As the December days get ever shorter, I’m daydreaming about sunny, warmer days in Tucson. We all need a gem fix right about now, and the designers you’ll see at JCK Tucson are the perfect cure. Two of my favorite designers will be exhibiting this year, and I can’t wait to see their new, vibrant collections.
Elizabeth Garvin took a fateful metalworking class in college, and had an epiphany: She recognized that with precious metal, she would never learn it all, or run out of inspiration to create. She made jewelry her career, starting with a bench in her apartment, and now runs a studio of several talented craftspeople. Elizabeth somehow combines an almost industrial precision with an underlying organic core: I call it “natural abstraction.” Featuring a gorgeous palette of geometric-cut gems that seem to create their own light, Elizabeth’s new work is a must-see at JCK Tucson.
Is this your first JCK Tucson show?
Yes. It wasn’t on my radar until last year. I heard it had been revamped, so I hopped over to Starr Pass to walk it. I really liked what I saw. It’s a small, tightly curated show—a much better environment to have real conversations and connections with retailers and other jewelers. Everyone is more relaxed and able to focus.
Wait, isn’t Tucson where you usually do your gem shopping for your award-winning designs? How are you going to balance exhibiting and shopping?
Very good question, I’m a little worried about that. Thankfully I have great sales help, and scheduling appointments helps to maximize booth hours. I’ll also have all of Sunday after JCK closes to comb the gem halls; I can get into plenty of trouble in one day!
Your new Golden Glitter earrings make my knees weak. Will you have any of this collection at JCK Tucson?
Oh yes, we’ve had a great response to that collection all around. We’re very excited about it. This is an idea I have been playing with for nearly a year, exploring shapes and process, working it down to simpler and cleaner forms till it just popped. And [Monica, are you sitting down?] for JCK I’ll be adding diamond-cut chain fringe. This group comes straight from my glitter-loving girly side.
Sparkly fringe! What else are you working on right now? Any sneak peeks at something that makes you particularly excited?
I’m working on several things. We are filling out an area we haven’t really ventured into: smaller, simpler, lighter price points. We are adding this category to most collections including Cyclone, Ice, Spiral, Surge, and Facets. We also began work this week on a group of six one-of-a-kind pendants set with beryl in angular cuts. Our studio made a group of eight earrings earlier this year, and they sold out. We hope to also add more earrings and rings to that group, but these pieces are completely fabricated by hand and take real time to build. We are also completing a powerhouse group of one-of-a-kind spring cuffs set with a variety of gems.
Can’t wait…what is the one piece from your collection you personally would wear most often?
I truly love the look and feel of the Cyclone ring. It’s iconic. For me, it’s everything from a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress to an ornamental piece of armor. The look is bold and powerful; the feel is substantial and sensuous. Earlier today we finished a three-stone Cyclone ring that is just for me. I rarely do that. If I can find more of this type of diamond, we could make more, but these were three unique stones from a parcel that a client brought to me. They were truly odd cuts of odd shapes, and I had to have them for myself.
Who is the Elizabeth Garvin customer or collector? Who is your muse when designing?
Since venturing into fine jewelry, I have met many new people through the work. At fairs and trunk shows, I find myself in really interesting conversations with both men and women who are engaged by the design and the workmanship. Age range is predominantly 35 to 65, educated, art appreciators, well traveled, people who are naturally curious, who look beyond the obvious, enjoy exploring, and crave discovery. I’ve really enjoyed meeting my customers and getting to know them.
If I had to name a muse, it would probably be this planet we live on. The elegance of natural geometry, with its systematic design and colossal scale, calms my mind. Experiencing visible evidence of grand forces like the Grand Canyon or a Category 4 hurricane leaves lasting impressions that drive my inspirational thread. Through my work, I attempt to outwardly express these images and the reverence I have for their source.
Speaking of natural beauty: favorite gemstone?
Right now, I’d have to say beryl. I love the palette, and there’s something about how it gives back the light: such a soft, clean glow. I have another shipment coming from Brazil that I’m honestly too excited about. I am also still enjoying diamonds.
What makes relationships with your retailers and ateliers successful?
It’s a wonderful partnership, built on mutual admiration and vision. I’m passionate about making, and my retailers are passionate about quality, design, and educating their clientele. I believe that mutual support is at the heart of a successful maker/seller relationship and do everything I can to support my retailers and galleries. They also love that there is always something new in the works!
Besides your beautifully realized design aesthetic, what makes the work from your studio special?
I think the most important ingredient is passion. I am a designer, but more importantly I am also a jeweler. I am happiest when I’m at my bench. That’s where everything happens, interpreting inspiration as a physical object, developing techniques, engineering mechanics, and most of all, interacting directly with gems and precious metals. My ideal studio is small, no more than four jewelers and myself. It’s all very hands-on, trying new things, learning new techniques together, developing a language of making as a studio, where no one person speaks every word.
How do you stay excited about jewelry after a couple of decades in the industry? Any advice for newbies on maintaining that energy?
I describe myself as an artist working in the medium of jewelry. The materials, the processes, the scale, and the requirement of functionality are all important aspects of why I make jewelry instead of sculpture or music. Each element brings with it gratifying challenges that teach me something new. My technical curiosity drives me to find my own answers to problems, which is probably why I am a self-taught jeweler. I enjoy puzzles; it’s all play to me.
There is another designer I stalk at trade shows, so I’m very excited that Suzy Landa will be exhibiting at JCK Tucson. I’m not sure anyone does gems quite the way Suzy does. They are literally juicy, jumping in Technicolor right out of the case. With a creative upbringing tempered by pragmatic urging to “get a real job,” Suzy majored in political science and went into the movie business. Though finding and adapting scripts fed her interest in storytelling, Suzy longed for a true creative outlet. After taking jewelry and model-making classes, Suzy launched her first collection in 2004 as a Rising Star at JCK. JCK Tucson is a perfect full circle for this self-described “colored-stone junkie.”
Your jewelry is all made in NYC. How does your experience at the jewelry bench affect your design work now?
Though I look back on my metalsmithing classes and remember how incompetent I felt on the bench, I’m grateful for my experience because it helped me develop a more discerning eye and attention to detail. I may not feel comfortable with my own ability to translate an idea into a finished piece that satisfies my very high standards, but I can communicate with my model maker and jeweler effectively and examine a piece made by him with confidence. I look closely at solder joints, angles at which stones are set, the weight of an earring, how a necklace can lie better, etc.
What does your design process look like? Organic, structured, messy, neat, renderings, models…?
I wish I was someone who scheduled uninterrupted creative time rather than eking out moments here and there to design. My desk is an example of organized chaos, where rough sketches are often scribbled on Post-its and backs of envelopes. Truth be told, I’m a horrible artist who can’t draw proper perspective to save my life. Thankfully I’ve been working with the same model maker since the beginning, and a combination of my immature sketches, a bit of charades, and our long-standing verbal and creative “shorthand” works wonders.
Charades! I know your first love is colored gems. Do you start with the stones first and design around that, or use another process?
I’m an admitted, committed colored-stone junkie. If you saw the contents of my safe, you’d advise me not to buy another gem for the next five years at least. I tend to fall in love with a stone and work backward. I’m attracted to pristine-quality material, and I’m super picky (some would say ridiculously so) about matching, too. I always want the stones to take center stage—in every way. I want them to be more important than the metal or the setting itself. The details of the setting, though interesting on their own, must always bring attention back to the center.
I think your modern-meets-classic setting aesthetic meets that goal admirably. How long do you hold on to a gem before it becomes a finished piece? Any good stone-hoarding stories?
Some pieces never make it to the safe; I discover it, buy it, and then use it right away. In other cases, I have stones in my safe that have been there for years. I also have a handful of favorites that I have earmarked for one-of-a-kind pieces for myself…yet a few of those gems have eventually ended up in finished work ultimately presented for sale.
Every once in a while, I trot out something extraordinary from the safe. When my longtime jeweler readies to set the piece, inevitably I’m asked, “You sure you’re ready to sell this one? You’ll never find something like it again….”
Can we find you on the Starr Pass patio for a tequila toast?
I’m a very amateur drinker. A glass or two of wine, and I’m ready to take a much-needed nap. One tequila shot is the most I’ll promise!