Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CINDY CHAO

With the majestic backdrop of Snow Mountain, Taiwan's beautiful Fushan Botanical Garden is a virtual wonder of natural beauty. The picturesque grounds house more than 6, 000 plants and is known as the largest botanical garden in Asia. Taiwan is also home to featured jewelry designer Cindy Chao.

The creation process is an aspect of jewelry design and making that is as fascinating as a designer's creative process.

Personally, I see the two as separate, one involving the conceptual groundwork, and the other the actual construction.

For me, learning about techniques like filigree, wire wrapping, enameling, repoussé and chasing, and granulation re-emphasizes the technical skill and precision required to cultivate jewelry pieces of remarkable complexity and beauty.

Chao's stunning jewelry collections reflect intricate, detailed artisanship rendered through painstaking and time-consuming work.

The graduate of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), and certified gemologist, Chao creates magnificent pieces of staggering opulence that are reminiscent of Bao Bao Wan (China).

"There was a point in 2007 when I went through a rough patch in my jewelry-making career," she says. "Initially, my work was conservative, traditional pieces, but I knew I would not be able to thrive much longer in the market if I continued doing that type of jewelry."

Inspired by Asian art and architecture, Chao's bold yet elegant design contours are fashioned from 18-karat yellow, white and oxidized gold, golden, and white pearls, diamonds, rubies, and sapphires.

Her Mysteries of the East collection highlight beautiful, bold colored gemstones within streamlined proportions, while the Paradise collection features a stunning ring holding a spectacular blue stone in a talon-like setting that is offset by a twined shank of 18-karat white and yellow gold.

It is understandable that the exquisite items from her Four Seasons collection helped to solidify Chao's standing as a highly skilled jewelry artist, as the collection features masterfully detailed nature-inspired jewelry pieces.

As the name suggests, the Four Seasons collection is built around spring, summer, fall, and winter. In one instance, the arrangement of the diamonds in a ring representing winter is like a cascading droop of heavy icicles. In another item, the semblance of outreached branches is studded with an icy patch of diamonds.

The Majestic Beauty Fan, an exclusive design for DeBeers' Forevermark Precious Collection, is an incredible piece featuring a removable, 18-karat yellow, white, and rose gold butterfly brooch.

Creating the mold alone for this piece took a month while 2,339 diamonds were carefully placed in pavé settings throughout the piece's entwined branches.

It took Chao and her artisan team four months to complete the final piece. This magnificent item, along with the whole of Chao's collections, is a masterpiece of the utmost precision required in hand fabricated jewelry.
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Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat Yellow and White Gold Brooch with Jadelite and Ruby
Photo 2 (bottom left): 18-Karat Gold Majestic Beauty Fan with Diamonds and Removable Butterfly Brooch

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ANOUSH WADDINGTON

The 14th century structure Bodiam Castle located in East Sussex, England was built by the order of a knight of Edward II and was once a garrison for soldiers. However, the fortress was not built to sustain a heavy attack. England is also home to featured jewelry designer Anoush Waddington.

According to my research, the first known synthetic plastic, called Parkesine, was invented in 1855 by Englishman Alexander Parkes as a substitute for ivory.

Fifty-four years later while looking for a coating to cover electrical metal wires, Leo Hendrik Baekeland blended phenol and formaldehyde creating what became known as Bakelite.

Throughout the years a variety of plastics from polystyrene and polyester to polyurethanes have been used to create all manner of everyday items such as food containers, vending cups, shower curtains, and compact discs.

In the years to follow Baekeland's invention, Bakelite, would become a popular material for use in jewelry making; so popular in fact, that today authentic Bakelite jewelry is a lucrative commodity.

Jewelry designers from around the globe, including Sue Gregor (England), Yoko Izawa (Japan), Rachel McKnight (Ireland), Tarina Tarantino (USA) and Ceren Keyman (Turkey) use plastics like acrylic, Lucite, and polypropylene to create jewelry of incredible detail and beauty.

Waddington's exposure to great music and theatre, courtesy of parents steeped in the respective industries, served to cultivate a very open-minded approach to jewelry design and personal style.

Her daring style aesthetic and innovative use of non-traditional materials like polypropylene, however, pushed the limits of tolerance at her alma mater of Bucks New Uni (formerly Buckinghamshire Chilterns).

The ominous clash of wills did not deter the ambitious designer as she graduated with honors in Design, Metalwork, and Jewelry in 2000.

Her work in the fashion and film industries, working respectively as a runway model and animator, sharpened her sense for color combinations and blending eclectic forms.

Through her company Metalix, Waddington created the first polypropylene jewelry designs. The plastic was known for its difficulty to manipulate but she persevered continually working with the material until she successfully mastered its malleable properties.

The creations are highly imaginative and theatrical in their configurations. She appears to cut very thin strips of dyed plastic without cutting the strips away from the larger piece allowing the strips to hang down building a design within the cascading strips.

The ranges of pieces include brightly colored, feather-like items to semblances of billowy jellyfish tentacles and glowing sea anemones to items akin to armor and dominatrix garb. It is fascinating that someone can take an item like plastic and use it to create other items so removed from contexts we commonly associate with it.

Waddington's work certainly helps to open up the observer's imagination to see new functions for a material not regularly used for decorative purposes. If anything, her work certainly opens up an observer to the designer's incredible artistry and attention to detail.

Waddington has garnered numerous awards for her extraordinary work including the 2006 Gane Trust Award, and the 2001 Crafts Council Setting Award.

"My work sums up a personal journey comprising traditional values applied to contemporary materials. I value a freedom to combine materials where form, line, color, and movement should merge with fluidity."


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Photo 1 (top right): Orange Polypropylene Neckpiece
Photo 2 (bottom left): Purple Polypropylene Neckpiece

Saturday, March 27, 2010

RUTH BARZEL JEWELRY DESIGN

Touted as a conservatory of American history, we eagerly visit Washington D.C.'s National Museum of American History, which boasts intriguing political, scientific, and cultural exhibits including a display featuring the renowned ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Washington D.C. is also the home of featured jewelry designer Ruth Barzel.

Barzel's delicate, understated aesthetic is reminiscent of New York-based designer Madelaine Mayer.

Both designers create jewelry with streamlined proportions of utmost simplicity accentuated with pops of liquid color.

When the 40-ish mother of two launched her handmade jewelry line in 2005, she was not sure how to categorize her jewelry style. "People were buying my pieces telling me "I love your jewelry! I wear it everyday!" It wasn't until then I realized that was my style. It is jewelry for everyday."

Fashioned from eco-friendly isometric crystals (cubic zirconia), semi-precious gemstones like blue chalcedony, clear quartz, and turquoise, and dainty chains of sterling silver and gold fill, Barzel's jewelry is not intrusive.

The delicately arranged necklaces, bracelets, and earrings seem barely there like a whisper against a skin canvas. A quiet contrast to the bold creations of Iradj Moini (Iran), her designs are intended to accentuate the wearer through hushed but noticeable detailing.

The designer is candid about her early and insecure jewelry-making days, "When I started making jewelry in the early 90s, all I wanted to do was make pieces exactly like Dana Kellin who is based in California," she says.

"I loved her use of beautiful gemstones and meticulous wire wrapping and when I couldn't find anyone to teach me her wire-wrapping techniques I spent endless hours practicing. After awhile, I realized I wouldn't be as good at being Dana as she was, and I developed my own style."

Barzel adds a bonus touch to her pieces through her use of provocative monikers like bombshell, trendsetter, diva, femme fatale, and glamour girl providing a nice subtext of attitude.

Barzel maintains a straightforward, pragmatic mentality about her lovely jewelry. "Although I love designing and making jewelry, my jewelry isn't trendy, chunky, or weird," she explains.

"It is not art. It isn't so expensive that you are afraid to wear it or so cheap that you are embarrassed to wear it. What is my jewelry? It is pretty. It is stylish, feminine, and elegant."
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Photo 1 (top right): Gold-Filled Dive Pendant with Blue Quartz Briolette and Multi-Colored Cubic Zirconia
Photo 2 (bottom left): Gold-Filled Sterling Silver Glamour Girl Earrings with Clear Cubic Zirconia Drops

Friday, March 26, 2010

LORENZ BAUMER

Situated along the shoreline of France's Rhone River is the foreboding Tarascon Castle that was constructed during the 15th century by the order of Louis II of Anjou. After years of disrepair the structure underwent a restoration 78 years ago remaining a historical fixture within the Rhone Valley. France is also the home of featured jewelry designer Lorenz Bäumer.

In some cases, the personal style or persona of a jewelry designer commands as much attention as their jeweled trinkets.

Tarina Tarantino (USA) has her signature fuchsia locks while Stephen Webster (England) has a rough-and-tumble persona.  Bäumer, whose movie star looks are a subtle cross between Harrison Ford and Bradley Cooper, wears a sleek, custom-designed black suit with purple flecks that is offset by a diamond-encrusted lapel pin featuring the initials LB.

Of French and German ancestry, Bäumer spent his early years living in the United States, but when he pursued his interest in engineering, he journeyed to his mother's homeland attending Paris' École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures.

His engineering studies, with its focus on design and innovation, would provide a solid base for Baumer's advent into jewelry design and jewelry creation.

An admirer of French jewelry artists René Lalique and Jean Schlumberger, for 10 years Bäumer created a self-titled costume jewelry line full of vitality and whimsy. "I experimented with many different techniques with my costume jewelry, techniques I wold later transfer to my fine jewelry collection," he says.

Bäumer also carried over the flamboyant, whimsical aesthetic of his costume line. Incorporating 18-karat pink, white and yellow gold with accents of orange sapphires, black and white diamonds, iolite, and tourmaline (the designer's favorite), he fashions jewels that blend the lyricism of poetry, the stature of architecture and the organic beauty of nature.

His bat ring, for instance, called Succube, cradles a huge, pink tourmaline stone while his 18-karat white gold and diamonds skull pendant, called Lune Tete de Mort, are striking in their execution possessing a biting edge reminiscent of Webster.

Though rather macabre in tone, these pieces are strangely beautiful such as the skull pendant, which holds a second design within it; a key characteristic of Bäumer's work.

When you look closely, the skull's cutout eyes are actually silhouettes of two people seemingly engaged in conversation. The exquisite pavé work on many pieces, like his swan ring Cygne, is reminescent of the work of designer Carlo Palmiero (Italy).

"The fact that I have no formal schooling in jewelry design means there are no rules," he says, "I love to work with small details that become important and take on significant meaning."
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Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat White Gold Hippocamp Ring
Photo 2 (bottom left): 18-Karat White Gold Ring with Multi-Colored Gemstones

Thursday, March 25, 2010

IRADJ MOINI

One of the most significant and impressive structures in Iran is the Falak-ol-Aflak Castle. At over 1,000 years old, the fortress sits atop a hill alongside the Khoramabad River and is equipped with a natural dehumidifier system. Iran is also the home of featured jewelry designer Iradj Moini.

Based on my research, costume jewelry, or vintage jewelry as it is also known, dates back 170 years to the reign of Queen Victoria who wore baubles of vulcanite, bog oak, and ebonite while mourning the death of her husband Albert.

Once the Industrial Revolution swept over England, however, the ornate style of jewelry was mass-produced for those who were not aristocrats or royalty.

A former architect, and jewelry designer for fashion connoisseur Oscar de la Renta, Moini takes pointed inspiration from the jewelry of the vintage eras, particularly the Art Nouveau (1895 - 1915) Art Deco (1915 - 1935), and Retro (1935 - 1960) eras. However, he does not collect pieces from these eras he creates them.

Similar to Nate Waxman (USA), Moini captures the eras' bold arrangements, stone clusters, and even the subtle distressed quality with uncanny precision.

With a little over two decades immersed in jewelry design, he combines materials such as quartz, turquoise, citrine, pearl, aventurine, emerald, and lapis lazuli creating jewelry that is brazen, over-the-top with an air of gutsy bravado befitting the larger-than-life personas of actors like Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck.

Everything about its proportions is grand, and chunky; it is neither delicate nor demure and was never meant to be. This style of jewelry is not about buoyancy or delicacy it is about attitude. It is about ultra confidence, daring with a touch of eccentricity and a hefty dose of obstinacy.

Similar to Justin Giunta's aesthetic, the key to Moini's configurations is its aspect of glorious excess incorporating gemstones of every size and color. Moini brings in aspects of the Art Nouveau age with detailed nature-inspired items of dragonflies, birds, apples, flies, bees, flowers, and beetles.

Moini's incredible jewelry is unapologetic in its high glamour design indulgences. Like Waxman, Moini has undoubtedly ushered in a new vintage era the styles of which have been featured in Allure, Vogue, Elle, and Marie Claire, and worn by such entertainers as Halle Berry, Rachel Weisz, and Beyonce.

For more of Moini's jewelry, visit Domont Jewelry.
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Photo 1 (top right): Smoky Quartz, Ruby, and Emerald Ring
Photo 2 (bottom left): Turquoise and Quartz Necklace

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MICHELLINE SYJUCO

Having the namesake of American architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, Burnham Park in Baguio, Philippines is a lovely area with Mount Kabuyao serving as a looming picturesque backdrop. The Philippines is also the home of featured jewelry designer Michelline Syjuco.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SEVAN BICAKCI

Though wintry weather still has a grip on Turkey, once the cold snap breaks we will pay a visit to Çukurova University Botanical Garden. With grounds covering more than 100-acres, it houses indigenous and international species of flora. Turkey is also home to featured jewelry designer Sevan Biçakçi.

For centuries, Turkey has been the center of many thriving civilizations; Anatolia in particular is a location where people once buried their loved ones with jewelry fashioned from seashells, bone, horns, and teeth.

When the Hittites built their empire in Anatolia, jewelry styles became increasingly sophisticated and ornate, while Sardis developed into a prominent hub for gold jewelry.

In the centuries to follow the cultural aesthetics of Greece, Italy, and what is known today as modern Iran, blended with jewelry designs of filigree and granulation as goddess motifs, coin medallions, and luminous gemstones were incorporated in these splendid jewelry pieces.

By the early 1980s, however, in order to compete in the international jewelry market, the distinctive, bold designs of ancient times disappeared as Turkish jewelry designers opted to duplicate more understated European designs.

Today, as Turkey continues to emerge as a viable force in the jewelry industry, brands like Jewel Huse of Minyon have embraced the aesthetic of the ancients with pieces fashioned from exquisite 24-karat gold, gorgeous gemstones, and vivid design quality. Of both Turkish and Armenian ancestry, Biçakçi is among the current wave of jewelry artists who pays splendid homage to his Turkish roots.

Once deemed a mediocre student, Bicakci's influential father shrewdly put his pre-teen son on the road to jewelry making by getting him an apprenticeship with master goldsmith Hovsep Chatak.

Under Chatak's tutelage amidst the bustling energy of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, for four years Biçakçi would master enameling, engraving, calligraphy, carved intaglio and micro-mosaics. After opening his workshop upon the death of his mentor, Biçakçi trained his own apprentices.

"My work, in part, is based on stories form the culture of Anatolia, that includes a sacred mountain called Mount Ida," he says. "I am inspired by ancient places so I am following my dream to make my jewelry historical. Having a mass appeal has never been a point of interest in the jewelry I design."

His company officially launched in 2002, and the designer focuses almost exclusively on one-of-a-kind, spectacular rings reminiscent of Dian Malouf (USA), and Angela Hübel (Germany). Each ring takes from three months to one year to complete.

"I have a ring obsession," says Biçakçi, "They are very important in Turkey as they are the mirrors of the personality of the wearer." These pieces are grand, elaborate and beautifully detailed fashioned from composites of sterling silver, 18- and 24-karat gold, tourmaline, pearls, lemon topaz, diamonds, and sapphires.

Many ring settings appear to be clear glass domes encasing intricately carved porcelain designs of doves, ladybugs, peacock feathers, or a tiny, ancient city. It is something akin to a miniaturized snow globe; accented with bold, jewel-encrusted shanks.

The overall result is like a magnificent enchanted ring from an imaginary fairytale world of witches and wizards. In fact, there is even a ring in the form of an apple with a simulated bitten off area.

"I do not limit the materials I use to create my pieces. The people who wear my jewelry have found a connection in the design and detail that goes into my work. I am happy with the response my jewelry gets," he says.

Among the elite who have responded to Bicakci's dramatic jewelry items are Brooke Shields, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Celine Dion, Halle Berry, and Mariah Carey.
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Photo 1 (top right): Unnamed Ornate Ring
Photo 2 (bottom left): 24-Karat Gold Jewel Encrusted Dome Ring

Monday, March 22, 2010

SO YOUNG PARK

Today we visit Namsan Park in Seoul, Korea, an expansive natural area that consists of hiking trails, an aquarium, fountain, library, and a cable car. Korea is also the birthplace of featured jewelry designer So Young Park.

Park initially explored her creative aptitudes by becoming a student of fine art painting at Busan Art High School.

A few years later, however, while attending Seoul's Kon-Kuk University, precious metal would become a new canvas from which to create.

Upon earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Craft Design and two Masters of Fine Arts in Metal and Jewelry Design (one from Kon-Kuk, the other from New York's Rochester Institute of Technology), Park incorporates hammering, repoussé and chasing, and granulation into incredibly detailed jewelry.

Nature is a key theme in her remarkable conceptual and hand fabricated jewelry. She vividly recreates floral-like configurations blending 18-karat yellow gold, and oxidized sterling silver with accents of Japanese Akoya pearls, and small mounds of granulated gemstones that resemble caviar.

The organic, natural forms of her striking necklaces, the pendants of which double as brooches, mimic the warped yet voluptuous semblance of dried leaves and flowers. The curve of each cupped petal is exact and faithful to form, and in this way Park brings to mind the beautiful floral jewelry of Chao-Hsien Kuo (Taiwan) of Lapponia Jewelry Oy.

The detailing is incredible; the contrasts of textures, colors, shapes and etchings--all in one piece--adds to Park's stunning visual language. A language expressing the complexity of "growth and life."

"Human life and plant life have similar growth characteristics," she says. "I discovered an important role that plant forms can have in my metal work. From an aesthetic viewpoint, nature reveals the beauty of the eternal cycles of life. I assemble my jewelry pieces through the harmonic use of wires, hammered textures, and tiny concave shaped metal pieces creating elegant yet unusual forms."

Park also creates provocative, baroque-style sculptures that often depict human emotions, mentalities, and behavior through parts of the human body such as the nose, eyes and face.

The prolific designer's exceptional work is currently a part of an exhibition at New York's Aaron Faber Gallery.

The exhibition is called Working in Metal: Three Women, which runs through April 20, 2010, and features the work of jewelry artists Sydney Lynch, and Glenda Arentzen.
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Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat Yellow Gold and Oxidized Sterling Silver Cuff
Photo 2 (bottom left): 18-Karat Yellow Gold and Oxidized Silver Necklace w/ Pearl Drop

Saturday, March 20, 2010

DIAN MALOUF

We are in Texas today, and with this day being the official start of spring let's not waste a moment to visit the Fort Worth Botanical Garden. Boasting 109-acres, the grounds house over 2,500 species of flora along with an incredibly beautiful variety of gardens. Texas is also the birthplace of featured jewelry designer Dian Malouf.

Malouf is no shrinking violet; she has traveled the world, renovated her one-time dilapidated duplex, authored two books, and occasionally dresses like Frida Kahlo. "Ordinary is not something I do," Malouf quips, "It is not a part a part of my life."

Fueled by many passions that include collecting history books, pottery, glass bottles, and Mexican dolls, Malouf's interest in designing jewelry is a natural outgrowth. "It's a God-given thing. For all my life I would awake in the middle of the night and sketch something."

Though I believe Malouf creates full jewelry collections that include bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces, according to what I have found online--including her personal website--her one-of-a-kind rings appear to be the designer's signature.

Every aspect of her life's memories, including Texas ranches and cowboys, Mexican art and architecture, as well as Native American influences thrive in her unique ring pieces.

Her rings highlight baroque-type proportions of 14-karat gold, and sterling and oxidized silver giving them a visual depth and distressed quality that cause them to seem centuries old.

The overall aesthetic is an interesting hybrid of molten form, cratered and ridged textures, and pops of brilliantly colored gemstones like turquoise, opal, pearls, and rotocrocite. Motifs like arrowheads, crosses, roses, crowns, churches, and hearts add to the rings' visual character.

Over the years, Malouf has created collections incorporating varied themes like food and grains, bikers, horses, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In addition to these, Malouf also uses her creations to spark awareness for social and environmental issues such as her Flowers, Ferns, and Rainforest Collection geared towards the preservation of water. A percentage of the proceeds from this collection go to the non-profit organization the American Ground Water Trust.

The mother of four loves the creative outlet of jewelry design, providing her team of New Mexico-based artisans with 50 - 70 new designs a month. "I just do what I like to do, and I'm fortunate other people like it too."

For more on Malouf's distinctive rings, checkout Trends and Traditions Boutique.
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Photo 1 (top right): 14-Karat Gold and Sterling Silver Ring with Pink Rotocrocite
Photo 2 (bottom left): 14-Karat Gold and Sterling Silver Dragonfly Ring

Friday, March 19, 2010

HEPI MAXWELL

Among New Zealand's many beautiful regions is the stunning Mount Aspiring National Park. It is a spectacular area with landscapes ranging from grassy river flats, and flowering herbs to glaciers, valleys and mountains. New Zealand is also home to featured jewelry designer Hepi Maxwell.

Of Polynesian ancestry, the Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Art is a prominent part of their culture encompassing vivid and elaborate skin markings known as tā moko, as well as the distinctive and stunning figures carved into wood porch pillars of the ancestral whare runanga or meetinghouses.

To me, Maxwell's incredible journey into the profession of jade carving, after losing his legs in an accident, is one of courage and destiny.

His beautifully fluid and voluptuous pendants, the designs of which are based on Maori art are stunning examples of exceptional artisanship. However, Maxwell's matter-of-fact viewpoint of his latent artistic abilities is surprising.

"I am of Maori descent and my introduction into the filed of jade carving was not a childhood dream. I did not inherit an artistic flair from my father," he says.

"I lost both my legs in a truck accident and was faced with either finding employment that did not require legwork or living off the state for the rest of my days. The latter did not appeal to me. With absolutely no knowledge of carving. I responded to an ad in the local paper for potential jade carvers. The job became mine."

Through his company Creative Jade, for over two decades, Maxwell is one of New Zealand's leading jade carvers of jewelry items, and presentation pieces made with jade, bone, and totara wood.

"In 1982, I carved the trophy for the International Mastermind Competition and a little later carved a large ornament named "Kahurangi Kiwi" which became part of the Kahurangi Exhibition traveling the USA, Europe, and China."

Though Maxwell downplays his inherent gift for this art form, it is clear to me that this creative part of him, however subdued in his frame of thinking, was always living within him.

His creations, highlighting the traditional spirals and curls of Maori art, are so exquisite and the color of jade so pure, it amazes me he had no hands-on experience before beginning this career. When I look at his work, it also amazes me that he feels somewhat confined in his creative process.

"Some of my carving career has been very exciting but of course many of my day-to-day routine involve hard, monotonous work. I must produce good, saleable work regularly so I often carve with a viewpoint to salability and customer satisfaction rather than satisfying my creative urge," he explains.

"On the other hand, this puts me in the very satisfying position of being able to produce work pleasing to the eye of both those who prefer to cling to tradition and those who appreciate contemporary styles.

I get to know the people who come to my workshop looking for something special. It is highly gratifying to talk with a customer and eventually present them with a carving that is "just right" for them."
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Photo 1 (top right): Green Jade Hei Matau Pendant
Photo 2 (bottom left): Jade Family of Koru Decorative Piece

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

COLL SMITH | ARMCANDII

We are in England today visiting the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses. It is a stunning area where redwoods, and cedars, herb, and Japanese gardens fill the length of its 15 acres. England is also the home of featured jewelry designer Coll Smith.

Smith's stunning and innovative handmade jewelry blends multi-colored merino wool, gold-plated wire, and Swarovski crystals with vintage pieces.

Her creations are reminiscent of designs by Liz Law (USA), Camille Peace (USA), and Susan Speidel (USA) who each build their lines by collecting and mixing eclectic jewelry components.

To my surprise, however, some time ago I came across a blogger's rather disparaging assertion regarding the mechanics of handmade jewelry. Though the comment was broad, brief and not directed to a specific designer, the blogger felt this form of jewelry making was not on the same caliber as goldsmithing. I completely beg to differ.

Essentially the art of goldsmithing is done with the use of the artist's hands. Goldsmiths implement hand held tools like hammers and files to produce desired textures and many make their own mold casts.

I also feel the same type of instinctual knowing, artistic vision, and forethought is required; understanding how to strike the right balance of color, texture and overall arrangement. Just like metalwork, handmade jewelry reflects a unique perspective about form and textures.

A self-described "small-town girl," Smith, like Liz Law, did not see a future immersed in constructing baubles. "It doesn't surprise me that I am involved in making jewelry now because I have always loved making things," she says.

"I started making jewelry for myself and my daughters, who also share my passion. The decision to take it further was inspired by a chance opportunity."

Once a full-time player in the public relations field, Smith's interest in studying a few jewelry-making techniques began in 1995. "I gave my daughter a silversmithing course as a present and I thought I'd go along with her. I would have loved to have pursued this further but I did not have the time or space to invest in the tools needed to continue," she explains.

"In 2008, a local school offered beading and wirework courses so I enrolled, and these techniques have been the basis of much of my work. I knit with wire to create the cuffs and then embellish them. I usually start with a piece of vintage costume jewelry to rework and then build the wirework around it."

The designer continues to broaden her base of jewelry-making techniques believing it important to keep learning. "Last year, I took an aluminum jewelry course, and this style will be included into my collections at a later stage.

My work with merino wool is a result of a felt-making course I took the results of which are the candiicollars. I will also be taking a day course in PMC, silver clay jewelry, and I hope this medium will be useful for my work."

Smith's "chance opportunity" to present her work to a broad audience happened when a friend asked her to participate in a local art fair. It would only be a matter of time before she would establish her company ArmCandii.

"I'd already started recycling or up-cycling beads from broken necklaces and in fact made a very different necklace for this `exhibition' using a beautiful recycled vintage diamante buckle which I thought no one would like," she recalls. "I was wrong, it was snatched up. The rest is history as they say."

I love the concept behind Smith's jewelry; the idea that something vintage does not have to be associated with something stagnant and inflexible. The jewelry is fresh and vibrant with great color combinations of glass beads, freshwater pearls, seed beads, and cotton candy-like wool scarves. There are the eye-popping, statement-making pieces and others of streamlined elegance and femininity.

"It's a bizarre mix of a green conscience with glamour and glitz! It's sort of a remake of old-style Hollywood glamour," she enthuses. "It's the sophistication, glamour, and power of those leading ladies like Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Marilyn Monroe.

I love the idea that someone else's once loved but now discarded piece from a long gone era can be lovingly reworked into a 21st century piece; joining a past story with a new story."
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Photo 1 (top right): Delicate Retro Butterfly Pendant on Sterling Silver Chain
Photo 2 (bottom left): Knitted Gold Wire Cuff with Vintage Brooch and Glass and Gold Beads

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

PETER SKUBIC

At nearly 500 years old, Austria's Porcia Castle is one of the country's most important historical structures with its blend of Italian and baroque architectural styles. Austria is also the home of featured jewelry designer Peter Skubic.

I will admit that upon viewing Skubic's angular, and boxy stainless steel jewelry pieces they seemed indiscriminate from each other.

The abstract structures resemble partially folded pieces of mirror-like metal accented with randomly placed, protruding metal wires and occasional splashes of color. However, careful thought goes into these seemingly arbitrary forms.

"The process always starts with drawings but after I finish the piece it becomes a continuum," he says. "My mirror pieces have a form but you cannot see the form. I think about the dimensions of my pieces, the positions of the angles, and cutting the stainless steel plates.

Depending on the time of day, these pieces reflect the light and the piece becomes one hundred different pieces. Sometimes you see colors behind the shiny stainless steel plates or just the shiny plate. The effect is you think you see glass, not a mirror."

A goldsmith for more than 30 years, Skubic's design approach, and choice of materials also reflect a pointed intent to challenge ideas of quality in jewelry, and perceptions of jewelry as art.

"I want to find a personal sign of quality in jewelry, not only brilliance and commercial aspects. For example, I like to use color in my pieces, but without the use of big gemstones," he explains.

"I put color on the back of the shiny plates and, of course, the stainless steel plates are not diamonds but for me the plates are more attractive than diamonds.

To me jewelry can be art, but it is always a question of quality, and quality to me is not something definable, it is something you feel."
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Photo 1 (top right): Stainless Steel Mirror Brooch
Photo 2 (bottom left): Stainless Steel Ring with Blue Acrylic

Monday, March 15, 2010

RUTH BAIRD

Today we take a trip to New Zealand and stroll along the picturesque grounds of the Wellington Botanic Garden. It is a beautiful area with winding hills, an expansive rose garden, and a large Victorian-style glass house. New Zealand is also home to featured jewelry designer Ruth Baird.

There is no denying that natural surroundings, particularly flora, provide us with a great source of tranquility. Our attraction to flora's minute details like leaves, for instance, is of particular interest.

Aside from their various medicinal purposes, leaves have become powerful emblems representing such countries as Ireland and Canada. Leaves from different types of trees respectively symbolize the bond of friendship, healing, and faith.

Baird's love for the indigenous plant-life of New Zealand is represented in her colorful assemblage of leaf-inspired jewelry based on the Pohutukawa, Mapau, and Kawakawa leaves.

Like fellow New Zealand designers Tania Patterson and Lynn Kelly, Baird's leaf items, in some instances, are vivid replications fashioned from anodized titanium.

These pieces capture the leaves' precise form and idiosyncrasies with shadings of deep gold, yellow-green, and deep blue. These organic, life-like structures are clean, elegant simulations.

In other instances, Baird creates diamond-shaped pendant necklaces by carving out a specific leaf shape in plain titanium with a colored piece of niobium metal peeking through the cutout detail.

Baird then suspends the pendants from finely looped stitches of gorgeous, thin silver wires evoking the image of a shiny single leaf caressed by a glossy, silver web.

The shimmering threads of silver do not end here; the self-taught designer devotes a separate collection to more exquisite items of crocheted silver wire.

Reminiscent of work by Sugawara Haruko (Japan) and Natalia Khon (Russia), Baird's pendant necklaces and cuff bangles are simply a marvel of form and technique with accents of tourmaline beads, pebbles, pearls, or a single piece of abalone. It is hard to believe the items are made with metal wire.

"I had a craft background as a child and did a lot of knitting, sewing, crocheting, and embroidery," says Baird. "Although I have no formal training in art or design, I enjoyed looking at the jewelry I saw in museums. I loved seeing the artifacts from the time of King Tut, and the sinuous details of Art Nouveau jewelry by Lalique," she explains.

"I prefer simple techniques and using my hands rather than machines. Knitting, crocheting, twining, and weaving form a large part of my work.

I try to make my jewelry wearer friendly and comfortable and reflect shapes and textures in nature."
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Photo 1 (top right): Silver Crochet Cuff Bangles with Pearls and Gold-Plated Edges
Photo 2 (bottom left): Silver Crochet Pendant Necklace with Abalone Stone

TRENDY & AFFORDABLE DESIGNER JEWELRY

Many jewelry enthusiasts eagerly follow the trends in designer jewelry, particularly longstanding jewelry brands like Cartier, and Tiffany & Co., Ippolita Rostagno's ten-year old label, as well as up-and-coming brands like Jennifer Meyer Jewelry.

However, despite the aesthetic and sentimental appeal of designer jewelry in some cases such trendy items as wishbone and key pendant necklaces or stackable, gold bangles prove to be fiscally challenging.

For this month's Splendor Sidebar I compiled a list of a few designers at Etsy.com whose offerings reflect fantastic alternatives to the aforementioned trends that are staples for the coming spring and summer months. Not only are their designs easy on the eyes but also on the purse strings without trading down on quality.

WISHBONE CHARM

Jennifer Ecklund of
JenEcklundDesigns is based in California, and she has a lovely sterling silver wishbone pendant necklace attached to a silver gunmetal chain for $21 (the wishbone pendant is also available in gold). She also has some great cameos and wonderful delicate pieces with semi-precious stones.

MissAsh
leyLu based in Iowa has a beautiful sterling silver wishbone pendant necklace with accents of two, small freshwater pearls. The cost is $20. She designed several variations with different stone accents according to birthstone. She also creates affordable leaf pendants implementing a variety of real leaves dipped in 24-karat gold.
DougPetersonJewelers', based in Utah, has a beautiful, sleek 14-karat gold European
wishbone ring for $155. Has been designing and creating jewelry for 30 years, and has a second, separate collection of organic, sculptural items called TreeForm.

Lailee, based in Ohio, offers a pair of gold tone wishbone earrings for $14. She also has a beautiful collection of floral-inspired jewelry.

LEAF CHARM

Fiza'sDesigns
, based in New York, has a lovely 14-karat gold-filled leaf pendant necklace for $33 accented with a small, green amethyst drop.

Darrah of briguysgirls (or Otis B Jewelry) offers a beautiful, gossamer-like piece called
Moonlit Trees Necklace featuring a real, 24-karat gold plated Cottonwood leaf accented with a single, freshwater pearl and suspended from a gold-filled chain. The cost is $40. Also does fantastic delicate designs using semi-precious stones.

Sammi of
Sammi84, is based in Canada, and has a diminutive 24-karat gold vermeil leaf pendant necklace, and one in sterling silver. Each pendant costs $25.50. Also has beautiful cutout designs, and lovely work with pastel colored semi-precious gemstones.

KEY CHARM

Cascreatives based in New York has a Tiffany-inspired, sterling silver
key pendant necklace for $15.25.

With a penchant for sterling silver jewelry, Fashionjunkie4life, based in Nevada, has a pretty sterling silver
key pendant necklace for $18. She also has a great sterling silver wishbone pendant for $18 as well as hand stamped jewelry.

Skye Elijah of DecibelProductions, based in California, also has a sleek, Tiffany-inspired Victorian Crown sterling silver
skeleton key pendant necklace. The rest of Elijah's jewelry is inspired by rock n' roll with edgy, bold colored gemstones and statement-making designs.

TURTLE CHARM
Charms4You, based in Florida, offers a lovely alternative to the popular turtle charm pendant necklace worn by Courtney Cox on the television show Cougar Town for $8. The turtle is gold-plated over sterling silver on a beautiful gold-plated link chain. Store has an intriguing variety of charms from Chinese symbols to charms inspired by the Twilight movies.

PinkingEdgeDesigns, based in North Carolina, has a very nice gold plated
turtle charm pendant necklace called Happy for $24. Charm is suspended on a gold-plated chain that is linked with eight, green Aventurine beads. She utilizes copper, and brass in innovative designs as well as beautifully carved gemstones.
*BONUS "COUGAR TOWN" FASHION* - Love the delicate look of Courtney Cox's long, gold disc necklace? The design by Jennifer Meyer Jewelry costs a whopping $3,500! Here are three designers with affordable alternatives:

Theresa Mink of Classic Designs, based in Texas, offers Golden Reign a 44-inch, 14-karat gold-filled chain with small, shiny gold discs for $74. This piece is also available in sterling silver for $74.

Arlyne of One Life Jewelry, based in New York, has a 36-inch version fashioned from 14-karat gold fill called Illumination and costs $65.
TheJewelryBar, based in New York, provides a 40-inch, 14-karat gold filled chain with gold-plated discs for $62 (piece is also available in sterling silver).
STACKABLE GOLD BANGLES

The designer for Loud Lion, is East Indian, she moved to Canada but now lives in California. Designer has some great 14-karat gold filled, Everyday Bangles for $22 each, and 14-karat gold-filled stackable, skinny gold rings for $14 each. You can get six bangles for $120, and five skinny gold rings for $55.


FavorJewelry by Monika Reed is based in Oregon and Reed has a set of three, 14-karat gold, stackable bangles for $90. The rest of her collection is nice too, minimalist and streamlined.

Jessica Russell of TumbleWeedBeadCo. is based in Oregon and she has some great, hammered 14-karat gold-filled
bangle. She sells three, gold bangle bracelets for $66 and seven bangles for $132. She also sells three, thin sterling silver bangles for $45.

STACKABLE GOLD BANGLES WITH GEMSTONES

Based in New York, Bita Pourtavoosi of Bita Pourtavoosi Designs is influenced by a Middle Eastern aesthetic. For $20 each, she offers beautiful handmade,
stackable gold bangles with a single, luminous semi-precious gemstone of the customer's choice.

Also based in New York is Diament Designs, which offers lovely textured, 14-karat gold-filled
bangles with small blue stones. A set of six bangles cost $20. She also creates pieces with sterling silver and solid 14-karat gold.

INITIAL NECKLACES

StephieMc's based in Wichita has a pretty, gold fill over sterling silver Ecliptic Initial Pendant Necklace for $48. The piece is composed of slightly cupped discs, one on top of the other, with a matte, satin finish and suspended from a fine rope chain. She specializes in unique and beautiful hand stamped jewelry.

FreshyFig, based in Oregon, offers a different take on the
initial disc pendant, using vintage typewriter keys over a hammered, gold-plated brass disc and costing $24.

Natasha Kahn of the Florida-based NatashaKahnDesigns, creates a Dark Ages Initial Pendant with an Old World aesthetic. An 18-karat gold initial is set against a hammered, slightly oxidized sterling silver background. Nice. A single pendant costs $75.

Rhonda at ProlifiqueJewelry is based in Florida. The initials of her Teenie Tinies Round Initial Pendant Necklaces are set in a sterling silver disc, and framed with a 14-karat gold-filled ring. It costs $28. She specializes in hand stamped jewelry.


NOTE: Prices listed are subject to change or items are no longer available/listed on designer's actual Etsy page.__________
Photos (from top right to bottom left): Sterling Silver Wishbone Pendant With Two Freshwater Pearls by Missashleylu; Sterling Silver-Dipped Laurel Leaf Pearl Lariat Necklace by Otis B Jewelry; Sterling Silver Skeleton Key Pendant by Fashionjunkie4life; Gold-Plated Turtle Charm on Gold-Plated Chain by Charms4You; 40-inch 14-Karat Gold-Filled Long Disc Necklace by thejewelrybar; 14-Karat Gold-Filled Everyday Bangles by LoudLion; 14-Karat Gold-Filled Hammered Bangles with Blue Stone by DiamentDesigns; and Matte, Satin Gold-Filled Over Sterling Silver Ecliptic Initial Pendant by StephieMc

Saturday, March 13, 2010

JUSTIN GIUNTA - SUBVERSIVE JEWELRY

Founded 140 years ago, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (a/k/a The Met) holds an impressive array of over two million pieces of artwork from Africa, Europe, and Asia. New York is also the current home of featured jewelry designer Justin Giunta.

"The first piece of jewelry I ever made was a bracelet for a friend's birthday," says Giunta. "It was a bracelet fashioned with gun charms!"

Originally, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the painter and jewelry designer studied at New York's Pratt Institute, Amsterdam's Gerrit Rietveld Academy, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pennsylvia's Carnegie-Mellon University. His studies would ultimately influence a more daring and sophisticated aesthetic.

Established in 2003, his company, Subversive Jewelry, is true to its rebellious moniker. His avant-garde collections feature items of bold configurations with loads of tangled, recycled antique brass chains, chunky Swarovski crystals, beads, and faux pearls. These components not only promote a gritty type of vintage aesthetic, but also help to maintain the environment's integrity.

"I am always drawing parallels between art history and modern design in my work. I explore themes of fine art and commercial design. The only difference between the two seems to be where you sell it," says the artist.

In some ways, the baroque style of his collections with their visually powerful scope laced with a provocative touch of rock n' roll, reminds me of the bold creations of DANNIJO designing duo Danielle and Jodie Snyder.

Giunta builds his designs based on excess arranging the materials in a free form. I initially found the ultimate renderings shocking as they are not beautiful in a conventional sense, but I was still drawn to their glorious excessiveness.

"I lay out the materials in much the same way I do when I paint," Giunta explains. "I draw together disparate elements of color and texture ensuring that every scrap lands appropriately into the composition."

Items from his Sunken Treasure Collection splendidly recreates a trove of gnarled and tangled muted chains with strategically placed oversized, rough-cut crystals, faux pearls, and gold beads.

His Caulders Circus Collection boasts literal explosions of vibrant and ethereal color such as the Spanish Goth Necklace, a beautiful link of floral cameos, while the cut of some of the bone beads and crystals from the Rain Forest Collections is reminiscent of tribal garb.

"I design each piece of jewelry within the context of the baroque philosophy that more is more, and the modern idea of deconstruction in fashion," he says. "As an artist, I naturally deconstruct fashion blending the past and the present to create my own visual language."

In the last several years, Giunta has collaborated with fashion designers J. Mendel, DKNY, Alexander Wang, and Perris Ellis providing Subversive Jewelry for their runway shows.

His striking jewelry has also been featured in editorial layouts for such publications as Glamour, O Magazine, Spin, and Harper's Bazaar.

In 2009, Giunta became a first-time recipient of the CFDA Fashion Award. For more on Giunta's cutting-edge designs, check out Full Frontal Fashion's video interview with the designer.
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Photo 1 (top right): Sunken Treasure Necklace with Antique Chains, Faux Pearls, and Charms
Photo 2 (bottom left): Spanish Goth Necklace with Vintage Cameos Mounted on Antique Chain

Friday, March 12, 2010

FRANCO VARELA MENDEZ

The centuries old city of Chichén Itzá (chee--CHEN, eet ZAH) in Mexico contains architecture that still generates awe-inspired gasps by all who see these structures. Three hundred sixty-five steps compose the four stairways that lead up to the incredible Pyramid of Kukulcan. The number of steps strategically corresponds to the number of days in a calendar year. Mexico is also home to featured jewelry designer Franco Varela Mendez.

Mexico is renowned as the world's second largest producer of silver, as well as being a top location for highly gifted silversmiths.

History reveals that the Spaniards passed down the art of handcrafting silver metal to Mexicans during the late 18th century. One of the jewelry-making techniques passed on by the Spaniards was filigree.

Filigree designs, however, were predominantly made with gold as the metal was considered more valuable reflecting social status.

Nevertheless, during the 1950s, a strong demand arose for silver filigree in the international market. Subsequently, numerous workshops opened to meet the demand training roughly 100 workers in the craft over the course of four to five years.

The boom ended in the late 1960s when social security laws deemed employers pay corresponding revenue. The once bustling workshops now contained less than a dozen workers and administrators opted instead to repair and produce limited quantities of jewelry.

Today, though an arts school in Merida, Mexico teaches the craft, there are very few channels available in the country to learn this art. Along with Carlos Ramos, Mendez is integral in helping to maintain this intricate and painstaking technique alive in the country.

Mendez credits his sister, who taught him the craft, and extensive travels through the United States with helping him cultivate the skills to create this delicate, ethereal jewelry style.

Unlike some filigree designs I have seen from Thailand, Mendez appears to work with somewhat thicker silver wires providing an overall effect that resembles loosely crocheted yarn.

The jewelry pieces are very dainty and fabric-like, and accents of turquoise, jasper, and dyed cultured pearls are minimal allowing the filigree work to take center stage.

Mendez's beautiful, silver filigree jewelry is distributed through Novica.com.
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Photo 1 (top right): Sterling Silver Filigree Mandala Necklace with Black Cultured Pearls
Photo 2 (bottom left): Sterling Silver Filigree Mandala with Turquoise Drops

Thursday, March 11, 2010

YAEL KRAKOWSKI

The serene beauty of Ramat Hanadiv in Israel is a welcome change from the daily hustle and bustle. The Visitors Pavilion leads us into a world of botanical wonder that spreads out over 1,000 acres. Israel is also the home of featured jewelry designer Yael Krakowski.

Bead jewelry is probably the world's earliest form of jewelry with prehistoric man creating beads using the bones of animals.

As centuries passed, beads cultivated from carnelian and lapis lazuli gemstones were worn by the wealthy.

Today, however, bead jewelry fashioned from varied materials such as rock quartz to gold to glass is a popular item for people of all economic backgrounds.

Krakowski's colorful jewelry creations, in large part, are realized with the use of glass beads, as well as cotton thread, resin, sterling silver, 18-karat gold, and enamel.

Seeing Krakowski's work, along with much of the designers featured on this blog, caused me to think about the generalized, homogenous manner in which jewelry tends to be presented. I started this blog having a generalized knowledge collected from the sound bites and blurbs I have read or watched over the years.

I began this blog with the idea that jewelry from Germany is clean, minimalistic, and without gemstones, while Israeli designers only create Judaica items. Although to a certain degree this is true, I have learned that these presentations merely scratch the surface of what is actually out there.

Cornelia Goldsmith (Germany) designs elaborate gold jewelry with magnificent gemstones, while Michal Negrin (Israel) creates beautiful items with so much luscious color and whimsy it is like collecting pieces straight out of a fairytale.

Krakowski's artistic vision is not unlike the designers I just mentioned, and countless more; unveiling an aesthetic that shatters long held ideas and preconceived notions concerning design parameters from a particular region of the world.

A graduate of Israel's Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, with a Bachelor of Arts in gold and silversmithing, Krakowski arranges tiny glass granules in what looks like a vibrant, yet unusual, fruit tapestry of raspberries and mulberries, while others resemble elaborate baby rattles.

Other items, fashioned from sterling silver, resemble sea urchins and spiny balls. Such items as her Snake Bracelet, cultivated from sterling silver, enamel, and resin, is sinewy resembling its namesake with its glistening, multi-colored armor-like scales.

She even creates a bracelet using fiberglass washers! Each item is intricate, detailed work that is distinctive, and unique.

With two decades in the jewelry-making field under her belt, Krakowski's original designs have garnered the Eitan Ron Prize for Jewelry Design, an American Israel Foundation Scholarship, and the BC Creative Achievement Award.

Her work has been exhibited around the globe including Israel, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
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Photo 1 (top right): Sterling Silver and Magenta Resin Bracelet
Photo 2 (bottom left): Oval Necklace with Glass Beads and Cotton Thread

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

JACK VARTANIAN

Housed inside an 18th century monastery is Brazil's Sacred Museum of Art where we view the artwork of Renoir and Van Gogh. We also take time to visit the museum's beautiful botanical area the Jardin de la Luz (Garden of Light). Brazil is also the home of featured jewelry designer Jack Vartanian.

Of Armenian descent, Vartanian's style is Brazilian flair mixed with a laidback L.A. vibe. It is the smooth curvature of a shiny 18-karat gold armlet with a black quartz stone set in its center.

It is the distinctive pop of red coral or blue turquoise; both of which seem to spill over the shank of their ring bands. It is the flirty sterling silver fringe dripping from a necklace.

Like Brazilian designer Manoel Bernardes, and Alex and Ani's Carolyn Rafaelian (USA), Vartanian was literally born into a world of soldered precious metals and faceted gemstones as his family owned a gemstone business in Brazil.

Like Manoel Bernardes, Vartanian lived smack dab in a country renowned for its gemstone industry. He learned firsthand how to spot and select brilliant gems. As Brazil began to emerge as a country known for innovative jewelry designs, Vartanian was eager to ride the wave, making use of his love for artisanship.

In 1999, he stepped outside of the family company to establish his own. "I create jewelry for women who want to wear their jewelry to more than just formal occasions," he says. "Women want the freedom to wear beautiful gemstones with a pair of jeans as well as that little black dress. I wanted to give them that option."

His clients, which include Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Faith Hill, Megan Fox, and Cameron Diaz, incorporate his jewelry with both their casual and formal ensembles.

Gisele Bundchen, Brazilian supermodel, and owner of Vartanian's jewelry, says this, "Jack Vartanian is one of my favorite designers. His jewelry is sophisticated and cool at the same time."

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Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat Rose Gold Ring with Lapis Stone and Diamonds
Photo 2 (bottom left): Turquoise Crown Earrings

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SLIM BARRETT

Like many ancient castles, Ireland's Cabra Castle is one rooted in dramatic events involving warfare, and numerous owners. Presently owned by the Corscadden Family, its ruins have been renovated into an 80-bedroom hotel. Ireland is also the birthplace of featured jewelry designer Slim Barrett.

Every country has a unique jewelry history filled with distinctive style aesthetics and jewelry-making techniques.

The Emerald Isle is probably known most for its shamrock clover emblem, which was once used as a symbol of rebellion, and the Claddaggh Ring design that combines the heart, hands, and crown.

According to historians, this symbol of love and friendship is said to be the creation of Irishman Richard Joyce who learned the craft of metalwork while a slave to a North African goldsmith.

Today, Irish jewelry designers, like Bill and Christina Steenson, though respectful of their homeland's traditional style, are interested in modern configurations while still maintaining a sense of the country's heritage.

Barrett's jewelry falls in line with the new wave of Irish jewelry, which I feel encompasses the robust spirit of Ireland. His collections hold many personalities; it is avant-garde, rugged, sweeping, understated, bold, stately, aggressive, feminine, and sexy.

A graduate of Ireland's Regional Technical College in County Galway, Barrett's childhood was not unlike most. He loved roughhousing and playing outdoors, but his creative side enjoyed the lyricism of the poems his father authored. Barrett also loved the intricacy of artwork, how it is born of simple origins becoming something of stunning beauty and complexity.

"Around age eight, I started my artistic adventure, which saw me hopping on a bus every Saturday to go to art classes in Galway city," he recalls. "On the way home I used to visit our local blacksmith and watch him work--all the fire and burning metal was very exciting."

There is a very medieval edge throughout his collections with items like his 18-karat gold Feronia Coronet tiara, from the East of Paris Collection, and his use of muted metals like brass, copper, and bronze.

His Chainmail Collection feature bib necklaces of cascading sterling silver, bronze and crystals, the manner in which the metal drapes over the décolleté is both audacious and subtle in its sensuality.

Pieces from his Ethnic Punk Collection, with bracelets and pendants fashioned from portions of bullet belts are inherently masculine and militaristic in its lack of delicacy, bright colors, or gemstones.

The glass bullet inserts make for a final stroke that is tough and gritty. The primal energy of his oversized pendants, a clutter of brass chains and copper discs, is suggestive of armor, as are his copper disc bikini bra tops.

"I want people to react to what I create. I draw from a deep well of knowledge and culture. Jewelry is body adornment, you have to let your imagination go," he explains. "The mix of classical techniques, conceptual thinking, and the freedom to explore is central for creating the work."

During the course of nearly three decades, Barrett's work garnered an impressive celebrity following that includes Madonna, Janet Jackson, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, Cher, Halle Berry, and the then engaged Victoria Adams for whom he created a diamond encrusted tiara for her wedding to David Beckham.

Barrett has collaborated with distinguished fashion houses such as Chanel, Ungaro, Versace, Montana, Lagerfeld, and Galliano.

He is also the recipient of the Martini Rossi Excellence in Design Award, and is the first Irishman to win the DeBeers Diamond's International Award.
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Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat Yellow Gold Aveta Cuff from the Celtic Nouveau Collection
Photo 2 (bottom left): Bronze Chainmail Bib Necklace with Clear Crystal Droplets from the Chainmail Collection
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