Monday, December 1, 2008

What Is Magic

Magic is the answer to its own sub-category on Jeopardy, otherwise known as "things that defy explanation". One might say that this is the season of magic, the season where there is glitter in the air and icycles hang from rooftops like rock candy on a stick. When I was five, I remember leaving cookies and milk on the mantel for Santa Claus which accompanied a letter begging for his delivery of the "Dream Kitchen" I saw very high on the top shelf at the local supermarket, never mind that is was fifty dollars and my mother kept saying no. This dream kitchen had a refrigerator, sink unit, dishwasher and stove, each in varying colors of mint and creamsicle. The appliances were each about 12 inches in height and were accessorized with tiny plates, cooking utensils and an unlimited number of molded plastic food stuffs: A tiny roasted turkey on a Thanksgiving platter, canned food, cartons of milk and eggs, all awaiting its arrangment by my little, hopeful hands. I was fascinated by its design and transfixed by its 100 pieces of miniature kitchen accessories. Imagine my surprise when, on Christmas Eve I awoke alone at the witching hour and crept under a glowing Christmas tree and the cookies and milk on the mantel had magically been consumed. The Dream Kitchen was there, in all its majestic glory, unwrapped and awaiting my participation. I trembled with anticipation, too overwhelmed to reach out to see whether or not it was real.

But wait, that was not the only magic. The REAL magic happened later in the Spring, after my father built a wall unit in my bedroom that had two shelves about 1 ft. deep by 3 feet wide. These shelves were stacked one on top of the other and opened with levered shutters which then became the assigned place that housed my Dream Kitchen. To complete this Dream World, for my birthday my mother had given me a miniature Singer Sewing machine which operated by a hand crank on the side of the unit. With this little sewing machine I made curtains, doll clothes and even tiny rugs long before Martha and HG television. Hours spent in my room turned into days until my mother would burst into my room saying, "Barbie K, the sun is shining and children need to be outside". Only then would I come back to reality, leaving my magic behind and in my mind.

I carry this with me. I execute this magic every day. Often I forget. It seems like work. It's hard, it's frustrating but the magic is still there, it still glitters, if I stop to catch it. I look at my hands and they are cut and blistered. I see them full of glitter as it runs thru my fingers and into the earth. I still believe in Miracles.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Elves At Work

The elves have been very busy lately. Since early September, they've been working, creating, crafting and making the world a more beautiful place. All this work, in spite of what has been going on around them all over the planet.

The Elves have been doing something that has been done for centuries: Making beautiful things by hand. Things that are not "perfect" and are not created for or by mass production. These things often last forever and are proved more precious by the significance of the giver who gifts something special to a loved one.

In this 2008 Holiday Season, the elves are predicting a return to the days of old when less was definitely more and beautifully crafted merchandise was favored over Holiday Hype.

Support your local Elf with objects made by hand.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What I See

What I see is usually what I find. The encompassing farmland around my studio has seen numerous incarnations and I am constantly spotting an old pitch fork or some abandoned piece of farm equipment. They lurk about in their ghostly fashion, often seeming to emerge from layers of dirt and rock as the earth spins on its axis. I will see only the details: broken and rusted parts, their texture and years of wear through the elements of weather and wind. The shapes and texture of these things inspire me as pieces which are part of the evolution of everyday life. I interpret them to feel comfortable and warm and take on meaning in the personal context of a body.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When More is NOT ENOUGH

Often, when someone is trying on several pieces of my jewelry, they will ask me , “Is it too much?” My standard answer has always been, “More is More”! That’s an individual decision. I’m the one who loves most things to excess so I find this to be a debate not worth entering. Personally, I love as much of everything that I can handle.

However, lately I’ve had an even more difficult time holding myself back. Like when a friend of mine, Dana, proposed to me his recent project. Dana is a wonderfully talented and charismatic man, an interior designer with a great eye (www. who, through the years, has presented me with the most wonderful design challenges. The last one, however, took over two years from design to completion and along with his talent, Dana possesses the patience of a saint.

Here is pictured the original inspiration: A Christian Dior Lip-Gloss Ring. It is magical and functional: Who in their right mind would want to be out on the town without easy access to their Lip Gloss? “Can you make me something like this?” he asked shyly. “But it’s so big. Fabulous and wonderful, but gigantically BIG”, I said. Dana laughed in that charming way of his and said, “I know. And I also know you love making big things!”

Drawings came next and Dana chose one. I pondered the engineering of such a piece and wondered exactly what its purpose was to be, what would it contain? Not lip gloss, to be sure, but what was the history of such a ring? “An atmosphere of magic and charm has always surrounded rings. There has been a strong belief that both good and bad spirits inhabited rings. One of the many charges levied against Joan d’Arc was that she owned rings of magic.
Rings were not always used for good. Hannibal and Demostenes both wore poison rings. Although uncommon, these rings were not rare. Not only could they be used on "friends," but on oneself if the circumstances warranted. “

The technical engineering of Dana’s ring was long and arduous. The hinges had to be functional, but not overpowering. The clasp tight enough to hold any contents, poisonous or otherwise. And it must be beautiful and wearable. Yet, when it was not being worn, it seemed to me to be shameful to keep it tucked away in a jewelry box. That is when the stand, hand-turned in wood by my dear cousin Herb, came to be. I created the silver feet for the “ring stand” initially in wax on my lathe and had them cast. I signed the piece with a hand-stamped silver tag on the bottom. As I normally do when I get a commission, I make more than one which takes into account the “just in case” theory. Especially on pieces I’ve never made before, just in case one doesn’t work out. There are two of these rings and stands. They are signed “1 of 2” and “2 of 2”. Just in case.

Dana’s ring is made of sterling silver with 14k yellow gold accents. The stones are white diamonds, black diamonds and rubies. I love the fact that it is not only functional, but an objet d’art when it is not being worn. I hope he feels it was worth the wait, two years later.
Okay, what else can I work on for a couple of years? You’ll see…

Thursday, March 13, 2008


It’s hard to believe that in this complicated world, something so seemingly inconsequential as a piece of jewelry can trigger an alarm. Why is that? I think it’s because we all become attached to our jewelry. It’s personal. It’s worn representationally and sentimentally as a part of us or a piece of art and it’s on our body. It symbolizes the “me” in me.
That’s why I’ve become so accustomed to those frantic phone calls at the most unexpected times. Like on Sunday, from Mike: “I Lost My Earring, I never took it off, can you rush me a new one?", or “A Taxi ran over my key chain you made on Park Avenue, can you fix it?”, or “Can you make my necklace again? It was stolen; I never took it off until I had that mud bath and I never saw it again”. Just yesterday my friend Hal called with an amusing story: I've become his personal jeweler over the years, even repairing the pieces I didn't originally make him. Apparently he was scratching his neck while driving and caught his favorite saphire necklace under his thumb. He pulled it, the chain broke and all the little pieces went flying inside his car. I can just see him stopping his car, arms flailing, trying to find all the little pieces and causing a traffic jam in the middle of NYC. Of course, I got that phone call accompanied by a Fedex package the next day.
I understand the need to have that talisman, that lifeline. It becomes so personal and it’s all in a piece of jewelry.
I like to think I’m here to create your “armor” for life. That personal, symbolic, protective icon. And when there’s a jewelry emergency, just remember, I’m here for you.

Monday, March 10, 2008


We’ve all had delays and miscommunication in our tasks at hand. Recently I had a tiff with a client when her ring was not finished due to unforeseen complications: the mold my caster had on file for her ring had deteriorated, but this was not an adequate justification for her.

I remember in college, there was one most-talented student in my class that was always on his own schedule. His projects were perpetually late but nonetheless meticulous and inspired. His craftsmanship and designs were superb, but his grades reflected his lack of interest in meeting deadlines. He and I stayed in touch over the years: he went to graduate school and became a respected scholar in the field of metalsmithing and took special orders on the side. I moved to NYC and started my own business. Now we all know what it takes to stay in business and survive in NYC. Talent is only 2% of what it takes to succeed. One must be more organized and definitely responsible and dependable. If you were good at something, say in Ohio, there were always 200 masters in NYC competing with you for the same job. I quickly learned what it took to survive in such a competitive environment. Upon visiting my friend many years later, he was showing me a wedding band that his client was expecting for the wedding ceremony. He just couldn’t seem to be inspired to finish it. He called his client the eve of the wedding and relayed the fact that the ring wasn’t going to be completed in time. I was horrified; I could never even imagine such an incident.

However, what is actually involved in creating a special commission? I think this process is a mystery to so many people. Unless you are in the jewelry industry, no one really understands how much work and luck of the draw is involved in creating such a tiny piece of architecture. Unknown to many people, it takes a good 7 years of working experience to achieve a level of competency as a jeweler.

Here are some relevant and technical steps in the creative process:

1.) DRAWINGS: (Why is a deposit required for drawings of a commission?) What do you want and what are the specifications? Is what the client sees in his mind’s eye the same as what he is communicating and expecting you to create? Can you draw it in 3-D or perspective? Can you do a rendering (a colored/shaded drawing)? A loose sketch to creating an actual rendering is often laborious and time-consuming. From a rough sketch to layering tracing paper and getting all the lines correct, retracing it, transferring it to proper drawing paper to coloring and rendering the finished drawing. What about creating a drawing that is an “exploded view” drawing (a drawing that looks exploded, examining all the parts in the engineering of the piece) or one that shows “perspective” (a drawing that shows ¾ view, side view and top views)? This process can take hours that can turn into days. This is why I choose to charge a deposit for the drawings. Usually this charge is deductible from the entire cost of the commission unless the drawings do not turn into a commission. The charge then becomes the fee for the drawings alone.

2.) THE MODEL: We have the design, the drawing, now what? Is it to be a project for multiple pieces (such as the link in a chain) or is it one-of-a-kind? This matters in the creation of the piece. Depending upon the end result, a model will have to be made. This process usually involves a carving of the piece (the design from the drawing) in a 3-dimensional form from carvable jeweler’s wax. Once completed, the wax is approved by the client, adjustments are made and then it is sent to the caster where either a.) A silicone mold is made from the model, for multiples or b.) It is cast from the wax itself in the “lost wax” casting method. Lost Wax-casting goes something like this: the wax is placed inside a flask and filled with something similar to plaster, called “investment”. Then the wax is burned away in a kiln and hot metal is melted and injected into the negative space left in the flask from the wax model . The plaster is then broken away and the wax model is now in metal. This process is usually reliable but often the metal is porous, or filled with bubbles. Sometimes they can be repaired and sometimes not. Then the entire process begins again.

3.) MOLDS: Molds are mostly made from silicone or rubber. These are prepared and melted around the wax or metal model and then gently and expertly cut apart, like a puzzle. When the model is removed from the mold, a negative space in the form of the model is created enabling hot wax to be injected into the mold. The wax is allowed to harden and subsequently removed from the mold. This is an accessible and easy way to create multiples of an item. However, all original models must be stored in a file as most silicone/rubber molds have a limited shelf life and do deteriorate.

4.) THE METAL: Once the model is now metal, fabrication of bezels and other necessary parts of the piece are made in silver or gold. Here it is reliant upon the experience of the trained metalsmith. Things can be accidentally melted, porosity can open up and one tiny, missed last step in the entire process can terminate the life of this project. Even if our project was created totally by “fabrication”, or made from metal without any wax carving, the exact engineering and carry-through in the process of creating a piece of jewelry is filled with risk. Only a skilled craftsman can create something from start to finish without experiencing a meltdown if something unexpected happens. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN !

5.) STONES: And then there is the setting of stones: will one break, just as you are closing up the bezel (the small ring of metal, which holds the stone in place)? If the stone becomes chipped or damaged, it must be removed and replaced. Even if a ring must be re-sized, the stone must be removed, as most stones cannot withstand the soldering process and the heat involved. The stone then has to be reset and will there be any damage from soldering or setting of the stone(s)?


So that’s the process: A lengthy fete of engineering full of strife and risk. But worth it in the long run, when something pretty and shiny is in my hands. The look of joy I see on my client’s face when the vision has culminated into actuality is my personal reward. I find it amazing that the journey of an idea is so parallel and representative of the journey of life. It is filled with inspiration, disappointment, frustration and joy all rolled into one adventure. It’s never about the piece; it’s always about the journey.

PICTURED: (picture from a rubber stamp, wax model and metal sample from a mold) This is a recent commission I received. My client David, an actor, had a rubber stamp of a Jester. I had made another Jester for him back in the ’80’s but he lost it and wanted it created again. Sadly, there was no mold so the entire process had to be re-visited. This time we have a mold and he kindly agreed to allow me to include this Jester in my line. I refer to this little Jester as the Cosmic Joker and we all know who that is!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Can This Be Repaired?

Once in a while I get back a piece of my jewelry and am asked: "Can you fix this"? I generally look at the piece and wonder what life it has led, how many miles it has traveled. I put on my jeweler's loupe and look closer: scratches from doorknobs and handles, a stone crushed instead of a finger. I like to tell people that jewelry, like cars, must go into the shop for a tune- up now and then. It needs polishing and checking of the stone settings. This must be done with precision and care. I can tell by looking thru my loupe if it is a technical flaw or a problem due to extensive wear.

Here you see two repairs I recently received. Guess which one can be fixed? A stone is easy to reset or replace. My question to the owner of the larger, one-of-a-kind ring that obviously got run over by a car is: DID YOU SURVIVE THE CRASH?

Monday, January 28, 2008

COMMITMENTS, or lack thereof

Commitments, or lack thereof

My feelings are that every relationship is always the best at the time. Whether it's with a new motorcycle or a new love, it is always the same. It smells good at first, that love of the smooth interior coupled with the fragrance of passion. When that leather gets smooth and worn and the fragrance needs a little fresh air, where does that enduring love go?

It becomes different. Dependable, familiar and deeper. Herein lies the struggle: with familiarity comes security, but the passion grows deeper in a calming and curious way.
The commitment to career, health and passion takes effort and ultimately, reaps what you invest. It is the personal journey to love.

This Valentine's Day I wish the world was filled with more love, forgiveness and creativity. Let the love survive. May you invest in Love's Economy.

Pictured: My own personal commitment bands, shared with my love.
14k pink gold outer band with inner band of Palladium White gold
Pave and Milligrain diamonds.

"Now join hands, and with your hands your hearts", Shakespeare

Pinky: Spring is coming soon and this was my V-Day Gift from my love.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Metal on Leather

There is something about the texture of leather: so soft and smooth, so supple. Leather will absorb the oils from your skin and form to the contours of your body. When I put metal on leather, the cool rigidity of the metal contrasts the sensuality of the leather. I've always loved that contrast. The hard with the soft. The masculine with the feminine It's like the chrome on a motorcycle with that shiny bit of sparkle on a powerful machine. Sexy.


Hardware stores were always my favorite places as a kid. I'd accompany my father on his weekly expedition to fix one of his household repairs and I'd roam the store freely while my father went through his list.

In those days, the stores were small, with a spectacular array of bins which displayed fascinating and exotic items. I'd pick up a hinge and see how it worked. I'd look through the bins of screws and marvel at the spiral threads winding around a piece of brass with a beautiful notched head. Sometimes my father would allow me to purchase an array of nuts and bolts, slide locks, hinges and anything moveable. We would travel back to his workshop and put together a "mystery box". These boxes were primarily for my nephew and consisted of little doors with locks and hidden compartments. These were mainly for my nephew's amusement, but I was enthralled in their creation.

To this day, I can still get lost for hours at Lowe's or Home Depot. I am fascinated by doorknobs, drawer pulls, light switches and towel bars. There is a much greater selection these days and the hardware now is imported from all over the world. But the sensual flair of a hand-crafted or limited production piece of hardware made in the USA has been replaced by mass production, cheap craftsmanship and inexpensive materials from overseas. The designs are great, but the craftsmanship is truly lacking.

I used to tell people that I'd put jewelry on anything, anywhere. Now I think I'd just like to put metal and stones on everything in my house so that I can fulfill my ergonomic fantasy of the smooth metal against the grain of wood or metal. I yearn to experience something that is made by hand with intent and precision. Something that gets better with age.