I didn’t know it at the time but Custom Confidential was born on a hot summer day, long ago…
Maybe I was a little drunk. I had been fabricating silver jewelry for a few years and decided to try my hand at fabrication in 14K gold. Saving up, I finally had enough money to buy 6 inches of gold wire. Using my best garnet, and putting extra effort into making it perfect, I made one of my more standard designs. This design seemed to always sell fast when I made it in silver and I wasn’t willing to risk coming up with a new design with such precious materials. When I put it on display at the Eugene Saturday Market my entire sales effort of that time, I priced it exactly like I would have had it been silver, adding just enough more to cover that more expensive metal. I think the price came to something like $60 while the same ring in Sterling would have been maybe $25.
Take The Money…Eventually
Customer after customer admired the ring, complimenting my abilities, the design, the gem. They loved it. And when I told them the price they handed it back and walked away. The supply of beer I was working on during that day dwindled. I got more and more frustrated at the response I was receiving from that shiny new gold ring. If they loved it, why didn’t they buy it? The price was certainly fair. Finally, near the end of the day and the end of the 6-pack, as the same scene repeated itself right up to the asking of the price, I unceremoniously blurted out “$300.” I was sure they weren’t going to buy it anyway so why not, right? I was stunned nearly sober when the guy pulled out 3 crisp $100 dollar bills and handed them to me, thanked me profusely for such a nice ring. He walked away with it while showing it to his friends.
I was on to something!
And now…Custom Confidential. With somewhat insincere apologies to Anthony Bourdain, (who wrote the best-selling “Kitchen Confidential”) I embark upon the project of written elaboration. I will write about the indescribably delicious moments, the insights, the elations and disappointments…the stories of over 40 years of Custom Jewelry Design.
Ask any jeweler what their “least” favorite thing to do is and I bet most will say, “jewelry repair and restoration.” I sort of agree…
Thankfully, I rarely need to repair or restore my own stuff. I believe strongly in both design and structural integrity for the things I make. But my clients often have pieces from other sources, some that are very meaningful for them. And honestly, even some things I didn’t make are worthy of another chance when they fail or just wear out.
Jewelry Repair as a Learning Tool
There’s a reason I sort of agree with it being mostly a nasty task. There are benefits to me as a designer from doing jewelry repair… it keeps my hands in the trenches. I’ve probably learned at least as much about how jewelry should be designed from repairing things than just making them. It allows me to see what works. And, more importantly, what doesn’t work when jewelry is worn often. Items worn on the body take a beating. Rings and bracelets especially take a beating. I don’t like to disparage other’s work, but an experienced eye can tell if a designer has actually been in the trenches of repair for any length of time.
I’ll write again about some specific repair and restoration considerations but for now, I’ll leave you with this very short video about a recent project for a great client. This ring shown above was in pretty good shape except for the detail on the sides, which had been severely worn from having worn the ring next to other rings, a common problem. I used a combination of cutting edge technology, CAD and 3D Printing and traditional fabrication techniques to bring the ring back to near perfection!
And the outcome was great!!! Contact us at Gary Dawson Designs to discuss your project today!
“Fresh Jewelry!,” he yells to the street like a vegetable hawker in a residential Bangkok suburb as he turns the new ring with a cushion cut purple sapphire and diamond accents. Custom Jewelry a specialty, we welcome new clients!
This Trellis style ring was designed in Rhinoceros3D, printed and cast in 14K yellow gold. Get with us to start your Custom Jewelry Design project today!
Working on Custom Jewelry Design using big, important gemstones and setting them in high-end precious metals is a thrill. I love the challenge of making the most of this type if material and a well-executed finished project of this type certainly makes a great addition to any portfolio. I also love any project to which my client can bring meaning, no matter the intrinsic value of the materials. I was recently working on just such a project. It might be easy to dismiss the simple design, Sterling Silver and crude (by some standards) nature of the gemstone. But because of the meaning, the jewel we created is precious! I smiled all the way through this custom jewelry project from initial meeting with the client to final polish and delivery. And this is a project where I can truly claim sole authorship.
The client brought me a can of rocks…which were garnet crystals gathered by her grandfather over a lifetime of collecting these scattered gems in Idaho. These were not to be confused with gem quality garnets. As I picked through the material some of them were mostly mud, or matrix, loosely holding small garnets together. They broke apart as I manipulated them. I found several intact, but very included crystals that seemed like they would withstand cutting and polishing. One did.
The infinity design that my client chose symbolizes a continuum in her family. She is giving this piece to her Mom, the daughter of the man who collected the rocks. And she knows that she will get it back one day with the deep knowledge of family connections built into the piece.
I find inspiration for Custom Design everywhere. Recently, while visiting Cuenca, Ecuador I became somewhat fascinated with the textures I began noticing. Cobblestone streets, mud walls, lines in plaster and floral patterns.
It makes sense that I’m noticing these things since I’m continuing to perfect the creation of textures in my CAD designs. CAD, and Rhino in particular are known to be a little challenging when it comes to the creation of organic forms and textures. Possible, obviously, but a process that takes several thought-out steps to accomplish with any grace. The picture above is a photo of a rock wall (muro de piedra) at a residence in which we stayed while in Cuenca and may become my next target for texturing into CAD! The wall at the top of this page is part of the ruins of the Pumapungo complex which was thought to be the first habitation of the Cuenca area and may have been built as early as 2000 BCE, certainly no later than 500AD. It makes an interesting and I think, thoughtful, addition to my growing collection of textures for use in Custom work. Stay tuned here and on Gary Dawson Designs for updates to this and other fun Custom Design processes and ideas!
Around the corner from my new office there is a wine merchant, Authentica Wines, with a sign on the door that says, “Come on in, it’s only wine!” I smile as I walk by, knowing what he’s getting at. Like wine, custom design can seem intimidating. Like the merchant, I know how easy and enjoyable the process can be!
How does custom design happen at Gary Dawson Jewelry Design? Well, there’s no set rule, and there’s no typical job. In a way it is funny that it is called custom, because there’s no “customary” way to approach a project. The main point is that it becomes about the client and each client is unique whether it is their taste in wine, or their design preferences. Sometimes a design process takes only a brief consultation…the client knows exactly what they want and I know exactly how to make it. Done!
More often, the process is more complex. In this post, I’m going to take you through the initial steps of a project, still simple but slightly more complex than the slam-dunk mentioned above. I will pull examples from a current project to show how your project might go.
A recent client brought an older ring to her first appointment that was actually three rings welded together, all yellow gold. It had 5 smaller gems of the same size, alternating round ruby and diamond. The center was a simple design that held the gems in a row across the finger. On each side was a thinner solid band. She liked the general aesthetic of this combination, but wanted to change to white gold and update the look and feel of the design while keeping it very simple.
This was met with general approval and discussion ensued about how the outer edges of the gem arrangment seemed to just end abruptly. How could we create a more graceful transition from the gems to the solid band? Without a lot to go on other than the idea of transition, I ran some quick ideas by the client…
One new option…
…which were immediately rejected. The conversation then revealed that this client didn’t particularly want any form of symbolism like the fleur-de-lis and the beads filling a space didn’t do it for her either…
This is all good! I became aware long ago that a design process can sometimes take the form of a process of elimination. With nearly infinite options, it is easier for many people to know what they don’t like than to pinpoint, much less describe, exactly what they do like. After looking around on my website, we found a couple of design ideas that she liked and we discussed incorporating those themes into this general design.
So now we have, in a few simple steps, gained a direction (or two) to pursue. The results are outstanding, demonstrating that the collaboration of client and artist can be extremely rewarding.
One of the new choices.
Recent news items have challenged the very idea of what it means to be human. Apparently, it has been determined by anthropologists that several different ape species have entered, and have perhaps been for some time, in their own version of what is referred to the “stone age” in the human developmental timeline.
Since tool using and tool making have long been considered the very definition of “human”, is it time to consider how we might redefine our humanness?
As a student of anthropology myself, I came across a tidbit I have long preserved in memory but cannot still cite the source…Members of every known culture, from ancient to modern, have adorned themselves with some form of jewelry. Could it be possible that this may help to form a new definition of what it means to be human?
I’m ready to run with that!
We would love the opportunity to enhance your human nature with a fine, custom-designed piece of jewelry! Call now to make it happen…+1 541-729-2531
Evolution. Does it mean abandonment of tradition? I think both yes and no, and sometimes that duality leads to clarity and sometimes conflict. World politics cry out for radical change. If you don’t believe it then you must either be one of the 1% or live under a rock. In that change begins with yourself, reevaluating personal priorities seems quite appropriate these days, it probably always did. These ideas formed and churned inside me as I looked at a recent Outside Magazine and found an advertisement for silicone wedding bands. For under US$20.
These are advertised in a magazine that appeals to people who are willing to spend many thousands of dollars on a bicycle. And additional thousands on a watch to see how fast they are riding. And more thousands of dollars for the gear that most people use to get…outside! I know this because I’m a fairly outside guy, a mountaineer and sometime rock climber with a respectable trad rack and an incredibly lightweight backpacking shelter. And yup, I saw the silicone ring ad because I have a subscription to Outside!
As a person who has spent my entire adult life designing and manufacturing custom jewelry in precious metals (often of the wedding variety) I’m just not sure how to think about silicone wedding rings. I have to admit right up front that the adventure guy in me sort of thinks they are cool. I certainly can’t wear my wedding ring, (made in 18K gold) while rock climbing. And I must consider a couple that would rather spend what precious little money they likely have to start building memories on an epic honeymoon rather than an expensive set of rings. There’s something to that for sure.
On the other hand, is silicone the material that I want to represent, the most precious thing I have, my relationship with my wife and children? Every known culture, from ancient past to present, has worn some form of body adornment in the form of jewelry. We know this because anthropologists have excavated their precious metal jewelry from long-buried sites. Thousands of years from now, does our horizon want to be the one that has abandoned precious metals for silicone? What assumptions would a future anthropologist make about our priorities upon finding a $3000 watchnext to a silicone wedding ring?
I’ll leave this with a couple of comments from an article in Road & Track Magazine by Zach Bowman. After some praise for the silicone ring he test drove he says this near the end of the article…
“That’s not to say that the (silicone) band is perfect. After a few days and multiple hand washings, it lost its factory coating. Run your hand through someone’s hair and they’ll wince as the silicone grabs at every strand. It gets stuck on clothing, and I nearly lost the thing after it fell off while I pulled my phone from my pocket. It also looks like the height of eighth grade fashion.
I’m back to my gold band, but not because it’s a better choice than the (silicone ring). My ring was there the day I swore to love my wife forever. It’s been there every day since, through every argument, every curse, and every grin. It’s marred with the scratches and dings of the years we’ve spent together…”
With apologies to Charles Dickens, I sum up my experience at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES2016) in Las Vegas with the impression that it fully represents the reality of the quote from the opening of “A Tale of Two Cities”. This occurs both on a personal and a broader level.
On a personal level, I deplore Las Vegas, and all of the exploitation that it represents, all of the time. And yet I find myself there on business periodically experiencing great adventure and opportunity. This year’s CES was really a wonderful experience. Within the aisles of CES one can see all the humor, fun and excitement as well as the hope and expectations of the contemporary human experience.
From a broader perspective, it is difficult to ignore the juxtaposition of all of this wonderful technology with the reality that the distraction it provides seems to be leading us as a culture further away from the experiences that, until now, provided most of the meaning in our lives. It is now cliché to see a couple or a family sitting together at a meal with all members of the group only participating in the reality of their “smart” device. How smart is that, really? And where will this eventually lead?
And while my brief first ride on a Segway Mini was really cool, would it tend to add to my flab should I eventually own one? My (and my dog’s) exercise typically consists of a 4-6 mile daily walk. If I had one of these things, would I neglect myself as I run my dog ragged on a brief ride?
The potential for an improved human existence is greatly evident at a show like CES, and it remains an inspiration to me to be able to see both improved prior technologies and new ones alike. As a distributor of technology (see my website for that here) I am particularly interested in any new tech that might be helpful or interesting to the jewelry industry. As a designer, I’m keenly interested in anything that can aid my design process, communication with clients, or the safety of my operation.
Here are just a very few of the items that I thought noteworthy, helpful and relatively inexpensive . These seem mostly non-threatening (depending of course, on how they are used!) and actually useful to a lot of people.
It was the free beer that attracted me into the EZVIZ booth, a more frequently seen trade-show promotional technique. But this time the beer led to the discovery of a product that I liked! Jen Lynch was kind enough to give me an overview of the EZVIZ Mini, available on various commercial sites, including Amazon. This wireless 720P camera (with audio) has a QR code on the back that once scanned leads you to the EZVIZ app and pairs your phone with the camera, allowing you to see what the camera sees from your smartphone anywhere in the world with a wireless connection. Watch for an upgrade to HD and two-way audio soon!
Fidel Molina did a great job demonstrating the Ztylus Revolver Kit, an iPhone case with an attachment that contains 5 very useful camera lens enhancements including a polarizing and macro lens. This project, which began as many great new products do, began on Kickstarter and seems to effectively bring a broader level of professional uses to the already good iPhone camera.
Finally, my Segway Mini Pro selfie! Thanks to my press-pass to CES, I was allowed to try the MiniPro in the limited space of the Segway Distribution of North America booth. Very short learning curve, the thing practically drives itself, and is barrels of fun. With an up to 18 mile range, I can see how this could be useful in many applications where one’s work required a lot of walking for its speed, maneuverability and ease of use.
I had to be up very early recently to make it to a bridal show in which I was displaying my jewelry designs. As I sat with my cup of coffee, enjoying the quiet of the early morning, I heard my step-son’s alarm go off. It ceased its dreadful whine for a bit and then went off again…and this cycle repeated several times until finally, his Mom went in and woke him up. I got to thinking about explaining my view on this annoying experience to him…along with the alarm, you need to set your brain!
In general I don’t use an alarm but if it’s needed, it makes much more sense (to me) to set your alarm when you actually need to get up and then get up when it goes off. When I do this I can sleep peacefully right up until the time that I need to get going; I get those last precious moments of sleep undisturbed.
It seems like the intermittent alarm system does a lot to ruin that last half-hour of sleep and (for me) that would be a good way to wake up cranky! Maybe the kid’s alarm system explains part of the teen angst that we are beginning to see!
How can a person just bounce out of bed at the first buzz of the alarm though? Well, I think it takes setting your brain first. In this way, actually setting the alarm is of secondary importance, it becomes a simple reminder that you want to get up at a certain time. I guess this takes actually wanting to get up and out of bed but that’s inherent in the act of setting an alarm, right?
This whole concept of setting your brain can apply in a broader sense. A tweet from my friend Andrea Hill (@supportwerks) recently came through my feed… ”Where you focus dictates your perspective. Exclusive focus on problems = feeling surrounded by problems. Choose your perspective wisely!” Of course, one can’t simply ignore problems, her use of the word “exclusive” insures that’s not what she meant. The point here is that you can set your brain to be more effective, timely and productive in just about everything you do.
And to bring it home, how you think about your relationship may help set your perspective on the jewelry you choose to symbolize that relationship. Is price your only priority? There are many options now for the price conscious jewelry shopper, from $15 silicone wedding bands to “mass customized” offerings in precious metals. If your relationship with your significant other is one of the most precious things you have, you may have a perspective beyond price and “mass” anything. And if you think that your relationship is unique in some way, you may want to consider custom jewelry!
I bet I could write more about this and tie it even more directly into you contacting me for really fine custom jewelry! But instead, I’m going to subliminally plant that idea right now…
Let Gary Dawson Jewelry Design work with you to create stunning, unique jewelry! Why be ordinary?
In the Jan-Feb issue of Saveur magazine, Editor Adam Sachs makes a plea to which I can relate…”Stop Saying Foodie.” While his divergent rant about the label being both self-infantilizing and elitist may seem at odds with itself in some manner it brought to mind an epiphany I had during this last year.
Alysia and I were in Cuenca, Ecuador, in an indigenous marketplace (Mercado 9 de Octubre) eating a late lunch comprised of a huge plate of roast pork with thinly sliced onions and hominy when the term, frequently used in our home environs of the Pacific Northwest of the USA, “farm to table” popped into my head. My first thought, “My now, this is really farm to table!” was immediately followed by “What a ridiculous concept in this time and place.” The truth is that these people, in this culture, have been sourcing their food locally and eating this way for centuries, maybe millennia.
I bet Ecuadorian Dollars to doughnuts that if one could adequately explain the concept of farm-to-table to the natives of this region the comment would be the cultural equivalent to, “Duh…this is how it’s done, stupid!”
Like the chef Hugh Acheson that Mr. Sachs mentions, I resolve to not be so OCD about my omelets in the future. I think I had already reached that point when I caught myself thinking a few days back, “sometimes I like a simple egg sandwich with mayo”. No need to try to find and apply the 4 kinds of mustard that I have in the fridge, or three kinds of cheese that could go on the sandwich to make it “something special”. The sandwich is already special because I’m hungry, right? And I resolve to think about my food as though it should be farm to table, not that that’s something special…
And so how does this relate to Gary Dawson Jewelry Design and custom jewelry? I see a connection to one of my last blog posts, “Sell Out, or Challenge the Concept”, posted on December 8th, 2015. In that post I make a point that although some folks may think of me as a “sellout” for making simple bands, I think I’m ahead of the game because I’m doing what I love to do, make jewelry. Or in the case of being in the kitchen, preparing my own food!
I love to cook, to which any frequent reader of my blog will attest! So Bravo Mr. Sachs for bringing a more down-to-earth perspective to another of the things that make me, well, me! I feel like you got my back on this one so I’m returning the favor. Not before I share one last foodie pic though!
There are many excuses to sell out and I think people routinely do. They sell out to mundane or even abusive relationships in exchange for stability. They sell out to jobs they hate and dictators they fear. But where does that fine line lie between compromise and selling out?
What do you think of when you hear the term “Custom Design”? The Oxford Dictionary defines custom (the adjective) as follows: “Made to order for a particular customer…” This seems to reflect the usage in contemporary culture but provides for a broad and therefore vague meaning in my mind.
As an example of what I think about when I use the term custom. I’ll relate it to the service I provide to my custom clients…
I see my custom design work as a full-option service, starting with good communication to find out just what my client wants (or needs) in their jewelry. Proceeding with a start-from-scratch design process which includes client feedback on the process, and then finally hand finishing throughout. Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster supports or at least leans more toward this type of experience than the Oxford version. It defines the word custom in use as an adjective in the following manner: “Made to fit the needs or requirements of a particular person”. I think one thing that is key here is the implication that the needs and requirements being fit here are the ones of the client, not the vendor, a hugely important distinction.
Enter “Mass Customization”
Delving further into the full definition of custom in Merriam-Webster, antonyms of custom include “mass-produced” and “ready-made”. Doesn’t that imply that the current buzzword “Mass Customization” is oxymoronic? It is hard for me to accept as custom a process that includes a choice of color, as long as it is somewhere between taupe and tan. Right?
As an example of mass customization, in most cases, a customized vehicle means you get to choose the color (red, green, blue, brown, gold, or white” and maybe get to choose between leather and fabric seats. One can hardly find the option of a stick shift anymore. The vehicle you drive off the lot is essentially the same vehicle that all other buyers drive off the lot minus some relatively minor cosmetic details.
Unfortunately, the jewelry industry, in a rush to capture the custom design market segment, has bought into this devolution of the custom process. In many places, a custom ring means that the client gets to choose from a selection of pre-made shanks, hoping that their choice will fit onto the pre-made top that they like and further hoping that their choice of gem will fit into that top.
Why be ordinary? Eschew the ordinary, go “real” custom, go bespoke! Enjoy true custom design for your lifestyle, your presence in the world, and gain satisfaction that your deserve, feel as special as you truly are. Keeping between taupe and tan just will not do that for you.
Gary Dawson Jewelry Design does custom like no other! Call today! +1-541-729-2531
If you search this blog using the term “Finding a Voice” you will see that I’ve written a lot lately under that title. I’ve spoken to the challenge of re-finding a voice with new tools, (specifically CAD), the idea of expressing one’s voice while doing custom work, and explored helpful tools in finding a voice in the “beginner’s mind.” Then, finally, I made a challenge to those seeking a voice in a recent post, “Why Conform?” as I shared some thoughts that others have had on the topic as well as a few more of my own. Now, it’s time to embrace evolution!
I know that there is much more to say on this topic. For myself, I’d like to make a bold statement as I move toward a temporary close on it. We must evolve! In forming this thought, I’d like to acknowledge a dear friend, my former shop manager from the heyday of my brick and mortar jewelry design studio. Rafael, thank you!
Maybe this primarily reflects my own awakening but I think we have begun to suffer from stagnation in the jewelry industry in terms of creative use of the new tools available to us. CAD has been around in our industry for long enough for us to get past the beginner’s mistake of thinking that “because we can do this now, it’s a great idea”. Another halo anyone? Sheesh! Is it really a great idea, for example, to design and manufacture jewelry with tiny diamonds, (or more fragile gems) everywhere on the design?
I suppose that part of this is the consumer’s fault. It becomes a vicious cycle in that consumers see a certain design style that is, in the beginning, innovative. They ask for it and we designers and manufactures follow the money. Don’t get me wrong, some of the micro-pavé stuff out there is aesthetically stunning. But does it serve our industry to create an entire generation of this type of design? I suppose it will keep our repair shops busy…but is that the legacy we wish to leave for the next wave of jewelry designers and marketers?
My friend Rafael thinks that we are on the verge of the next great design revolution. I think we absolutely better be! We have the ability to design things unimaginable a few short years ago and that, of itself, is a fantastic opportunity. I’m not sure we, as an industry, have yet embraced that potential. And to be (or remain) competitive in the marketplace with the distractions of electronics and other “must haves” we need to start thinking a bit more strategically.
Pulling a quote out of context, from a website called “Fast Company” I will leave something for our industry to think about. This was written primarily pertaining to marketing to millennials, but I think it applies to a broader perspective…check it out.
” Great design streamlines, clarifies, and delights—and the most complex or chaotic experiences need it most of all. But here’s the rub: For Millennials, design is not a differentiator—it’s a cost of entry. Every startup looking to re-imagine broken industries, whether it’s housing or health care, has one thing in common: well-designed experiences. And every established giant within that same system tends to be plagued by the reverse (ever tried to open a savings account online with a major national bank?).”
Your voice is your brand, think clearly about how you want to present it. And Contact Gary Dawson Jewelry Design when your designs need an evolved voice!
“Why wait?” we ask ourselves, when asked to stand in line anywhere. Why should I have to wait all this time (several seconds usually) for this file to load? Why wait for anything? Increasingly, we are a culture of instant gratification. We need, yes, really need people and doors and machines and circumstance of all manner to respond to our whims with a mere wave of our hand or short verbal command.
But wait…is that always what we really need? Think about it. Why wait for a train to cross the intersection before crossing on foot?
Why wait for the right weather to go sailing, or mountain climbing. Why wait for your partner to slowly walk to the alter, pausing to smile at your friends as she passes? The answer is simple, we wait for these things because they are either lifesaving or life-affirming. In these cases waiting adds quality to our lives in ways that can mean the difference between life and death, or can become hard to measure in their subtlety…and they are all important.
So why wait for Custom Jewelry Design? Why not just go pick something off a shelf somewhere, probably last minute, ‘cause it’s close enough, right? I posit that, in many cases…wrong.
I read somewhere in my anthropology studies that body adornment, (jewelry) has been utilized by every known culture, both living and historical. This may tell us something about the importance of jewelry to our sense of being human. Certainly, jewelry can be whimsical and flamboyant and irreverent. And tattoos have recently come to be a personal symbol of choice for many people. But for many people in many cases, jewelry remains how we choose to symbolize some of the most important parts of ourselves and share it with others. We give a ring in marriage, we acknowledge friendships and important occasions with jewelry. Does this symbol, this memento really want to be one of thousands of mass-produced items? Or made soullessly by formula? I’ll let you answer this for yourself.
Here is one of my favorite passages from an email exchange I had decades ago that sort of puts the time it takes to make fine custom jewelry into perspective…
The following is a brief excerpt from the piece by Susan Crowell, writer, and (probably former at this time) ceramics instructor at U. Michigan, Ann Arbor:
“Craftsmanship is the central, qualitative element of craft, and it is at the heart of one maker’s response to the work of another…and in seeking a unified theory of craft, not a unified aesthetic, we need to focus on the act of making, not the object itself.” She discusses the writing of anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake’s in her book “Homo Aestheticus”, who describes “ART” as the task of “making special”.
Susan goes on to say…….
“For craftspeople, this making special emphasizes both the making and the special. Reversing the terms – special making- rings even truer when speaking of craft, for which the process of handwork is an essential component. As our perception of time becomes more precious and the time-intensive nature of craft increases its value, craft may even come to represent the preciousness of time itself, embodied in an object.”
And I’ll close this out by saying, “Why wait? Get started on your meaningful custom project with Gary Dawson Jewelry Design today! I promise to make your jewelry worth the short wait for me to make it perfect for you.
This mother/grandmother pendant took a little time to make and became a treasured family heirloom! See some of my other custom work that each comes with a story!
Whether it be in how you design, manufacture and market jewelry as a maker or how you select, purchase and wear jewelry as a consumer, finding a voice, and using it, is a great way to stand apart. Do you really want to be thought of as part of some large, conforming group? Why Conform?
I have many continuing thoughts on this topic which I will be sharing as I work through them, but this week, I’m taking a look at, and gleaning from what I think are a few of the best observations and advice from others who have looked at this topic. The Barbara Kingsolver quote above is how I begin.
Stephen Covey, the author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” has a quick and effective way of looking at the topic of Finding a Voice. He maintains first that, “voice is the overlapping of the four parts of our nature: our body, out mind, our heart, and our spirit and poses four questions…
This seems particularly suited to makers as stated, but with modification could also be applied to people who simply seek to express their voice through what they wear, in this case, jewelry, of course! Maybe something like…
”Find what feels true. You’ll write a lot, and most of it will be bullshit. You need the bullshit if you want to find the truth. Sort through the bullshit until you learn to recognize the truth, by feel, not by any logical criteria. The truth looks remarkably like bullshit.” See the rest of this great article here.
My take on this for makers is simply make a lot of things, something I’ve coached my students about continuously. For it is in the making that you will find yourself!
For the wearer of jewelry, this might look like trying on a lot of things, be bold in your exploration and through those experience you will find your own expression. Maybe a certain maker will have that “je ne sais quoi” that will do it for you, or a certain process, or a certain look that crosses traditional boundaries. Profoundly, I took away from my anthropology studies that every known culture so far has somehow used body adornment (that’s jewelry). And in your humanity you may still stand out from the crowd. Why Conform!
I have for you today a work in progress at Gary Dawson Jewelry Design…An Aquamarine cabochon set! Since so much of my time is spent on custom work, this project represents a rare opportunity for me to take some time to indulge in making something that will be offered for sale from my accumulation of hand-selected fine gems and my personal perspective on designs to enhance them.
I have always really liked the velvety rich pastel blue of a nice aquamarine, the blue variety of the mineral Beryl from which also is derived Emerald. These have been hiding in my safe since the last Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, just waiting for an opportunity to emerge as the gems they were meant to be. The gem Aquamarine is the modern birthstone for March and is said to have a great deal of metaphysical power and use. I particularly like the following quote from the website linked here! “Aquamarine encourages the ideal of service to the world and to the development of a humanity attuned to healing. It emits a gentle and compassionate energy, promoting moderation and responsibility for ones’ actions. It inspires judgmental people to be more tolerant, and helps those overwhelmed by responsibility to find order.”
With 33.7 Cts. total weight in one oval and two pear shaped cabs, the plan here is to make a set of jewelry to grace the most discriminating wearer with a subtle elegance. Comfort is built into the ring in the form of a lightweight (for its size) structure featuring a modified square shank.
I love this shank shape for its grace, comfort and practicality! If you can turn your hand so you can see a finger end-on, you will see that you finger is really not round, but more a square shape with rounded corners. This ring will fit the contours of a finger perfectly and the shape of the shank will tend to prevent the ring from rolling on the finger, important in a ring with a somewhat heavier top.
Since the two pear shapes are not identical in size, my plan is to make the earrings not perfectly symmetrical, making this set even more unique in both concept and execution. I am designing this in Rhinoceros and I’m test-printing prototypes as I’m writing this with my B9Creator 3DPrinter and expect to have the project finished in the very near future. Stay tuned for pictures of the finished set.
Recent decades have brought much new technology to jewelry technique in both design and manufacturing. Still, it is probably safe to say that one traditional distinction holds on the manufacturing side…that of cast vs. fabricated metal jewelry. Sometimes these techniques are combined in a single piece of jewelry, but let’s examine each separately.
In the simplest terms, fabricated jewelry is formed from sheet and wire by cutting, bending, forging and joining metal into a form that is both pleasing and functional. Jewelry created in this manner may or may not hold gemstones and can take the function of ring, pendant, pin or brooch, bracelet, or any other form at all.
Casting in the simplest terms is pouring liquid metal into a pre-formed space and holding it there until it solidifies in the form of the hollow space into which it was poured. This is very commonly a process of lost-wax casting but can include direct casting into carved spaces in graphite, cuttlefish bone or other heat-resistant, carve-able material such as charcoal.
And while at times it may be difficult to distinguish technique in a finely crafted finished product by a master goldsmith, there are normally some clues. In both cases after the process of forming, whether cast or fabricated, much effort is put into finishing the piece. Even with the currently popular, “rough finish” look found so often in venues such as ETSY, some effort is needed to make the look uniform and comfortable to wear.
Are one of these techniques superior? Of course that depends on criteria, but probably not. A valid argument could be made that fabrication is the foundation of all other techniques, including casting, owing to the previously mentioned clean-up and finishing process. Once cast, an object is rarely “ready-to-go” and the artisan will need to use those basic fabrication skills of cutting (sprue removal), filing (smoothing the surface), sanding (as a pre-finish) and polishing.
Also, a fabricated object created out of milled materials (sheet and wire) will have gone through various stages of compressing the material into higher density than a cast object. Milling the material prior to forming, and sometimes the forming itself will compact the crystalline structure of the metal which may tend to remove or resolve issues of micro-porosity or small voids that can interfere with the final finish. This increased density can, in some cases, even make the metal more durable. But while all of that is true, the finished cast product of an accomplished goldsmith will be minimally effected by these issues, if at all.
At Gary Dawson Jewelry Design, we make use of nearly every available technology to insure your jewelry is created to the highest standards for trouble-free, heirloom quality each time. Choosing the appropriate technology for each process is essential to our process!
Have you ever tried to broach a topic with someone in which they considered themselves “expert”? Probably. And you may have experienced some frustration in that conversation…am I right? And how about the frustration that you sometimes experience with yourself when you try to learn something new, especially if it is not entirely new, but is an extension of something you already know. Is there any connection between these two experiences? Maybe. That thread of connection may lead us into a discussion of the Beginner’s Mind.
In Zen Buddhism, Shoshin is described simply as “The Beginner’s Mind”. Watch any 2 year old and you will see pure Beginner’s Mind in action. At that stage of life, utilizing a beginner’s mind comes pretty easy because that’s nearly all one has to experience the world…no deep experience in anything! The toddler’s approach to learning is not much imposed upon by prior experience. Conversely, later in life, when we have deep experience in something, anything really, we tend to bring expectations of mastery, and a set of paradigms that can constrict our further learning. I know I have experienced this, in fact I am experiencing it now in my attempt to learn a new CAD application and it’s making me a little crazy. So maybe I’m writing this mostly for my own benefit but I think that we can all gain something if we remember to apply a little Shoshin within our routines. An attitude of openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions can bring a new level of experience when we remember to use it.
One area of immediate benefit might be in how we approach new (and old) acquaintances. I think I’m pretty good at this because I began working on my own version of presumption quite early in my life thanks to my folks. My Mom was from a large Southern family that mostly seemed to retain throughout their lives a horribly racist attitude. Lucky for me, owing to the way I was brought up, I was quite confused when I encountered this in my aunts and uncles. Neither my Mom nor my Dad ever spoke of anyone in terms of race. And later, in an anthropology class, (my degree) I discovered that there are really only two types of people in the whole world, sitters and squatters. And if arguing about toilet habits is your thing, maybe you are beyond the help of anything I can write!
But if you would like to learn more in your life, and experience more of life to the fullest, try a few simple things to start accessing your beginner’s mind. If you walk on a regular basis, as I do, try begin your next walk by taking a moment to clear your mind any previous memory of your route. Then, use all of your senses as you proceed…What does it sound like and smell like and “feel” like at any point in your route? Is there a place where the wind is stronger, or the air is quieter? And then take this to the next level. If you are an “expert” at anything, the next time someone tries to talk to you about that topic, try to forget everything you know about it and approach the topic from a place of openness and eagerness with no preconceptions about the topic or where the conversation will go. Try listening more than talking! This may not work all the time, and every occasion may not be the best time to try this so you get to choose when to utilize your beginner’s mind.
I find that bringing this attitude into my design studio is particularly helpful. When I take a moment each day, or each week or even each month and try to design something with NO preconceptions, and with an open and eager mind, I am often surprised at the delightfulness of what I discover within myself. Try it and you’ll be saying, “Where the heck did that come from?” as you smile at what you’ve accomplished.
Remember this: The difference between a master and beginner is that the master has failed more times than the beginner has yet tried. Since everything is always in flux, life and it’s circumstances always changing, allowing oneself the opportunity to be a beginner can be an obvious asset. Living life to the fullest, learning as much as possible and being flexible and unique in a design practice can at times be more rewarding than knowing it all.
A wise professor of mine once said to his social science class, “Every dollar you spend is a vote, so watch closely how you spend your money.” I have tried to live this credo throughout my life and thankfully it is getting somewhat easier to do. Not that many big companies are getting more transparent, mind you…there are just more tools available to watch how your money is working. So, how, you may ask, can a responsible consumer purchase precious metal and gemstone jewelry while still adhering to goals of “green sustainable and conflict-free? Despite a plethora of available information, (Kimberley Process, Sustainable Jewellery and American Gem Trade Association, for example) this is not an easy question to answer honestly in a few words. Here’s my rather simple take on it…
We might first look at the cliché, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as it applies to our questions about responsible jewelry. Just how much jewelry do you need, really? But reduce? Well, as your favorite jewelry designer, I’d be remiss for the sake of my family (and my sanity, for I love what I do so much), in telling you not to buy jewelry, right? Also, I once smiled as I read that every known culture has used some form of body adornment, (aka jewelry!) So as humans, we must actually need jewelry in some way! And following our ancestral beginnings, making the things we wear meaningful rather than frivolous might be a start in the right direction.
Recycle and Re-use? Of course! With the concept of recycling (sometimes called repurposing) my business begins to feel warm and fuzzy (socially responsible) as well as bright and shiny! One of the things I specialize in is reusing your precious materials. In resetting your grandmother’s diamonds, for example, I can often directly recycle the gold or platinum they were mounted in. When that is the case, you only end up paying for my time in making your jewelry, not necessarily additional materials. There are sometimes sound reasons not to directly recycle…I can’t re-cast white gold into yellow gold, for example, but I do have refiner partners in the business who will do small-batch refining. That means when we send your old gold to them, they separate the materials and return your actual gold molecules to us to re-alloy to our needs. Not only do we realize the benefit of reduced environmental impact in doing this, we are still wearing Grandma’s jewelry, just in a style that we can now appreciate!
Sustainably produced and conflict-fView this ring now
Finally, when we want to create entirely new works in precious metals and gemstones Gary Dawson Jewelry Design holds our suppliers to high standards . When we buy gold, we only buy it from refineries that recycle, not from suppliers of newly-mined materials. And our gemstones sources are closely vetted for fair-trade and conflict free.
Please call 541-729-2531 for specific requests and we will track it down for you. Your jewelry should not only look good, it should feel good too!
With apologies to Mike I’m making this about the food in yet another “Get on Bike and Go” episode. I’m supposed to keep this blog “relevant” in the eyes of Google to attract clients to my custom jewelry design website, Gary Dawson Jewelry Design. And I’m pretty sure I’ve had a problem following rules since my earliest memories of toddling off to the outhouse so I’ll just go with the Free Beer Tomorrow theme and Google can jump off a high Oregon Coast cliff this time.
This past weekend I rode Poderoso, my trusty moto named after Che’s bike (featured in the movie, “The Motorcycle Diaries”) to meet my brother George at a location on the coast that I’ve known fairly well in different decades. It matters not what you think if Che Guevara, it’s the bike I’m idolizing here.
Charleston, Oregon is a tiny fishing village with a large commercial fishing fleet located about 8 miles from Hwy. 101 and beautiful downtown North Bend at the mouth of the Coos River drainage. With this information in place, take your mind back a couple of decades and visualize Red’s tavern, reputedly the most rowdy tavern in Oregon in its day. I worked on a very small salmon boat during one of my last summers of high school (early 70’s) and my captain was very stern in his warning, “Don’t ever, ever go into Red’s.” I note in trying to find a link here to some of the Red’s history that the legacy remains oral. Maybe that’s a book that needs writing since stories abound if you start asking around in the area.
So at some point after a bunch of cheap beer and a little good whiskey (I brought the whiskey!) my brother and I decide to go find some seafood. We ended up across the street from the old Red’s Tavern site in a place called “High Tide Cafe”.
I was skeptical, having spent many cold winter days in Charleston crabbing from the docks and in those days one was lucky to find anything beyond soggy French fries and yesterday’s fish, deep friend in old oil. But despite the exterior with its look of older Charleston, the place actually seemed to have some promise once inside. We sat at the bar facing an open kitchen, something you just don’t much see in a dingy tavern.
We were greeted by an appropriately wise-acre server/bartender and he helped me select the first decent beer I had that day, a local amber ale. I guess craft brewing has even penetrated here, a happy surprise! It didn’t take too long to decide what we wanted so with orders in, we settled into our beverages when the next surprise arrived, our cups of house-made clam chowder. This was the most herbal chowder I’d ever had and it surprised my palate. When queried, the bartender made us guess the herb. A heavy dose of thyme gives this chowder its very distinctive flavor. George and I ate about halfway through our meals and then swapped plates. Mine…a fried razor clam dish with fresh garden summer squash thoughtfully enough prepared to really capture my attention. How veggies are cooked and presented is one of my real tests of culinary care. There are a lot of good cooks out there in the world and many can put together an entree. But the sides can tell more about an actual love of good food. George’s dish was a seafood pasta, a creamy take on an Alfredo dish with plenty of crab, shrimp and clams.
Not one to shirk a responsibility (to you, dear reader), I struck up a conversation with the chef as a short lull in filling orders ensued. Turns out he was a former chef at one of my favorite hangouts during my Portland Saturday Market days, Jazz de Opus and Opus Two which “…became a cultural nexus…” that “was known around the country as the Oregon version of the Village Vanguard, the fabled New York club, and it contributed to Portland’s reputation as a thriving jazz city.”, according to the Oregon Encyclopedia! Both closed in 2003 and it was an end of an era.
Chef Steve Raplee is doing it right, right now at the High Tide Cafe, in Charleston. We got to reminiscing about the Opus era and when I asked him what the heck he was doing in Charleston, he simply replied, “getting out of Portland.” I understand…getting out of Eugene was why I was in Charleston that evening too. Free Beer, Tomorrow! is the logo worn on staff t-shirts but I’m happy to pay for my beer and meal today and any day that the food is this well prepared!
Shout out to you Chef! We survived Portland in the 70’s-80’s and now on to doing our different things, making the world a better place, one meal, and one piece of jewelry at a time.
My recent post, “Finding a Voice”, seemed to be a topic of interest based on the response I received over various media. It is both encouraging and delightful to have good feedback and thoughtful comments, thank you everyone!
One of the more interesting comments was through LinkedIn, from Dan Christie…
”Nice article Gary. It is difficult as a custom designer, as you are always finding someone else’s voice. The plus side is, it makes you very well versed in many styles.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Dan’s last statement. In my view, constantly working within or toward someone else’s expectations by doing custom work tends to broaden my horizon rather than limit it. Here’s how I put it to a current client in an email in response to his concern, “Are you tired of us yet?”
“Au contraire! I’m enjoying working with you a lot!!
I know that a lot of creative people only want to do their “own” thing but for some reason I find it very exciting to work with people to help them realize “their” vision while maintaining my standards of aesthetic and integrity. I find that it helps me to grow in ways that I might not discover on my own and somehow that is very satisfying to me. And a very huge advantage of that is that for me is that I can then apply what I’ve learned on an occasional vision of my own.”
And I think Dan’s first comment brings up a good topic for further discussion. I’m pretty sure I know what Dan means here, and I think mostly I would agree with the sense of what he’s saying. When you do custom work, you are indeed realizing your client’s vision and working within parameters that they define. But are you really finding your client’s voice when you are doing custom work? I think maybe not, at least in the sense with which I use the term “Voice”. Let me try to find an analogy for a more clear understanding of my use of “Voice”.
Amy Winehouse, a tragic loss no matter how you feel about her untimely death, covered a song by the Shirelles, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. Check out both versions…(Shirelles here, Amy’s version here.) This is obviously the same song but I think an argument could be made that the “Voice” is entirely different in the two versions.
One of my favorite all-time poems is by Rudyard Kipling, called “If” I have read, and reread that poem as it hangs on my office wall, inspiring me in times of struggle, and helping me to remember humility in times of triumph with his line, “And treat those two imposters just the same.” When I first heard that Joni Mitchell did a musical version of that poem on her album, Shine, I was apprehensive to hear it. But her voice, and her more gender neutral spin on some of the lyrics, are a delight and in this case, her “Voice” seems to do nothing but enhance the message of that wise poem.
And so it goes with custom jewelry design. Several jewelry artists could approach the same materials and concept and applying their unique “Voice” would no doubt render quite unique results. My point in bringing this into a discussion about CAD is that it may be more difficult to find a voice within that medium than, say, carving wax since one has to break out of the “computer mind” within the parameters of the design application to actually find their voice!
I would love to hear more about what you all think about this. Please don’t hesitate to reply or respond, wherever you see this post, or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to further discussion!
We all need it. To refresh, renew and revitalize ourselves is an often overlooked necessity for optimal performance. How to do it is probably different for each individual and at least somewhat contingent on location and available time. For some it may mean going to a movie, for others, a hard workout. And the process can take minutes, days or months, depending on a lot of factors. Here at Gary Dawson Jewelry Design we are proactive in allowing ourselves the opportunity to revitalize to give you the best, most creative jewelry design service available anywhere!
First, I take a little personal time every day. Sometimes it takes the form of a nap, but most often lately it manifests as a long walk. I try to put in somewhere between 20-30 miles a week. This has several benefits. Recent research indicates that walking may be some of the best mental acuity medicine that exists. Dr. Gary Small writes in Psychology Today, “In a study of more than 18,000 older women for example, Harvard researchers found that 90 minutes a week of brisk walking, or approximately 15 minutes a day, was all one needed to delay cognitive decline and reduce possible risk for future Alzheimer’s disease. University of Pittsburgh scientists found that the more that older people walked, the better their cognitive abilities and the larger their brain. A larger brain is associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”
I’m fortunate that I can walk in a rural setting because I can take my smart phone with me and make a lot of my daily business calls during these walks without fighting traffic noise or look up items of interest without worrying about being run over. My walks take a little over an hour and I can accomplish a lot of my more simple daily communication during this time and still have plenty of fairly serene time by just turning the phone off when I’m done with it.
I also need the occasional longer break and for this nearby wilderness areas afford a priceless luxury. Recently, an overnight of car camping in the Willamette National Forest at Waldo Lake, about a 2 hour drive from my home, provided for skinny dipping in some of the most pure waters on the planet. The chilly dip in gin-clear water followed by hugging a sun-warmed rock was a good grounding point and allowed me to hit the ground running when I arrived back at my overloaded desk.
A short stop at Salt Creek Falls on the way home was a perfect finish to our long weekend!
Remember this, a key factor often lost in our contemporary world is that by taking good care of yourself, you will position yourself to better take care of those that depend on you. That’s why the airlines remind you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, and that’s why it’s ok to be a little selfish with your time. So don’t feel bad about it, go take a hike! (Or go to that movie you want to see!)
And know that here at Gary Dawson Jewelry Design, we are refreshed and ready to take on your custom design jewelry project with vigor!
This is the finished ring from a dream mentioned in my last blog post!
Platinum ring with rough diamond macle and love-knot shank. This project represents a solid “voice”. You can see this and many other custom projects on my portfolio page.
Many, if not most artists are encouraged to “find their voice” early in their career, especially if they begin their career in an academic venue. Finding a voice in that context usually means discovering, or adopting a recognizable style and then working exclusively within that style. This, they are told, is the road to commercial success.
A rare few manage to establish themselves to the point that they can then stretch that style, or even successfully adopt another style and not lose their following or their “voice”. Picasso is a classic example of an artist that was able to transition through several styles or “periods” from his very early academic realism to what may have become his most commonly recognized style, cubism.
Specializing in custom design jewelry has presented an interesting challenge with regard to finding a voice. As a custom designer my “style” has always been necessarily eclectic. One client wants something floral and busy, another wants something clean, simple and bold. Yet another wants a “futuristic” design while the next one desires something that looks antique. Finding a voice within the cacophony of client desires can be challenging indeed! And yet, I felt I had achieved a voice of sorts many years ago when clients began telling me that they could recognize one of my rings when they saw it. I like to think that within many “styles” I had achieved an elegance of execution that made my work distinctive. The feedback and success with which I was rewarded seemed to confirm that premise.
Enter CAD… (Computer Aided Design)
I had been fascinated by the prospect of computer design for a number of years before I actually embraced it. Finding a voice, a new voice perhaps, with a whole new approach to the design process was intimidating in many of the same ways that learning a new language can be. It is difficult for someone that is very fluid in their native language to accept the fact that for some time during the process of adapting a new language that they will communicate like a 3 yr. old…at best! And I took a road that was, in its implementation, perhaps more difficult. There are many jewelry-specific design applications that make the design process easier but may ultimately make it harder to find a voice in that they compel one to use the same pre-forms in creating a design, the same algorithms that everyone else using that application is using. For the same reason that I refused to look in jewelry store windows when I began my design career, I chose a bare-bones design application, Rhinoceros, which allowed me to find my way without necessarily walking down a well-worn jewelry path!
I was lucky in that once I embrace the CAD process, I was able to integrate it into my design schedule a little at a time, using it first to make the simplest objects, ones that did not necessarily require much of a “voice”. A simple band, for example, with a phrase.
A signet ring, with an established design on one surface…
As time has progressed, with many more hours invested into the CAD experience I am extremely delighted to find that I am finding my voice within this new language of CAD!
I dreamed this design recently and executed the design immediately after waking. It is now available on my site and is called the “Inter-dimensional Portal Key”