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Was: Conceptual Jewelry

OK - I’m taking up Kim’s change of direction from the “Conceptual
Jewelry” thread and renaming it…(thanks, Kim, great idea!)

She asked if people would post some of their own ideas of who/what
is an inspiration to them. Which artists do you admire? What are your
ideas of conceptual jewelry?

Rene Lalique is one of my ongoing main inspirations. His sense of
flow, use of color, and incorporation of materials that were, for his
time, truly unique, are all characteristics that make his work
mesmerizing to me. I was lucky enough to see the Smithsonian
exhibition of his jewelry work a few years ago. The curators had
mounted his sketches and developmental work alongside his finished
pieces, and had organized the work chronologically, which provided a
wonderful insight into his thought and design processes. I lost the
catalog I purchased and have been looking for a replacement ever
since, but it was truly a gem.

It’s important in my own work that I have one or two conceptual
pieces at any given time. They may never “sell,” but they serve to
keep me grounded and moving in a specific direction. The work that
goes into them recharges my design batteries (and my construction
skills) and pushes me into new directions and aspirations. They also
act as a “draw” in my booth at fine art shows and as pieces worthy of
highlighting on postcards or other materials, as conversation

My own “conceptual pieces” tend to be works that explore scale,
color, and/or materials in a new way. Perhaps the best example right
now is my Septarian Amber necklace. It’s a lovely and large cab of
septarian… matrix stone cut from an ammonite fossil, bezel set and
surrounded by silver vines and leaves with 24K gold keum boo, mounted
on a necklace of graduated-color faceted amber. The septarian cab,
although large, looks almost like it’s “floating” over the
surrounding vines, as its attachments to them are hidden or
disguised. The piece is large… the pendant is about 8" wide and
3.5" high. However, it’s not only wearable, but comfortable and
surprisingly light.

The pendant is also design to be easily detached from the amber
necklace and mounted in a shadowbox frame as a wall hanging; and then
amber necklace can be worn separately, as well. Aside from scale, I
like that none of the components are actually what they seem… the
piece incorporates mineral, animal, and metal, but the stones aren’t
really stones, the leaves aren’t really leaves, and the animals
aren’t really animals; each component is something different than
what it signifies. That may not matter to anyone but me, but it was
part of the design exploration that went into the piece.

If you’re interested, you can see a picture at:
(click on the small picture to enlarge it)

Now, that’s MY conceptual piece… doesn’t mean it would be a
conceptual piece for another artist. Nor do I see it as
"ground-breaking concept art" in the broader world of art jewelry.
But for me, it’s conceptual.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what others share in this

Karen Goeller

No Limitations Designs

Some of my inspirational sources:

  • the work of the modern masters, for technical content;
  1. faberge
  2. John Sinkankas
  • for stone/metal mechanisms
  1. Greek/roman exhibits, American Museum Natural History, NYC
  • for pure technical genius
  1. funerary objects, Egyptian King Tut an Komen (forgive my
  • for pure simplicity in difficult technical execution
  1. Shep Waldman, Denver, Colorado, master stone setter
  • for adaption and use of materials:
  1. Charles Lewton-Brain, Tucson Demonstration of KumBoo technique
  • architectural pieces, for form/function, angle and perspective
  1. Steven Zirinsky, architect, NYC
  2. Frank Lloyd Wright
  3. Daniel Liebeskind
  • for clarity and simplicity of display
  1. Jeff Scovil, photographer
  • for discrete representations of light
  1. Australian aboriginal artists
  2. more modern artists using “pointilism”
  • for the pure simplicity of nature’s wonders
  1. ASARCO, American Smelting and Refining Company, Leadville,
    Colorado, for the opportunity to be the first human being to see a
    large vug, about the size of a school bus, encountered on the 2,200
    foot level of the Black Cloud Mine, filled with pyrite, galena and
    dolomite crystals, 1981
  • for “how to” ways to carve things
  1. Henry Hunt

and the many Orchidians who, over the years, have shared quick tips
and suggestions.

Mark Zirinsky
Denver, CO

I am currently inspired by the Modernist Wearable Art Movement from
mid-20th Century. Betty Cooke, Art Smith, et al. I think they were
inspired by Alexander Calder. He truly was a conceptual artist and
his work influenced all the arts including dance, music, jewelry,
architecture, ceramics…on and on.

Its In The Works Studio

I mentioned the Scythian book, and then went and found it at Amazon
(maybe it’s on the Orchid list, I don’t know) It is:

It’s almost all photos - the kind of stuff that you’ll say, “I knew
they did nice work back then, but I didn’t know THAT!!” Cheap, too.

Personal inspirations?

Gaia, Brede, Mother Earth. It still blows my mind that rocks can be
so beautiful, so full of character and personality. And I think they
provide a much needed link between us and the earth. If it were not
for stones, I would not make jewelry.

Carrie Adell. She loved stones. She was adept at translating the
beauty of stones into metal, and one of her “things” was producing
wonderfully wrought metal beads which were themselves inspired by
rocks, pebbles, patterns of erosion, etc.

Harold O’Connor. Beyond being a wizard at reticulation and
granulation, he is a man whose art is unconcerned with convention. He
has done things with granulation on old, weathered bone that are
indescribably beautiful.

Charles Lewton Braine. The most knowledgeable person in the field of
jewelry and metalwork that I have ever met. And his fold-formed,
bimetal, roller-embossed, incised, patinated jewelry is wonderfully
creative, textural and complex.

As for conceptual jewelry, much of it leaves me dry. I think that,
as with most art, the most powerful works arise from the
subconscious. That which is consciously contrived tends to lack oomph


Greek/roman exhibits, American Museum Natural History, NYC - for
pure technical genius 

For the classics, in addition to the above there’s a well known
catalog/book of a museum exhibit from years ago about The Scythians.
My copy is at home, and I remember NONE of the details - hopefully
someone can add that (If I wait to find it I’ll forget to find it AND
forget to post). I remember starting at page 1, going through it,
back to page 1, etc. for days if not weeks. For “High” jewelry,
there’s a Cartier book (silvery covered large format) that is pure
art. Finally, Elizabeth Taylor has a simply wonderful book out of her
collection that is nothing short of incredible. If anybody out there
needs convincing that fine jewelry is more than Stuller, the last two
will do it. In any case, all three are stuffed full of the most
fabulous things imaginable. In the living: Michael Bondanza stands
out - I assume he’s still working. Preston Monongye is no longer with
us, but for Indian silver work that’s not especially ethnic, just
stuffed with technique and elegance, he was hard to beat, if you can
find pics somewhere. And I have a photographic image of Faberge’s
"Old Woman" hard stone carving etched in my brain. What a fabulous
thing. Much of Faberge is too Victorian for my taste, but there are
some things…Oh, and Castellani and Giuliano, too. Check out the
enameled butterflies…

Firstly may I wish all Orchideans a happy,healthy,prosperous new

I now wish to mention the styles of craftmanship that have
influenced my work for many years. I am a craftsman of the old school
and have great regard for the work from the Faberge’ workshops. I
have also been influenced by the work of Lalique and similar so
called “Art Noveau” jewellers. I have made many Faberge style easter
eggs and they all have a nature influence. I like the beauty that
comes from nature, particularly that of flowers and birds. I must
admit that I am set in my ways and do not use the modern machinery
available to the trade. I like to think that all of my work has a
uniqueness that is not achievable by means of machines. Perhaps I am
a bit of a dinasaur only using hand skill methods of manufacture, the
only electric driven machines in my workshop are a lathe, two pendant
drills, a polishing motor, a scratch brush unit and an ultrasonic
cleaner. I use oxy/propane for soldering and a propane gas kiln for
enamelling. All other tools are purely hand tools. Please take a look
at my section of the orchid gallery

to see my style of work. I am sure that CAD/CAM has its place in
modern manufacturing, but I have an idea that it will kill off the
need for hand skills in the future. I do not think we can compete
with the low costs this new technology creates when producing the low
cost items. I know of many jewellery companies over here in the UK
that have ceased trading in the past year, many of our jewellery
stores now purchase their stock jewellery from manufacturers who have
factories in India and China. These factories can produce jewellery
at a cost that is little above the raw material costs. With our
taxes, cost of materials and minimum wages here in the UK, we can not
compete with the low price that these factories are selling their
finished products. The other downside of the closure of some well
established UK workshops is that there will be no new apprentices
being trained. One last piece of is that the company
where I was apprenticed, which has been in the precious metals
business since 1834, closed its last workshop last year. When I was
an apprentice back in 1961 this company employed 98 workers, these
were goldsmiths, silversmiths and allied trades. There were 20
apprentices employed at its peak in the company, we had apprentices
in silversmithing, polishing, hand engraving, antique restoration,
guilloche engine turning and goldsmithing. I am glad to be at the
twilight of my career, it must be frustrating for anyone trying to
find a position in a company that will train an apprentice. I have
trained two apprentices in my time, I hope they are still working in
the trade, but I am not sure.

Peace and good health to all
James Miller FIPG

James Miller, your work is breathtaking. I wish I had 1/10th of
your talent.

Katherine Palochak

Hello Orchidland,

I am inspired by the wonderful pieces I see on the Orchid Gallery!
There are so many talented people who participate in Orchid, and you
know what??? It’s uplifting to know that these fascinating works are
created by ordinary people who are contributing to others through
their responses and postings online.

Yup. Each one of you is an inspiration. This forum also owes a huge
debt to Charles, Hanuman, and Ton for their original concept and
onging support of Orchid/Ganoksin.

BTW, if you’ve not bought your raffle ticket, do so now - if your
studio is filled, please feel free to put my name on the ticket :-D.

Judy in Kansas, where the sun is shining, the snow is melting, and
the air is so clear. A wonderful day!

I am sure that CAD/CAM has its place in modern manufacturing, but I
have an idea that it will kill off the need for hand skills in the

James, I’ve been contemplating this notion for some time now. I’ll
agree cadcam is a serious challenge for us ‘workers’. But what is it
really? Its a tool. A tool can do nothing without someone skilled
manipulating it.

As to making us extinct I have my doubts. With the advent of
synthetic stones did genuine disappear from the market as was feared?
To the contrary I think it made the genuine article all the more
desirable. Simply because it IS genuine. The jewelery market may
divide further into mass market and guild origins. Hopefully there
will always be the clientele that demands fine handwork simply for
the wonderment of it. There may be fewer of us left after awhile but
those that remain can fill their niches in perhaps a more profitable

Romancing the Stone may be adaptable to Romancing the Mounting.


Render unto Cadcam the things that are Cadcam’s.

Harold and Erica Van Pelt, photographed gems and minerals for books,
did a lot of photography for Lapidary Journal, and made some
large quartz lapidary pieces, candle sticks, and a large hollow
faceted egg. These pieces were large, fabulous, and stunning,
especially if you have ever tried to polish quartz. Could not find a
site that had their work that displays their work. These pieces were
displayed at Tucson at the original show that started the whole
phenomenon known as the Tucson Gem Show.

Richard Hart

James Miller, your work is breathtaking. I wish I had 1/10th of
your talent. 

Yeah, I discovered him long ago - everyone should take a look (don’t
be shy, James…)

With respect to Cad and Cam, does anybody else sometimes feel that it
is easier (though perhaps not quicker) to just make what you are
thinking of in metal rather than sketching it out using a computer,
or even pad and paper? Some of my best stuff has been produced on the
fly - there is something wonderfully pleasing about letting the
materials guide your design. You do need a trusting client though.

Chris Penner

Hi Chris,

With respect to Cad and Cam, does anybody else sometimes feel that
it is easier (though perhaps not quicker) to just make what you
are thinking of in metal rather than sketching it out using a
computer, or even pad and paper? 

That may be true, but it’s lots quicker to make the 2nd or following
pieces or changes to the piece if you’ve got a cad file of the
piece. Obviously if it’s a ‘one of’ piece it may be faster to just
make the piece.


I agree, James Miller is definitely an inspiration. His work is

Judy in Kansas

James Miller, your work is breathtaking. 

I’ll second that, truly beautiful work with unbelievable
craftsmanship. Inspirational indeed!

Lisa Hawthorne


In addition to being inspired by Nature and jewelry, I like to cut
out and play with paper shapes - sort of like tangrams. These can be
geometric or have cut-outs inside of them. It doesn’t take long
before I think up something new to make!

Keep shining,

Hello Chris,

With respect to Cad and Cam, does anybody else sometimes feel that
it is easier (though perhaps not quicker) to just make what you are
thinking of in metal rather than sketching it out using a
computer, or even pad and paper?" 

I am one for designing in metal. I have ideas in my head, but I
don’t know how they will work until I am making them. Some of them
are just a feeling. This is not to say that CAD if I had some skill
with it, wouldn’t work, but often I am designing from a feeling and
I need the weight and tangible factors to help me find that design.

I often struggle with manually making all the components flow, be
secure, have the right tolerances and that to me involves looking at
the piece from inside the metal - and of course you get a
harder/denser metal to work with.

Good point,

I am sure that CAD/CAM has its place in modern manufacturing, but I
have an idea that it will kill off the need for hand skills in the

CAD/CAM is only one part of the equation. True skillsets are going
to be diminished with the advent of CNC wax carving, and virtual
design. But it also opens up the door to possibilities that were
previously impossible.

I, like you, was fortunate to learn valuable hand skills. Albit mine
came from a master machinist to learn the finer points of manual
machining. While I do have CNC capacity, there are a lot of things
that still require hands on cutting techniques and setups. Yes, it is
only a tool, and I choose to use this tool for both production and
unique creations.

Generalizing CAD/CAM into the death of manual skill sets is like
saying the same thing about in injection moulding waxes and mass
production casting equipment will kill off the need for wax carvers
and single cast items…

There will always be a need for the finer skills in life.

With respect to Cad and Cam, does anybody else sometimes feel that
it is easier (though perhaps not quicker) to just make what you
are thinking of in metal rather than sketching it out using a
computer, or even pad and paper?" 

It is always easier for me to sketch the idea out on paper, but to
refine the design, ill CAD it out, if im confident about the idea,
then ill go straight to making the piece.