Design of the Times: Conni Mainne

You’re prepping for (or in the midst of) the holiday rush now, but in the blink of an eye, it’ll be February, and you may be boarding a plane to JCK Tucson. While there, you’ll encounter a plentiful list of jewelry brands and designers—one of them, the wonderful Conni Mainne.

A jewelry designer hailing from the north coast of California, Mainne is known for her handmade, nature-inspired creations, made with conflict-free and recycled materials. If you’re into moonstone, this is one you won’t want to miss—they’re an integral aspect of the artist’s work (though you’ll find a selection of other gems, too). We took some time getting to know Mainne and the process behind her work—and you can, too, below.

How did you get into jewelry design?

When I was 10 years old, my father took me to the Bellevue, Washington, street fair, which has continued every year since. He hoped I’d be inspired by the two-dimensional art, but I was immediately captured by everything else handmade. I knew then. At 13, I took the prerequisites to qualify for the ceramics and jewelry classes in high school. Taking classes in college, I was in love with media, but jewelry won out—and upon meeting my (ex) jewelry partner at 19, my professional jewelry career started when I joined him in his small store in Northern California.

When did you officially launch your first collection?

It seems as though it was lifetimes ago, but my design aesthetic truly began in those early years in our little store in Marshall, CA. My first cohesive collection emerged in 1983, when I was invited to show my work in a beautiful gallery in Mill Valley.

Your designs are clearly and beautifully inspired by nature. Do you spend a lot of time outside? How do your surroundings factor in to new creations?

How can anyone avoid nature where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, with trees and water and green everywhere? Moving to Northern California as a teenager, the trees were different but there was always so much nature around me. And now I live a half mile from the Pacific Ocean, in a large meadow surrounded by pines and redwoods. It’s been the backdrop to my life. Ironically, I was inspired to create my current, iconic collection—Jungle Dreams—in the middle of Manhattan. As I waited on the bus that took exhibitors to the Javits Center for the JA show, I happened to notice the architectural details above Beefsteak Charlie’s restaurant, which is no longer there. They hit me like a thunderbolt, and I began sketching immediately on a little scrap of paper from my purse. These botanical details seemed to mesh with the style of my favorite artist, Henri Rousseau. Jungle Dreams is named for one of his famous paintings, Le Rêve, which translates to The Dream.

A good share of your collection features moonstone. Why that particular gemstone?

There was a metaphysical background to the first gallery I was in. Moonstone is particularly admired for its mystical qualities, and so every piece of moonstone jewelry I made sold very quickly. In those early days, the blue rainbow moonstone mines had just been discovered and the material was plentiful. I’ve always loved the many colors of the original rainbow moonstone, but the blues were my customers’ favorite. It was originally because of that metaphysical clientele that I focused so strongly on moonstone, but I’ve always been in love with it. I made a ring for myself with a unique specimen of rainbow moonstone: It appears to be raining inside the stone, an effect that’s probably caused by tubes running through it that capture the light just right.

Talk to us a bit about the type of metals you use in your jewelry, and your commitment to conflict-free materials.

I’ve worked with recycled gold for many years, since long before it was “a thing.” Additionally, the head of the casting company I work with has consulted for decades for many national refineries, assisting them in cleaning up their chemical and burn-out procedures to reduce pollution. Using recycled gold is paramount, but even the process of jewelry-making can be very dirty. He’s helped me over the years to choose chemicals, materials, and waste procedures that are safer for the environment and myself. In 2010, I began using a wonderful new sterling alloy made of silver and five percent platinum. It’s created and patented by only one company in the world (Allura Metals Inc.) and is made of recycled precious metals. Most of my stones come from one supplier—fair-mined and cut in Brazil—and the rest come from various artisanal mines and cutters worldwide. My diamonds are all certified conflict-free. I am proud to be using metals and processes to create beauty with as small a footprint as I can manage.

What are you most looking forward to at JCK Tucson this coming February?

Ah, many of the people coming to Tucson are studio jewelers themselves! I’m very much looking forward to sharing experiences about our art. The whole gamut from designing to making to selling—it’s all a business of art.

Photo credits:
Earrings in 18k yellow gold with three rainbow moonstones in each, $3,300
Ring in 18k yellow gold with rose-cut gray diamond and colorless diamond melee, $5,300
Pendant in platinum-enhanced sterling silver and 18k yellow gold featuring rock crystal with pyrite inclusions and andalusite, $3,300

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