Birds: A Rant

Any of us who spend any time in the handmade/DIY world know exactly why this is funny.

This post is a little loving ribbing aimed at some of my favorite people in the world — jewelry designers.  It’s not easy to give people what they want, especially when they want the same things over and over again.  A recent search on Etsy using the search term “bird” brought up over 30,000 necklaces.  I have not independently verified that each of those items actually depict a bird.  But, go ahead, search around — they are everywhere.  It’s done.  It’s overdone.  Has anyone looked in on Tippi Hedren lately?  Is she OK?

Look, I love birds.  I even have a hummingbird tattooed on my wrist (which my husband says looks like a chicken).  The bird-themed jewelry?  Beautiful pieces all.

But. That. Is. Not. The. Point.

Sometimes, it is just time to challenge us — your customers — with new ideas, with what will become the next trend.  (No, I don’t mean those adorable matryoshka nesting dolls.)

Here, look at this stuff with animals other than birds:

You can find Mary Walke, Pete Conder, and Christine Domanic on Etsy.


Raw Love


Lapidary artists can do amazing things with gems — making them reflect light and look as if they glow from within.  But, there is something to be said for the use of raw, natural stones.

Here are some fine examples of artists finding beauty in the stone more or less as nature intended:

First, we have a nicely set very raw aquamarine ring by Beijo Flor, who, in addition to this piece, works with a variety of beautiful and unique stones.

Beijo Flor

Then, we have a copper ring with a herkimer diamond from Midwest Alchemy, which includes some incredible metal work that really complements the stone.

Midwest Alchemy

Finally, there’s the lovely raw golden labradorite prong set ring by Wire Adorned.

Wire Adorned

As someone who has always made things — paintings, assemblages, and now jewelry — I think restraint and dealing with ambiguity is more difficult than attempted perfection.  Using raw stones, which I’ve experimented with lately, is like that.  They’ve got their own ideas.  They tell you exactly how they will allow themselves to be used.  It would be nice if that gorgeous, shiny thing were even and not rough on that one side — but it isn’t — and that’s the beauty of it.  Incorporating raw stones into one’s jewelry is a different kind of craftsmanship.  It’s the craftsmanship of subtlety and allowing yourself to simply frame something that is just fine the way it is.

Great concept by Yellow Owl Workshop

I’ve been eying these super-cool necklaces by local San Francisco company, Yellow Owl Workshop, for some time.

I’ve seen these pieces around town and, last weekend, I spotted them on a display at Madewell at the San Francisco Shopping Center, which I would think is a great thing for Yellow Owl Workshop.

I just have to comment on this clever idea of crests and flags.  I think, as an idea, it could have all gone terribly wrong and awkward but it didn’t — it works beautifully.  I think that design is saved by the scale.  It had to have been tempting to overdue it in terms of size but, thankfully, they resisted.  The pieces really shine, though, because of the colors and the hand-drawn quality of the images.  It is also a nice touch that the bale is cut into the shape and the chain is tied on.  (As a general proposition, I really like the casual connection of jewelry to its functional component — a pendant to its chain, a bauble to its earring wire, etc.)  As a side note, I have to applaud the glass vial packaging.  All in all, I love them.  Nicely done, Yellow Owl Workshop.

Creekbed Ring

This is one of my own creations.  I made it by the lost-wax casting method and the small aquamarine cabochon was added to the finished piece.   The design is meant to be an abstract rendering of the stones at the bottom of a creekbed.  I like the idea of mixing organic shapes and themes with cleaner, geometric angles.  I guess I imagine a piece of a natural scene removed and fashioned into a new item with angles, sides, and frames.

It was cast with largely pure silver but some old sterling silver jewelry was melted in as well — making the ring less the 99% pure but more pure than sterling.   It is my hope to offer this piece for sale in the future.  At the moment, I am still in the process of building a collection.

jewelry, accessory, or both

To the extent that a blog about jewelry can stir up controversy, I think that this post might be among the more controversial.

There is jewelry and then there are accessories and I, for one, am not sure that these things are always one in the same.  (There’s a ven diagram in there somewhere.)  If I may, let me wax poetic about what constitutes jewelry for me.  It is timeless.  A good ring design is a good ring design in 1980 or 1880.  For me, jewelry is an item that is worn on the body and, at its best, it accentuates the body and becomes and extension of it — a bangle bracelet that is never taken off or earrings that send a beam of light that reflects perfectly off of a cheekbone.

Of course, though, there is jewelry that is different than what I have described.  This is jewelry that I think of as worn more on clothes than on a person.  That is not to take anything away from this world of exquisite accessories.  It is an important form of self-expression.  I am merely commenting on the difference in categories.  (Then, there is “art jewelry” which is another animal all together.)  Accessories that are in the forms of necklaces, rings, etc. are more subject to trends.   The size of earrings changes; the length of necklaces changes; and, well, even the acceptable number of pieces on one human body changes.

Right now, I find that the jewelry trends that are being used to accent the current clothing style to be very big and very 80’s.  I find that interesting as, the last time around for these styles, it was a time of excess and, dare I say, callousness and the style trends reflected that.  Now, in the age of “we are the 99%,”  I find it funny, even ironic, that we are echoing this style.  Maybe there’s something in that.

Consider the following gorgeous necklaces both available for purchase on the Nordstrom website.  Both the Nordstrom “Athena” and the Sarah Cavender Fan Bib are stunning examples of affordable pieces that would nicely accent a modern wardrobe from this season.  They are both also undeniable 80’s excess and, I think, very fine examples of accessories that are designed to accent clothes and less so a person’s body.

Nordstrom 'Athena' Multi Shape Statement Necklace

Sarah Cavender Fan Bib Necklace

I’m not much for floral design but …

I’m not much for floral design, especially in jewelry.  However, when I see some of Klara Markova’s work on Etsy, I have to sit down and catch my breath.  Klara’s work is so creative and detailed.  You can almost hear the breeze rustling the silver, flowered vines that accent so many of her pieces.

She appears to mix fabrication, enamel, and found objects and she does it really well to bring forth a unique vision. She has definitely presented some interesting pieces and I find at least two of them worth a comment.

I mean, seriously, look at this Poppy Doll necklace:

Poppy Doll by Klara Markova

I spend so much time looking at jewelry that it isn’t often that I see something so different and quirky that it stops me in my tracks.  It’s adorable and yet talisman-like.  Are those wings?  I have no other way to say this … but the Poppy Doll necklace has a nice thing-ness to it.  It’s just a beautiful little item that I can imagine fiddling with as it swings around my neck.

Here is another of Klara’s pieces, the Little Castle necklace, that just blows me away:

Little Castle Necklace by Klara Markova

The addition of the skyline (or castle, I suppose it is) here gives it the same vibe as the Poppy Doll necklace … it’s a piece of a scene that you get to carry with you in the form of stunning jewelry.  I love that.  Visually, it’s beautiful but it is also something more difficult than that — it’s clever.

Klara’s collection on Etsy is a good size and very reasonably priced for the work that has clearly gone into each piece.

Personal collection highlight – mid-century gothic

mid-century gothic ring - photo by rjxp

To me, this piece is both bread and cake.  This is a cocktail ring of my mother’s from the 1950’s.  A cocktail ring is the epitome of personal adornment snack food — unnecessary and purely decorative.  But, as it was my mother’s, it is among my prized possessions and it carries with it shadows of a time in my mother’s life before I was born … a time that, when I imagine it, is black and white and rose-scented.

The ring itself was made with an incredible attention to detail.  I cannot find any legible maker’s mark but it says it is sterling silver and it must have been cast.  A jeweler has told me that the stones are glass or rhinestone and they sit in closed seats that are visible from the back.


I describe the style of this ring as “mid-century gothic.”  For me, it is an attractive style because I find it so evocative.  I find that I have a large mental archive of images that are examples of that style.  I see jewel tones, pearl buttons, heavy candle holders, and those lace doilies that women had to wear on their heads when they went to mass.  I have looked up that term, which I sort of thought I made up, and it seems that there other items out there described with the words “mid-century gothic” although not necessarily in that order.  A google image search brings up quite a few products — largely home decor items such as these:

Perhaps, a little piece of jewelry can be so strongly evocative of a style for me because this was the living room of the house in which I grew up.  (Note: This photo was taken in 2009.)

Yeah, just let that sink in …

Gorgeous use of stones (and words) by Michelle Lenáe

Michelle Lenáe posts some beautiful work for sale on Etsy. Of her work, these earnings in particular caught my eye.  These long, dramatic earnings boast prasiolite stones, which is a green-quartz. Stylistically, there is a little clever mixing of metaphors here. Although the ball-chain is made of gold, it is still a ball-chain which makes me think of less refined jewelry.  But, nevertheless, the earrings culminate in a delicate, sparkly stones. Somehow the materials marry together well. I think it is the attention to detail and that the end result is clean and professional.

Other thoughts …Earrings like this are called “dusters.” This got me thinking about how descriptions affect how we feel about an item we are viewing. For my money, these earnings are dramatic and classic but it is the name of the style that captures my imagination. Once I have the word “duster” in my head, I have images of movement … the beautiful faceted gems skimming my shoulders and playing in my hair. The word and the images that it conjures up make these earrings immediately more desirable.

Michelle Lenáe has an Etsy collection that is mid-range in size. The prices are generally higher end for Etsy but, for handmade jewelry, in precious metals and unusual stones, I find her items to be moderately priced.