A National Historic Landmark since 1966, New Mexico’s Puye Cliff Dwellings is a remarkable site of carved rock dwellings that Pueblo Indians called home during the 12th century. New Mexico is also home to featured jewelry designer Pat Pruitt.
Producing jewelry, whether strung beads or sculpting gold, is a laborious process that requires hours of preparation. However, some designers like Karen Konzuk (Canada) and Roland Baldauf (Austria) enjoy the extra challenge of working with a notoriously uncompromising material, stainless steel.
Of Laguna Pueblo and Chirachaua Apache ancestry, like his contemporaries Pruitt’s edgy, unconventional designer jewelry of stainless steel is the result of marrying two unrelated skills: silversmithing and machining.
The award-winning designer started his company, Custom Steel, in 1991 after apprenticeships with jewelers Greg Lewis and Charlie Bird; and master machinist Geroge Sabolski. Though he initially created body jewelry for piercings fashioned from surgical steel, Pruitt was eager to merge his machinist knowledge with traditional jewelry making.
“Working with Greg and Charlie gave me a firm foundation in jewelry fabrication,” says Pruitt. “I landed a position in a prototype machine shop and apprenticed with Geroge. We built these one-off components for various mechanical devices and that was a really eye-opening experience for me.
Stainless steel is a very unforgiving material and does not do what you want half of the time, and my work is about creating aesthetically pleasing objects of adornment with non-traditional materials and techniques that pushes the envelope on what is considered 'Native American'.”
Though Pruitt creates jewelry pieces such as bridal wedding bands and earrings, his collection of stainless steel bracelets and rings are largely geared towards men as he has seen “very little to nothing for men that is really cool.” I am partial to his Spikey Cuff Bracelet; it reminds me of Batman.
While many of his cuff bracelets (his favorite item to make) highlight his skill at inlaying patterns of 14- and 24-karat gold, fine silver, and copper as a contrast to the ultra-sleek stainless steel, he also creates mechanistic, intimidating pieces like his foreboding Gear Head Cuff Bracelet that features three rows of spiky, metal outlines.
Other bracelets sport interesting surface ridges like zigzags and tire treads or accents of black stingray leather. Pruitt’s modern jewelry is a blend of grit and sophistication, clean form and bold patterns that ultimately possesses a clear-cut yet tough beauty.
“My designs reflect an influence of a modern and traditional lifestyle. However, my goal is to step out of traditional fabrication techniques and materials while remaining true to my sense of style and pulling artistic elements from native and non-native cultures. Finally, I want to have fun with it.”
Photo 1 (top right): Stainless Steel Stingray Leather Earrings Photo 2 (center): Stainless Steel Ring with Lapis
Photo 3 (bottom left): Stainless Steel Spikey Bracelet