Saul Bell Design Award Volume 40.5

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BEST OF SHOW. Sophia Hu, USA, Origami—Window with a View Collection of oxidized sterling silver and twenty-three karat gold. Photographs courtesy of Rio Grande.

 

The Saul Bell Design Award has been driving jewelers to innovate and excel for eighteen years, giving a platform where craft and fine jewelry can intersect and cover new ground. From alternative materials to silver, platinum and gold, the high rigor of the jurying process, together with Rio Grande’s professional recognition, bring a breath of fresh air to the industry.

This year’s award winners include several jewelry artists who also traverse the craft show circuit. Sophia Hu, who won the Best of Show award with her Origami—Window with a View collection, has previously been inducted into the Saul Bell Hall of Fame. In 2017, she was awarded Second Place in the Alternative Materials category, but due to a twist of timing, her husband was unable to attend the ceremony, a regret which compelled her to test her skills once again in this year’s competition. An intriguing concept and a consistently developed theme led to this collection. Hu’s fascination with the nature of folding, of flat planes given dimensionality and depth, is inspired by Japanese paper art, and perhaps, too, her fifteen years background in architectural design.

FIRST PLACE GOLD/PLATINUM.   Garen Garibian, USA, Mata Hari brooch of eighteen karat yellow, pink and white gold, druzy onyx, white brilliant-cut diamonds, and red spinel.

FIRST PLACE GOLD/PLATINUM. Garen Garibian, USA, Mata Hari brooch of eighteen karat yellow, pink and white gold, druzy onyx, white brilliant-cut diamonds, and red spinel.

Her foray into jewelrymaking all came about due to a lack of choice: Hu’s taste in jewelry is particular and the commercial world had nothing to offer that matched her personal aesthetic. The solution was to make her own jewelry, and she dove into it with her husband’s full support. The result is lightweight geometry, blooming like flowers in the night, with surface textures and keum-bo to impart contrast and color.

Coming with a very different approach is Garen Garibian’s Mata Hari brooch, a classical design that manages to combine the elegance of the fine jewelry of the twentieth century with a playful touch. Named after the famous, or rather infamous spy from World War I, Garibian’s piece is like a miniature sculpture, with one blood red ruby drop betraying Mata Hari’s untimely demise. A necklace of diamonds contrasts with a silky black dress of onyx, spiraling down like a twister, bare golden arms tempting the onlooker to come hither.

Garibian came to the United States from Armenia to pursue a career as a plastic surgeon. His life changed course after arriving in America when he took on a friend’s job doing jewelry repair work. A certain sense of irony in the universe perhaps gave him this similar line of work to his old career, where he focused on face recovery. Garibian had graduated from art school back in Armenia, so the shift to making jewelry was a natural fit.

FIRST PLACE JEWELRY COLLECTION COUTURE/FINE. Wolfgang Vaatz, USA, Rocky Mountains Memories bracelet of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, eighteen karat rose gold, fourteen karat yellow gold, fourteen karat rose gold, unrefined gold nuggets, diamonds, and platinum.

FIRST PLACE JEWELRY COLLECTION COUTURE/FINE. Wolfgang Vaatz, USA, Rocky Mountains Memories bracelet of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, eighteen karat rose gold, fourteen karat yellow gold, fourteen karat rose gold, unrefined gold nuggets, diamonds, and platinum.

As a regular winner in the competition, Wolfgang Vaatz is a consummate jeweler, with a love of surface design and rich textures. He turns bracelets and pendants into canvases where nature unfolds like a landscape painting, although his work goes beyond the representational. This year, he applied for the new Jewelry Collection categories, where he was awarded First Place in Jewelry Collection Couture/Fine.

The inspiration for this collection was the Rocky Mountains, which Vaatz has visited in the past. His capture of the serenity and stark beauty of that stretch of wilderness imbues each piece. An artist who works in a variety of media, including painting, Vaatz employed a variation of the sgraffito technique, where a surface layer is scratched away to reveal the substrate underneath. In one bracelet, a glorious sunburst emanates from a single diamond, placed in the center above the rolling hills. Etching away the gold, then oxidizing the silver produces thin black lines, like the caress of a pencil upon thick paper, that pulses outward. Shrubs, towering, spindly trees, and deep shadows make this subtle scene come alive.

FIRST PLACE ENAMEL.   Carina Wong, Hong Kong, Leaping Tree Frog ring of  champlevé  enamel, eighteen karat gold, white diamonds, orange sapphires.

FIRST PLACE ENAMEL. Carina Wong, Hong Kong, Leaping Tree Frog ring of champlevé enamel, eighteen karat gold, white diamonds, orange sapphires.

Sometimes it is the denizens of nature that make an appearance in the contest. Carina Wong’s First Place in Enamel, Leaping Tree Frog, is a delicate and attractive rendition of the famous amphibian that dwells in the Amazonian rain forests. Orange sapphires are used to recreate the creature’s webbed feet, while the brilliant enamel brings to life the poisonous animal’s vibrant patterning. A resident of Hong Kong, Wong is one of the contest’s international applicants, and an example of jewelry as a universal artform. Another member of the animal kingdom is represented by Sinork Agdere’s The Dragonfly, the Second Place winner in the Enamel category. From Los Angeles, California, Agdere’s take demonstrates how many ways the same subject can be interpreted, where artistic license and abstraction leads to an almost clockwork creation. The two award winners also utilized different enameling techniques, with Wong employing champlevé to produce the silken texture of the frog’s skin, while Agdere used plique-à-jour to infuse her insect’s wings with their characteristic shimmer.

The Alternative Metals/Materials category is an interesting exercise in making a piece of jewelry that appears luxurious without using the materials most associated with luxury. The requirement is that the predominant material must be a metal or material not included in the other categories, and in previous years has featured such unusual mediums as recycled rubber and Nespresso coffee capsules. Gabri Schumacher, from Schoonhoven in the Netherlands, won this year’s First Place prize with her titanium ring, Head in the Clouds.

 
FIRST PLACE   ALTERNATIVE METALS/MATERIALS. Gabri Schumacher, The Netherlands, Head In The Clouds ring of titanium, gold and diamonds.

FIRST PLACE ALTERNATIVE METALS/MATERIALS. Gabri Schumacher, The Netherlands, Head In The Clouds ring of titanium, gold and diamonds.

 

Schumacher’s piece is self-commentary, not only on herself, but also other artists and designers who are constantly thinking about what they will make next. To those who experience the drive to create, the process is a continuous flow of observation, inspiration and imagination, a sort of day-dreaming which manifests in the crafted object. Despite the mercurial picture that she depicts, Schumacher went through a laborious and detail-oriented procedure to arrive at this ring. She first made paper cutouts as a three-dimensional model of sorts, to arrive at the basic design. Once that transpired, a 3D computer program was used to  produce the prototype. The ring had to be perfectly designed from the beginning, as any mistakes in the dimensions would make it impossible for all the pieces of titanium to fit together. The end result is abstract, quixotic and mysterious.

FIRST PLACE EMERGING JEWELRY ARTIST 18 YEARS OF AGE OR YOUNGER.   Peyton Rogers, USA, Waterfall necklace of nickel silver and synthetic beads.

FIRST PLACE EMERGING JEWELRY ARTIST 18 YEARS OF AGE OR YOUNGER. Peyton Rogers, USA, Waterfall necklace of nickel silver and synthetic beads.

The competition also encourages the next generation of jewelers to participate in making their mark with the Emerging Jewelry Artist 18/22 Years of Age or Younger categories. This year, Hoi Yi Lai of Toronto, Canada, and Peyton Rogers of Fort Worth, Texas, were the first place winners, each coming from different places but showing ingenuity and imaginative thought in both their designs. Rogers is fifteen years old and constructed her necklace entirely by assembly and handsawing nickel silver; a few salvaged synthetic beads added color to the piece. She is a world traveler, and the inspiration for her necklace comes from the waterfalls she has witnessed in Ireland and Switzerland. Wearability was an important factor in the design, and she made sure that it would properly flow down the neckline, like roiling water.

Courage is the name of Lai’s ring, and her interest in philosophy and religion leads her to pick words that have meaning and then render them as a piece of jewelry. Entirely hand-fabricated from wire and silver sheet, the piece looks both diaphanous, and a bit intimidating, like brass knuckles that were formed for a particularly erudite gangster. The first jewelry she ever made was “a brooch that I pierced out of brass. It was a drawing of an alien with cat ears,” she says.

FIRST PLACE EMERGING JEWELRY ARTIST 22 YEARS OF AGE OR YOUNGER.   Hoi Yi Lai, Canada, Courage ring of sterling silver and tourmalines.

FIRST PLACE EMERGING JEWELRY ARTIST 22 YEARS OF AGE OR YOUNGER. Hoi Yi Lai, Canada, Courage ring of sterling silver and tourmalines.

The Saul Bell Design Award shows that the stories behind fine jewelry are more nuanced than one might imagine. As a cross-section of skilled craftspeople from across the globe, the competition has given individuals the ability to define what jewelry is and will become. The results, as we can see, are fascinating.

Next year’s winners will be announced at the Saul Bell Design Award ceremony on May 19, 2019. Read more on present and past award recipients on their website www.saulbellaward.com.

 

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Get Inspired!


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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. A recent trip to Michigan for a friend’s wedding led inevitably to work on the side. A visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts, preceded by a very pleasurable excursion to the Scarab Club, gave him the opportunity to see “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” in person. As a science-fiction geek, it was hard to resist. From the original trilogy to the most recent reprise of the series, Benesh-Liu appreciated costumes past and present, and found out how poorly the lightsaber props were constructed. He did not miss the chance for a photograph with famous alien sage Yoda either. He also presents the winners of the Saul Bell Design Award, a competition organized by Rio Grande where stellar artisans from across the world test their ability, and ingenuity, in the pursuit of fine jewelry.

Saul Bell Design Award 2017 Volume 40.1

 

VALERIE JO COULSON. Firenze Bracelet of sterling silver, Australian tiger iron, purple agate, and flower agate. Best of Show. 

 

Saul Bell is the patron saint of all jewelers and metalsmiths, past and present. For over fifty years, from the moment he opened Rio Grande, a wholesale jewelry supplier, on Route 66 (now Central Avenue) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944, Bell became known as a trusted mentor and teacher, sharing his knowledge of old-world techniques and always ready with unstinting guidance and support for legions of artisans, jewelers and metalsmiths. By the time of his death, in 1996, Saul Bell had helped an industry grow up, and Rio Grande had become a megalith, the largest jewelrymaking supplier in the world. Now part of The Richline Group, Rio Grande in 2000 established the annual Saul Bell Design Award (SBDA), an international competition to honor distinction in jewelry design. The 2017 winners, in nine different categories, were announced this past May. For an artist, winning much-deserved recognition by a jury of peers carries with it an intangible feeling of validation—the judges above all know and understand the skills and craftsmanship it took to succeed.

      The competition stages two rounds of judging: the first to winnow entries down to a select group; the second to decide finalists and winners. Judges, white-gloved and armed with loupes, are charged with evaluating the creative originality, technical excellence and degree of innovation undertaken by every entry. Among the five 2017 second-round judges were Michael Good, an award-winning metalsmith and a pioneer in anticlastic-raising techniques; Debbie Sheezel, a name to conjure with as an internationally known Australian enamelist specializing in cloisonné on silver and gold, and a previous SBDA winner; Kent Raible, one of the country’s most acclaimed studio master goldsmiths and a two-time SBDA winner; forty-year jewelry industry veteran Mark Mann, the GIA senior director of Global Jewelry Manufacturing Arts; and Kaminer Haislip, a Charleston, South Carolina-based silversmith.

Italy comes calling in Valerie Jo Coulson’s bracelet, Firenze, receiving 2017 Best of Show. Employing hollow fabrication and stone inlay in sterling silver, the sculptural-looking Firenze is a masterpiece of construction and composition, meant as a tribute to the octagonal roof structure of the Renaissance-era Battistero di San Giovanni [the Florentine Baptistery]. The bracelet’s upper pattern celebrates pietra dura, an Italian inlay technique of cutting and fitting stones together to create illusionistic images. Coulson calls her first trip to Florence, in 2011, “an apex of my life.” In her jewelry, the artist says, she seeks “a purity of design with an aesthetic which is intrinsically governed by the principle of sacred geometry.” A veteran studio artist and 2014 SBDA winner, Coulson makes her home in rural Pennsylvania. 

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      Winner of the Enamel category for 2017, Sandra McEwen’s triumphant triptych brooch, Fool’s Errand, impressively re-interprets classical techniques in a vigorous, contemporary form incorporating faceted pyrite and a lavender moon quartz. The brooch seems cinematic in its shifts in perspective, while the irregular rhythm among its champlevé and cloisonné panels poses the niggling question: what is the foolish errand? McEwen, from Raleigh, North Carolina, studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. Fascinated with medieval illuminated manuscripts, she also has a notable reputation for her color sense. About Fool’s Errand, McEwen says, “I love the precision of the [twenty-four karat gold] wirework and the color of the sky. The colors travel from morning at the top to evening at the bottom. The blues are the unifying element.”

      A thirty-year-old memory of an eighteenth-century church in his native Ukraine inspired Aleksandr Maryaskin to win his second SBDA in Hollowware/Art Objects with his entirely hand-fabricated Discovery of Eggcellence. Maryaskin’s ethereal, bejeweled gold-filigree egg, reminiscent of Fabergé’s golden Easter eggs, opens up to reveal an exquisitely detailed, three-dimensional church. The egg sits above a half-sphere of polished lapis lazuli enclosed in a filigree base. Maryaskin gave himself the personal challenge of using only a laser welder to make the piece. A self-taught jeweler and metalsmith from Carrollton, Virginia, Maryaskin has a passion for manipulating metal and creating one-of-a-kind designs; he dislikes earrings because he has to make two of them. His filigree work, as fine as spun sugar made from fourteen karat white, yellow and red gold, alone is a feat of artistry; Maryaskin is especially proud of how he solved the engineering of the design to make all three components work together.  

      If you have got it, flaunt it, especially if you can show off the glamorous prize-winning ring, Passarola, by Arturo Sanfelix Garcia, of Valencia, Spain, participating in his first-ever competition. Garcia describes Passarola as a cocktail-type ring, inspired by traditional Georgian-era jewelry. The ring is cast and hand-fabricated in Argentium® silver with yellow and white gold plating, set with simulated amethysts and created diamonds, and crowned with a checkerboard-cut natural citrine. Garcia, who trained in his father’s jewelry studio, took two years to create the piece on weekends; the design kept evolving as he worked. Because it took so long, Garcia says, he has learned, “It is better to have a plan.”

      Jason Baide admits he is in love: Montana Yogo sapphires “are near and dear to my heart. Their rich color is completely natural, never treated. Plus they are found just a couple of hours from my hometown” in Bozeman, Montana. For his second SBDA, the Montana State University student won First Place in Emerging Jewelry Artists 22 Years or Younger with Flexibility, a hand-fabricated ring of fourteen karat yellow-gold wire and tubing set with his favorite sapphires. He has always been attracted to making flexible jewelry, going back to growing up working in his father’s custom jewelry gallery, where he got some early training. Baide said his greatest challenge was problem-solving the mechanics of how to “add the stones without hindering the smooth flexibility of the ring.” The chance recently to study in Italy had a huge influence on his aesthetics, reflecting what SBDA, in naming Baide, called “a sophistication well beyond his years.” 

The next Saul Bell Design Award ceremony takes place May 20, 2018, in Albuquerque. For 2018, the competition has upped the ante and introduced two new categories: Jewelry Collection Couture/Fine, and Jewelry Collection Fashion/Bridge. The event is held during the four-day Santa Fe Symposium, which brings together jewelry professionals from all over the industry and everywhere in the world to talk about work, business and the future. For craftspeople it offers a chance to network and swap trade news, brainstorm ideas, and hear about new techniques: exactly what Saul Bell set out to do.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Leslie Clark is a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based freelance writer. While learning about the winning artists for the 2017 Saul Bell Design Award, Clark was intrigued to discover that “women mostly learn jewelrymaking in classes, while men often have been taught by their jeweler-fathers. All the artists loved entering the SBDA competition for the chance to try something different. Almost everyone listens to something—music, or a podcast—while they work. And, fortunately, nobody pays any attention to trends.”

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Leslie Clark

Leslie Clark is a freelanced writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clark, who claims red is her favorite color, was flabbergasted by her visit to the “The Red That Colored the World” exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art up on Museum Hill. “I had no idea how exhaustively people worked, for centuries, to produce a red color. No wonder kings and prelates hogged it for themselves. Cochineal changed everything. Even now, with synthetic dyes around, its amazing properties are still the best. It makes you grateful to Mother Nature and those little bugs.”