Apologies for not having posted over the last few months, it has been a busy start to the year.
However, I have a post that was certainly worth waiting for. This post is about a man who truly is an artisan, using old techniques passed down to him from his Father and his Father’s employees, which he observed as a child and perfected as an adult.
I first came across Salvatore’s jewellery quite by accident via instagram, where he updates us with work in progress. At the time, he was working on a piece of jewellery to surprise his girlfriend with.
Have you had any formal jewellery making training or are you self-taught? If you trained, where did you train and in what? If you taught yourself, how did you go about it?
A mixture of all of the above. My father had a retail jewelry store and I was practically raised there. He had 2 full time jewellers on and even before I was old enough to comprehend what they actually did I was hooked. Constantly watching these two men, Sergio was from Argentina and Ezra from Yemen, and there was always a language barrier. I learned, at first, by watching. I became quite the observer and by age 11, I was sizing and soldering rings with ease.
The lessons became more advanced, and I would mimic what they demonstrated. That was 23 years ago. My training was concluded with several comprehensive courses on jewellery production and design. Including a 750 hour course at New York’s City’s Studio Jewelers. This was the final touch and with 9 hours a day, 5 days a week for the better part of a year virtually every facet of this industry was taught by the best instructors in the field.
Did you always intend on starting your own jewellery making business?
It always seemed inevitable that I would take up the family trade. I spent a few years in banking for a while, I became a licensed financial advisor. It simply wasn’t for me. I let my licenses expire and came back to jewellery. But I found buying, selling, trading and repairing various articles was no long enough. I wanted to create it as well. The rest is history
Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to fellow designers hoping start their own label?
My advice to anyone aspiring to launch their line or label would be this: find that design you feel compelled to create and do it. It is your responsibility to bring the work to life, something you will not accomplish unless you truly have passion and love for the project you are launching.
When you are creating new pieces, how do you find inspiration?
The only thing that I have a passion to study as much as my craft is history. I would be equally happy being paid to poke around some ancient battlefield for a living as much as I do with my current occupation. My love of history, elements, and a study of natural and manmade beauty, not to mention jewellery, truly combine when I start getting in my construction phases.
Being from New York is wonderful in that sense…I can see turn of the century architecture, bridges of the industrial revolution, the deco styling of steel and shine surrounding the Empire State Building, then travel a few blocks and the art nouveau style facades of local buildings greet you.
New York is beautiful, yet fierce. It is a shining example of innovation and modern society with all its achievement coupled with a global mixture of endless traditions of the people who make this city great…..for me the inspiration I draw from my city is endless.
What is the process for creating a new piece? Do you simply draw it and then create it or do you start playing with the metals etc. to get ideas?
I hardly ever draw or sketch anything, and for no other reason than that I am horrible at it. Aside from my metal-smithing and carving ability for creating jewellery and metal sculpture, I have no artistic talent. I am unable to achieve symmetry, proportion, scale, depth or detail any other way than forging raw metal, but the process of the true design is exactly as we discussed. Sometimes, it is the stone that inspires me, other times it is when I find a suitable piece of silver or gold to work with….then I try to feel every surface of that stone and learn every grain of metal, after enough time I just seem to know exactly what I want to do….then I just do it
Are you influenced by current fashion trends during the creative process?
Fashion trends frighten and confuse me. Hard as this is to believe, I just found out what stacked rings are! It’s not that I don’t appreciate the world of fashion; I simply cannot keep up with it as it would pertain to making jewelry for a specific genre or trend that is going to be gone as soon as it arrived.
The thought of trying to figure out what the world wants gives me a nosebleed. I truly am lucky in a sense that I am able to do something I love, and thankfully enough of the public seems to really like it as well.
If a client hands me a detailed blue print to custom make, then my job is simple, If someone knows exactly what they want, I can make exactly what they want. Otherwise it will have to be exactly what I want, haha!
Do you work to a season when creating your pieces?
Working to a season really throws my rhythm off… I’m addicted to my job, I work constantly…every day something new catches my eye and I’ll incorporate a new texture or shape, a slight variance. I have no quotas to fill, and new pieces which can sometimes appear to be a mini-line in their own right, such as my Tudor roses, never get boring for me to make, as before that happens I’m inspired and compelled to switch.
When building a line, you must prepare endlessly meet production quotas and there’s constant pressure to produce a Better line than last time, while worrying about how you will improve the next one. That sounds an awful lot like work to me. My way has left a trail of one of a kind items, handmade and they are as much a pleasure for me to make as they are for others to own
How long does it take to make one piece?
The time it takes to make a piece varies on how much prep work I do. Sometimes the image I see as to my goal is so clear in my mind the entire process is mechanical, other times I simply find a gorgeous stone to set. Those pieces are usually the ones that have additions in the later stages that not even I saw coming. So in those cases a very complicated, unplanned “let’s wing it” piece can take up to two days. But if the projects at hand are solid in design before I ever started cutting then I work quite fast.
One of the things that really appeals to me about your designs, apart from their beauty, is that you are a part of the anti-mass-produced fashion movement and are unique. Do you have any others in your team that assist with the production process?
I don’t think I ever even thought about mass production in a pro or con sense. I truly am blessed to do what I do, it’s working out for me.
I would never design, produce or endorsed a piece of jewelry I simply didn’t like. And in that sense I would appalled at the idea of mass producing that jewelry.
I was fortunate to find success through my own designs. And to any jewellers out there reading this, if you landed a good position at a well-known retailer, who mass-produces the flavour of the week I say keep your head up, do your job well, and be proud of work well done….and the best part about most mass produced commercial jewelry is when held side by side against my designs, my pieces look that much better!
What are the challenges in keeping production on-shore in the USA when most fashion brands are opting to have their products made in China?
I stay competitive by doing as much as possible with as little as possible. I’m trained in traditional silver-smithing. To make a product like my signature roses for instance, you can order high quality refined and sanded metal sheet from one of the various online or walk in distributors. This milled polished silver in thicker gauge can be priced three times what it melts for. Most jewellers don’t have a choice in the matter. Yet, a Silversmith does.
For just about $1.00 above its melt value most pawn shops will sell you broken pieces of jewelry and bullion. If one is able to melt and rework that into a refined sheet then the cost basis is substantially lower, Rio Grande will sell you 100 pre-made stone settings for $50.00 plus shipping. And they will arrive next week. I can make those settings in under a few hours for about $12.00 of raw sterling reforged.
Then there’s the quality comparison, or rather, lack thereof. I actually wonder how those companies plan to compete with me haha. I exist without all the high-tech gadgets with as little expense and overheads as possible without compromising design or quality. Many of my pieces on instagram I refer to as “the Frankenstein collection”. I have become quite proficient using the table scraps of the jeweller’s world.
Competing with cheaper labour or going up against the likes of nations such as China or a major retailers is not even a concern in my thinking, I have no plans to go head to head with anyone.
So a lot of your pieces are made from broken pieces or quite recently and old spoon and an old fork. This gives your pieces a timeless quality and knowing that they have a story before they were crafted into something else just adds to this. Is it purely for economic and time reasons that you use old pieces and solder them or are you also attracted to the element of them having a past history and you are breathing new life into them?
I call them my Frankenstein pieces, LOL! It is true that there is a huge economic advantage in using pieces such as that. However, using basic bench scrapings, such as those does give me a sense of satisfaction. Knowing that I made something I consider gorgeous, using things others see as scrap metal, always makes me smile. ☺ Also, material can be quite expensive, and sometimes ideal metal is difficult to come by. There is much waste when it comes to workable metal in the design aspect. Working in broken or discarded silver, or even silverware such as my spoon items forces me to think creatively and will always give me a competitive advantage over my peers. And as you say, giving an old piece of silver a new life and a new appearance has an almost meditative effect on me, my glimpse into the sublime so to speak
How do your customers find you? Is it word of mouth and Instagram?
Mostly instagram, which has had a tremendous effect on my ability to reach a wider audience. I simply shoot my work as I see it, and hope those who view it see what I intended to show.
Your latest pieces are using the amazing Alexandrite stone, which changes from a purple to green depending on the light. Do you search out particular stones or are you guided by the stones when making your pieces?
There have been many pieces where I go hunting for a particular gem, but more times than not, it is a gem which found me and I, in turn, was inspired. The alexandrite is the golden standard of that rule.
A jeweller could spend a lifetime attempting to secure a single stone of the type currently in my safe. They are the most stunning gems I’ve ever laid eyes on, and it is an absolute privilege to be able to create pieces using this rarest of gemstones.
You have made quite a few pieces featuring flowers. Do flowers hold a special place for you?
Flowers represent all that is beautiful in nature. They are delicate, fragrant, bold in colour and both intricate and simplistic in design. They also can be representative symbols of the most powerful things on Earth…clovers are the symbol of luck, roses represent love. The Tudors of England chose a Tudor Rose as the symbol of their royal bloodline. Anne Boleyn was insistent on having one prominently displayed in her State portrait.
Beauty, love, power, majesty….I was hooked. The only true flaw to natural flora is their fleeting existence. My flowers are eternal…
Do you have a favourite piece of all time? How about from this collection?
My favourite piece is my earliest flower, the first of its kind and I think one of my better pieces. I gave it to the most wonderful woman I have ever met, my girlfriend Courtney. They truly belong to each other. And both are beautiful on their own, but together, nothing will ever be as beautiful
How does it feel when you see people wearing your pieces?
It’s a really awesome feeling. No lavish explanations needed. Awesome.
Have you had any particularly notable moments when someone has worn one of your pieces?
Once in a theatre in Manhattan, there was a couple who I was certain I had never met. I overheard a few words and not even the voices were familiar. But one detail was unmistakable, the beautiful pendant she was wearing that caught the light was one that I made a year earlier. I don’t remember to whom or where that piece was sold. And I’m not sure how she came to be wearing it. But I know she looked beautiful, and happy, and knowing that at least a part of that was because of her pendant was a wonderful feeling.
How do you feel that your designs have evolved since you started out?
I keep surprising myself in the regard that I was never creative in the earlier parts of my life and the evolution of my creations is the most surprising aspect of all. Some people talk of creative blocks, yet I have been fortunate that as soon as I am finishing one design, several more are usually spinning in my thoughts.
What are your plans for the future?
I have quite a few plans, several collaboration projects. New designs, new stones, new ideas, the future is sure to see plenty of what I plan to display. In a word, the plan is to conquer!
You can find Salvatore’s beautiful unique pieces at his Etsy store at: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SalvatorePaulCustoms
I also recommend that you follow him on Instagram so that you can follow the journey from metal and stone to a piece of wearable art: https://instagram.com/salarajewelry
You can also follow him on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/salvatore.rutigliano1?fref=ts
If you want to contact Salvatore about making a piece, he can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org