliant person and I have no issues with authority, if you put me in an art class, I turn into an eye-rolling, huffy, obstructionist pain-in-the-ass.  I don’t know why.  It’s not that I think I’m that good — I just don’t want to do it their way.  Ever.  So, long ago, I found that making my strange art by myself was the best way to go — or at least the best way to not get asked to leave a classroom.  That leaves me, however, with absolutely no authority to comment on anything aesthetic, really.

But, here, I do make such comments anyway because I think I have something to say when it comes to jewelry.  Why?  Sheer exposure.  I have spent so much time looking at jewelry that I think it can safely be called research.  When I see something that is new and different to me, I know that it is new and different, period. In the world of jewelry, I think I know special when I see it.

I have said all that to say this:  There are some people whose work I respect so much that I don’t really feel worthy to comment or even compliment.  But, if I am to continue with this little blog of mine, I must, in order to be true to the mission, which is to highlight excellent jewelry design.

So, here it goes. I give you the absolutely genius of April Higashi:

April Higashi Yellow Gold Rings

April Higashi Stone Rings

April Higashi Patterned Enamel

There’s not much that I can say.  It’s breathtaking.  All of it.  There is such a clear vision that she brings to her line.  I feel that her designs say that she knows what jewelry should be — it can’t just be a pretty item that sits by itself, it has to be a pretty item on you.  It is design with such subtlety and restraint.  I want to live in a world designed by April Higashi.

On a personal note, my husband and I visited April’s Shibumi Gallery in Berkeley, CA for an opening one Sunday afternoon several months ago.  Either she or someone on her staff brings an infallible eye to curating the gallery.  Everything that is displayed is both complementary and reflects a consistent sense of style.  We were greeted so warmly by the gallery manager, Fiona, and April casually chatted with us (as if not aware of her greatness!).  April’s husband, the incredibly talented sculptor Eric Powell, was there as well.  Given my obvious interest and perhaps because I had commented that I had just begun jewelry-making classes, we were offered a peek at April’s studio.  It was wonderful.

A Brooch of a Different Color

As I have I mentioned, I think that good jewelry design creates a beautiful item that is worn on the body and that it is not necessarily about it’s interaction with clothing.  Because of that, brooches and pins tend to fall off of my radar — those are things that your clothes wear.  Sometimes, though, a piece is just so well done that it must be mentioned.

This is the Quatre Cinq Silver Brooch by Dorothy Cheng, which is currently posted on Etsy.

Quatre Cinq Silver Brooch - by Dorothy Cheng

Worn by a sweater or worn by a person — Who cares?  It is drop-dead gorgeous.  It strikes the perfect balance of clean design, inspired architectural touches, well-considered scale, and attention to detail that makes a perfect piece.  I can see it with a dress, with a jacket, anything.

Thank you, Dorothy Cheng, for turning my head with a brooch.

Alternative Materials by Cla Contemporary

When making jewelry, there are no artistic talents that goes to waste.  You can bring skills from all different disciplines to the jeweler’s bench and find them useful. Chelsey, who is the creative force behind the Etsy store Cla Contemporary, proves that point by adding her own handmade ceramics to her pieces.

Ceramics in jewelry can get mixed results.  It can be earthy but it can also be clunky and messy.  Cla Contemporary is something else in entirely.  It’s true to it’s name.  It’s modern and clean.

I think the ring is sculptural perfection.  It’s a nice, clean design but it is not short on personality.

A Favorite Purchase from Adin

If one is a jewelry enthusiast like I am, you may have had the experience of cruising the internet for something that captures your attention — something that you have never seen before.  One day, back in 2001, I was on such a search and found this piece:

Antique Ring from Adin

To this day, I have never seen anything like it.  It wasn’t expensive as the stones are glass and there isn’t much weight to it.  But, it is an antique from the 1800s with white and yellow gold and the stones are nicely flush-set.  I wear it more days than not and, for as long as I have had it, I still find myself puzzling over it’s design.  It’s sort of in the shape of a signet ring but not really.  If the stones were arranged vertically, that would be more expected — but, no, not here.   It’s small, delicate and light but the bold, unusual design makes it seem bigger somehow.

Beyond the enjoyment that this ring has given me over the years, the experience of buying it, also gave me one of my favorite places on the internet to drool over gorgeous antique gems — Adin.  The real brick-and-mortar Adin is in Belgium and I dream of going there someday.  But, in the meantime, I can entertain myself for hours with the stunning website that has hundreds of antique pieces that, for my eye, appear to be fairly priced.  There is also an incredible range in price in their merchandise.  This piece, at least, also came with a certificate of authenticity.

While I am talking up Adin, allow me to share a nice story that happened to occur in the worst of circumstances and that has given this ring meaning beyond a frivolous internet purchase.  I purchased my ring online a few days before that fateful day in September 2001.  I had been communicating back and forth with a customer service representative about the re-sizing of the ring due to the different sizing scales between America and Europe.  Then, the world changed.  I was no where near harm’s way but the Adin customer service rep was thoughtful enough to send me a brief email to say that she hoped that my loved ones and I were all safe.  I was really struck by the kindness of that — especially, since everything seemed so unhinged.

I don’t know if Adin sent out such an email to all their American customers or if it was simply a personal message from a kind person.  But, it doesn’t matter to me either way.  When I look at this ring, it reminds me of connections among strangers and how the world is so small, really, and how much small kindnesses can mean and how they endure.  It reminds to behave accordingly.

Antique Ring from Adin

Nice Metal Work by Francine Ruth

As I have mentioned, I am in the early stages of learning metal work and jewelry making.  One of the unintended effects of this education, is that I notice the quality of metal work on jewelry more than I previously did.  I turn my nose up a messy solder or uneven prongs around a stone — even though I am still working on doing these things properly myself.  I find I also try to guess what techniques were used in pieces that I am admiring.

I noticed Jewelry by Francine on Etsy today and felt compelled to mention her work for two reasons.  First, she is making beautiful pieces and using an impressive array of techniques.  The stone setting is well-done, the enameling is judiciously used, and the designs are well-composed.  Secondly, I had to give Francine Ruth a shout-out because she’s from Cleveland.  My husband is a born and raised Clevelander and I, myself, have done two tours of duty in that fair city.  Always nice to see lovely artisan pieces coming out of Cleveland.

I love the polka-dots on the bracelet and earrings.  I can imagine these being great jewelry staples — professional, casual, quirky yet understated.  I am not familiar with the technique, Keum Boo, which was used to make these pieces.  (I’m sure I’m showing my newbie status now.)  The effect is striking.  I like how the technique appears to allow the addition of another metal to a piece while being able to keep it flush.

These pieces can be found here:

Tiny Bubbles Earrings, Keum Boo Bracelet, and Tile Me a River Necklace

Nicely Done Found Object Jewelry by Jacobsen Design

I love the idea of found objects and I’ve used them a bit in my assemblage art.

Specimen I - By: N. Powell

Clock - By: N. Powell

It can be a slippery slope, though.  At least for me, when I am contemplating found objects, I start to have square-peg moments.  My mind continues to insist that this little something-or-other belongs in a piece of art — even after the object has told me to go to hell.

But, back to jewelry.

I think it is something special when found objects are used well and appropriately in jewelry.  I happened to notice this collection by Jacobsen Design on Etsy.  I think this stuff is very cool.  Here’s a sample:

Green Frequency Crystal Bracelet - By: Jacobsen Design

I think Jacobsen Design has made some attractive and, yet, funky jewelry out of found objects, which largely appear to be small electronic parts.  I think the pieces work so well because there is a nice eye for color and scale being applied here.  The objects that were found are right for some cool jewelry — no square pegs here.  My one concern, if I had one, is about the pieces’ durability as the jumprings don’t appear to be closed.  That being said, the pieces are priced low (most around $12) and there very well might be a very good reason that the jumprings cannot be soldered closed due to other materials used.