Designer Dish: Judi Powers and Baiyang Jewelry

JCK Las Vegas is right around the corner! I’m still finalizing my schedule, scrutinizing line sheets, and wondering if triple-booking is an option. There’s a certain excitement that comes with Jewelry Week Las Vegas. Yes, it can be exhausting. Yes, I have a shoe strategy (#vegasshoes). But most people I talk to genuinely enjoy the time they spend in Las Vegas each year. The people, the camaraderie, the connections, and…the jewelry. It always comes back to the jewelry. Register to attend JCK Las Vegas here.

Judi Powers

Judi Powers HeadshotI have had the privilege of knowing Judi Powers for a couple of years. She is not only a talented designer, but she has an engaging presence in the industry that is magnetic. Her designs reflect her love of life and connections, from her love letter initial charms in a lilting font to gemstone jewelry that she sources with care and responsibility. One glance at her look book and you instantly get that Powers is interested in translating precious materials into the favorite pieces you want to wear everyday.

Your first career was in book publishing. Your love of story is evident in the way you present your jewelry. What other ways does your first career impact your current business?

Thank you! I always agonized over writing and as I began making jewelry, I found that each piece was like an entry in my diary, that it told my story but without the anxiety of writing it down. My first career taught me everything I know about building lasting relationships, which is at the heart of my own business. It taught me how to champion the things about which I’m passionate and to be fearless in the process. It taught me about teamwork and collaboration. It taught me how to be a manager and negotiator. It taught me that business and social good should go hand in hand. And, perhaps most importantly, it taught me about humility. Quite simply, it would have been impossible for me to start my own company without my first career.

You talk a lot about sustainable materials. How do you go about making that a reality in your work? How hard is it to be true to that in today’s jewelry climate?

I source primarily from a small handful of vendors who are transparent about their business practices and vocal about sustainability. Some days it’s quite easy to be true to my commitment to working sustainably; other days it’s difficult. It is most challenging when I need a specific stone very quickly and none of my go-to sustainable suppliers has what I need. It’s challenging when someone new approaches me about buying their goods and they evade my questions about child labor and health insurance: They waste their and my time because they just want the sale. And, sometimes it’s challenging justifying to retailers and customers why one of my pieces costs a little more because it is sustainably made, especially when we’re living in a challenging economic climate. I’ve been very fortunate to have met and built relationships among fellow sustainable jewelers and suppliers through Ethical Metalsmiths, a professional nonprofit to which I belong, and the Jewelry Industry Summit held earlier this year. The people I’ve met have been so generous with sharing resources and ideas, and I’m so grateful for that. We are all working toward the goal to make sustainably made jewelry the norm rather than the exception, and that is a really wonderful thing.

How did it feel to find out you were a JCK Rising Star this year?

I was in Tucson working for Robert Bentley, an amazing gemstone artist/dealer and treasured friend who is a leader in the sustainable sourcing movement. It was at his booth at AGTA that I learned I was selected as a Rising Star. I was so happy and so utterly surprised! I cried and jumped up and down. And then I hugged Robert, who has been one of my most ardent supporters.

I think I saw you in Tucson right after that! Although you are an emerging jewelry designer, you have a previous career of experience to apply. Any advice to a brand new designer?

I’m always dispensing advice, wanted or not. My advice is pretty pragmatic: Be nice, always; wear your own jewelry every day; never undercharge for your work (!); if you don’t know something, admit it and find the answer; build a trusted professional network; and let your passion shine.

You are embracing some fascinating gemstones lately. What’s your favorite material to work with?

Judi Powers-TourmalinesTourmalines, especially slices and delicate pencil crystals, make me giddy (just ask Robert Bentley—he can attest to that!). I’m also loving beryls and topazes. I love stones with character: Inclusions and unusual stone cutting are completely fascinating to me, and I gravitate to stones that many perceive as imperfect more than I do to flawless, symmetrical stones. I love seeing the nature within gemstones, and I shine the spotlight on that as much as possible in my jewelry.

You’re pretty active on social media. What’s your favorite platform to tell your story?

I love Instagram. I studied art history as an undergrad and grad student and the steady flow of individual images reminds me of slide shows in the lectures I loved so much. And I totally buy into a picture being worth a thousand words! I like Facebook for having conversations and for announcing events. The two platforms are so different and each one is really valuable to me in its own unique way.

What are you most looking forward to at JCK as a Rising Star this year?

This is my first time at a Vegas jewelry show, and I’m looking forward to…everything! I’m beyond excited to meet buyers and hear their feedback on my collection because being a Rising Star provides an ideal platform for building those important retailer relationships. Talking with the press and bloggers is also something I love to do because you are the ones who tell us what’s working and what’s not, and having that kind of feedback is crucial to someone like me who is building her brand. Because so much of being in this industry is about community, I’m especially excited and honored to be surrounded by so many super-talented designers in the Rising Star neighborhood, and I can’t wait to see old friends and make new ones. And, I’m beyond ecstatic that I’ll be seeing so many of my jewelry friends from outside of New York in person! So yeah, everything!

You are all about everyday elegance. What new piece would you wear for everyday life?

You’re asking me to choose my favorite child! There are two pieces I wear every day and for very different reasons: My Arun Sawad ring is a wearable worry stone and I’m wearing it to help combat the jitters about my debut as a Rising Star. Because as exciting as it is to be in this group, it’s also a bit intimidating. The other piece I never take off is my watermelon tourmaline slice pendant. Tourmaline is said to relieve stress, promote self-confidence and creativity, and attract love. I think we all might be happier if we wore tourmaline every day, don’t you?

Yes! What does your dream for the future of Judi Powers Jewelry look like (because saying it out loud makes it reality!)?

This is something I think about all the time, Monica! Since day one of launching Judi Powers Jewelry, my goal has been to build a successful (both artistically and financially) and industry-respected sustainable jewelry business where I can create educational and career opportunities for young people who are just beginning their careers. When I worked at Penguin books, I helped initiate a professional internship program with the Posse Foundation, a leadership youth development program and one of my favorite nonprofits. Through Posse, I’ve met some of the brightest people I know, and I learned so much from the interns who worked with my team and me. If someone doesn’t beat me to it, my fantasy is to be Posse’s first-ever jewelry career partner, and I’d love to make that dream a reality within the next three years. It’s a lofty goal, but I’m up for it!

Baiyang Qui

Baiyang Jewelry-BreezeBroochBaiyang Qui is a metalsmith artist who will also be exhibiting as a Rising Star in the Design Center this year. Her award-winning designs use very fine-gauge precious wire, sculpted into jewelry that despite its volume, is completely airy: translucent through cells. The designs layer and wrap the body. Though sheer, her jewelry clearly occupies space through the reflective quality of the precious metals. I am particularly intrigued by the dimensional forms that completely encase a gemstone or pearl. The designs feel both novel and familiar: Repeating patterns with variations can definitely be found in nature in petals, fractals, the veins in a leaf. Quite simply, you must see Qui’s work to believe it.

I am intrigued—astounded—by your work: The junctions of each wire are perfectly clean! I was even more amazed when I saw from your Instagram that each piece starts as a hand-drawn sketch! Can you tell me a little about your process and fabrication?

I usually start my work from hand sketches, simply loving the paper and pencil. Getting inspiration from reading, traveling, everyday life, I always love to draw things, even if it’s not related to jewelry. After the design is picked from sketches, sometimes I work with CAD/CAM with more details, finalizing dimensions and shapes. Next step would be the fabrication. My current work is created with extremely fine gauge wire of high karat gold and platinum. The metal wire is drawn down to size 0.35 mm in diameter and cut into small sections. Every joint is fused one at a time with laser welding technique.

Each piece is individually laser welded? I am in awe. You design jewelry from simple studs to fantastic pieces that could only be described as sculpture. Do you have a favorite type of jewelry to make or do you prefer to design the art pieces?

Jewelry is a wearable object. A piece of jewelry is never completed until it has been worn. By making statement pieces, I always love to push my thinking process: Those pieces help me develop both ideas and techniques. The design elements from the statement pieces can be transferred to create more everyday wearable jewelry. Sometimes the process is reversed; from smaller earrings, I move to a statement brooch. I really enjoy both types.

You have won design awards (2015 Niche Award, 1st place MJSA award), but is this your first time showing at a major jewelry trade show?

JCK Las Vegas is my first jewelry trade show. After I received an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design at 2009, I worked as an industrial designer for a few years, designing medical devices. I have been working on jewelry since 2013.

Fill in the blank:

I am ____really honored ___ and _____excited____ about being a JCK Rising Star.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve found in being a jewelry designer?

To me, as an emerging jeweler, the biggest challenge might be getting out of the studio and finding the suitable retailers to present my work.

How and where can people find your work?

Aaron Faber Gallery in New York and De Novo Fine Contemporary Jewelry in Palo Alto, Calif.

What are you doing to prepare for JCK Las Vegas? Are you debuting something new at the Design Center?

I am working on quite a few new pieces for JCK Las Vegas and posting some of the processes on my Instagram page, @baiyangjewelry.

While the singular beauty of your designs rests in the metal, you also use gemstones to beautiful effect. Do you have a gem you particularly love to work with?

I love working with diamond, ruby, and sapphire, and will add emerald to the line soon.

BaiyangJewelry-RibbonBroochAny advice for a student or emerging designer about following your passion for art AND creating wearable jewelry?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to designers and industrial experts you like or admire when you feel confused. A jeweler’s job seems very independent, but sometimes it’s good to leave the bench and ask for suggestions and advice from peers and share thoughts and experiences.

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