Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meet Steve and Juana Jelen of Pacific Silverworks!

During my trip to the Pasadena Bead and Design Show I was enthralled by the silver and vermeil components available at the Pacific Silverworks booth. I thought they were of extraordinary quality with some exceptionally unique designs and concepts. I met one of the owners, Steve Jelen, who I noticed was especially gracious and patient as he spoke with several people who stopped by to purchase one or two items. I think it must be a chore at times to maintain one's sanity, standing in a booth day after day, so Steve's good cheer and happy outlook impressed me almost as much as his beautiful wares.

It turns out that before Steve and his wife, Juana, started Pacific Silverworks, they had a jewelry company called Savannah, but even though their jewelry was displayed in galleries throughout the country, they eventually made the business decision to concentrate on designing and manufacturing components.

Here's what Steve had to say:

After a few years of making small components by hand at our workshop we decided to begin making clasps. At the time hardly anyone was making a decent clasp for jewelry designers and almost from the start we attracted a lot of business. As we began to grow, many others jumped on the bandwagon and began making clasps but we always felt that our superior quality made ours different.

Where are your findings/components made? What processes do you use?

All our work is done in Cusco, Peru. This is Juana's hometown although we have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years now. We are very proud of the workshop there as we have employed most of our silversmiths for many years. This has allowed them to grow with us as we are always giving them more and more complex designs. Over the last 10-12 years they have risen to every challenge and in so doing have reached levels of skill that they could not have imagined all those years ago. As for the processes, we do a mixture of fabrication and casting depending on the project, usually some of each. The guys often make their own tools if they can't find what they need. They're incredibly resourceful. We go down there a couple of times a year to work on new designs and our next trip will be in April.

Our workshop is situated on the family property in Cusco and managed by Juana's older brother Nestor. Several other family members work there too and we employ around 10 smiths. Our biggest preoccupation at this time is the rapidly rising price of silver which is having a negative impact on everyone in our business but thankfully we are still doing well. It's more a question of the uncertainty caused by a 25% rise since the turn of the year and around 400% in the last three years or so. Regardless, we have to plan for the future and our latest designs have been hugely successful particularly the Pendant/Toggle combinations that we brought out recently. More great stuff is in the pipeline so keep an eye out later this year. We've recently returned from Tucson where we found lots of interesting stones for our work, hence our upcoming trip to Peru.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anywhere but we tend to travel a lot for both work and pleasure. Juana loves jewelry and is always thinking about it and reviewing what's out there on the market. When she designs she is always thinking about what she would like for herself if she were designing a piece. Pearls are big right now, also vermeil and in general designers seem to be looking for something more sophisticated than in the past. Our style is clean and contemporary designed with the end use in mind, not simply making a piece in isolation from how it will be used.

How did you and Juana meet and start making jewelry?

Juana and I have been together for more than 25 years now, she's Peruvian as I said and I'm from London. We met while I was traveling in South America and we spent several years in Asia and Europe before coming to the U.S. We lived in Switzerland, Spain and London before coming to California and got started in the bead biz by a friend we met in Seville, Spain who showed us how to string beads and make simple pieces. Juana was a natural at it although she'd been a travel agent most of her adult life before we met. Soon we were selling at the local flea market and eventually landed in California. Once here, we began with craft shows around Los Angeles and quickly moved on to wholesaling. In 1990, we also opened a bead store called the Peruvian Bead Co. We've moved a couple of times since to larger locations and now have a beautiful space in the historic Ventura downtown. You can see our storefront here...

What advice do you have for jewelry designers?

Advice? Try to find your own path and be true to yourself. Always be on the lookout for new techniques and ideas but use them in your own style.

Steve and Juana have an ambitious show schedule which you can see on their website...if you stop by, tell them you read about them in For The Love Of Jewels...!

It is my pleasure to share Steve and Juana Jelen of Pacific Silverworks and the Peruvian Bead Co. with you!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Meet Deborrah Daher: Extraordinarily Beautiful Work!

I stumbled upon Deborrah Daher's website through the metalcyberspace web directory. I am always searching for interesting work and new ideas and find this directory to be one of the best for showcasing designers. But, when I came to Deborrah's site: I was BLOWN AWAY. Her work is truly extraordinary!
Deborrah Daher is an internationally published award-winning artist. Originally a painter and ceramic artist, she fell in love with the art of jewelry making in 1980.

Here is what Deborrah has to say:

What attracted you to this form of expression? Is your jewelry similar in any way to your paintings and ceramic pieces?

When I was young, I worked in my mother’s fabric store with a woman who made jewelry. In 1980, in decided to take classes from her in her home so I could make myself some pieces to wear, and that’s how I got my start. I most definitely bring my love of color and texture from painting and clay to the metal, combining different colors of metal and a variety of stones. My “bowl” brooches are an ongoing series since the very beginning. They are small vessel shapes – a direct reference to my days as a functional potter.

How would you describe your style?

...quietly elegant with a powerful presence. When you look at my work, you are looking at me.

Your work is particularly subtle and gentle in appearance. What do you find most challenging about achieving this effect?

It can be a balancing act. I’m careful to stop short of too much. A piece can get overworked easily when using so many different things. It needs to stay quiet, but at the same time interesting.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Like many artists, I look to nature. I am always looking down when I walk, seeing little bits of gravel or layers of pavement and ice, or caught by the way the light might be hitting the surface of a leaf. I try to express my feelings about the “big” things in life by calling attention to the “little” things often overlooked.

What do you do when you struggle with inspiration?

Clean the studio! Sometimes it helps to do something else for awhile.

As an artist, what challenges do you encounter in making your work successful as a business?

It’s an ongoing struggle to attend to the bookwork, the marketing, the publicity, etc. It’s not a natural inclination or strength, but can’t be neglected, and it’s how I go about getting my work out there in front of people, which is really what I want to do. Making the artwork and running the business both can be draining, so again, it’s a matter of striking a balance.

What do you think are the best ways to market one-of-a-kind jewelry?

There are probably just as many ways as there are different types of one of kind pieces. My work fits well in gallery settings rather than as an accessory. I have had wonderful response at well regarded fine craft shows, where the audience is educated to seeing jewelry as art.

What advise do you have for other jewelry designers?

Keep yourself open to change – be flexible about what you do and how you approach selling or showing it. Stagnation is the death of creativity.

Deborrah's work has been published in a variety of publications and her work is shown at exhibitions including one just recently in Philadelphia. Check her website for updates on her work.

What a pleasure to share Deborrah's work with you!



Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Saki Silver--Meet The Owners, Liz and Sak Chumtong

When I attended the Pasadena Bead & Design Show in January, I thought I was in heaven when I came upon the Saki Silver booth! Their distinctive Asian influenced style was so gorgeous and unique that it was all I could do to not buy everything they had! What I especially loved were their stunning toggles, the heavy, rich silver Thai beads and the unusual ear wires. I dropped a few hundred dollars somehow, with hardly a blink...

Anyway, I found the work so interesting that I knew there had to be a good story behind the company...and I was right!

The owners, Liz and Sak Chumtong, met in Thailand, initially on a small touristy street called "Khao Sarn Road". They fell in love and needed some cash to travel from island to island and so started stringing necklaces to sell to the tourists. Before long, they were a family and then moved to the U.S. Without a lot of money, Liz worked as a waitress and Sak worked as a carpenter, cook and organic farmer. When they decided to start their business, Liz maxed out her credit card to buy silver....and Saki Silver was born.

All of their work is done in Thailand where everyone works and lives together at the studio. Sak's sister even does all the cooking from scratch using herbs from a home garden just outside the studio.

Here's what Liz has to say:

I'm always so surprised when people think we're a really big company! We only have eight employees in Thailand, and half of them are friends and family. So we treat them very fairly. They have paid vacations and health benefits. They all live at the studio, and we also stay there when we go. Everyone gets along so well, and it's always a joy to be there. It really is like a big family. All the guys call my sister "Mom". Dealing with Thai people is a joy because they're so laid back, but still hard working. They're so respectful and polite, but fun and joking, too. We go many times throughout the year, but the best time is when we take our kids, Mick and Kira, in the summer. They have so much fun and get along with everyone in the studio.

Where does your inspiration come from?

My husband studied graphic design, and I was a ballet dancer before we met. So we're very inspired by clean lines and unique details. I would say we have both been very inspired by modern asian design. Sak is completely obsessed with modern design, even our house is a Frank Lloyd Wright style. Our inspiration comes from everywhere-from tribal designs, to Japanese paintings, to old asian lanterns. I can look at anything and say-"that would make a great toggle!" We try to be as unique as possible. People who design jewelry are always looking for something different, something to set their work apart from everyone else's, and that's where we come in. It's funny when people copy our line because they're missing the point entirely. It's a success because it's different. Everyone could sell what they made if they were truly inspired by it.

What advise do you have for jewelry designers?

My advise for anyone is to design something you think is great! I like to buy beads and components I love, then figure out how they look great together. I usually start out with a pile of beads and turn it into a design. It's so much harder to come up with a design and then spend days and days trying to source the components. I always see those people at the shows, they're so frustrated and they pass up all these great new designs because it's not in the picture they saw online. Let what's available inspire you. And don't compare yourself to others! If your designs aren't selling, figure out how to improve your style, don't look to others people's style, because it will never be yours. A good designer has looked inside and developed their own unique style and that is what people can see and respond to!

Liz and Sak strike me as a couple who have figured it out-- how to work together with joy, create beauty and have fun doing it all at the same time!

Stop by their booth at the next show (a list is on their website). You'll love what you see!

It's my pleasure to share Liz and Sak with you!


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Meet Lilian Chen: A Remarkable Designer with a Remarkable Story!

I had the great privilege to take a class from Lilian Chen at the Pasadena Bead and Design Show in January. I knew the minute I sat down that I was in the presence of someone very talented and quite special. I loved the class and so contacted Lillian for another private session in Arcadia, CA at Bead Source. (Lilian also recently became the Art Director and teaches at You and Me Findings in San Gabriel, CA.)

Lilian has developed a special wire technique that fastens pieces together without soldering or showing a wire's beginning or end. The result is jewelry that has almost a magical flow!

Lilian was born and grew up in Shanghai, China, but came to the U.S. with her husband in 1983. Although her work looks as though she's been doing it for years, she actually started beading five years ago, creating her extraordinary style just two years ago...and she is completely self-taught, which may be one reason her designs are so unique!
Here's what Lilian has to say:

Who taught you the techniques you use?

Actually I didn’t take any class, I learned by reading lots of the beading books and magazines or go online to see the jewelry people made and window shopping every where when I travel. I never miss any chance to see any kind of jewelry. Then I try to figure out how, practice over and over to understand pattern, So lots of techniques I use, I created by myself during the practicing.

How would you describe what makes your jewelry unique?

Simple, natural, with artistic connection, and the 3-D style gives my project more artistry. Good combinations with color, chain and with beads also are my speciality.

What advice do you have for other jewelry designers?

Every one has something special inside already. Never give up, keep moving on, more practice gives you more ideas. Learn from other people but don’t follow what they do. You want to be a leader so you have to be different from others.
What do you do when you are struggling with creativity?
Everybody has a different way to release. For me, I play Sudoku to freshen my mind. With Sudoku my mind focuses to solve the problem. Believe it or not, I always get new ideas after I play Sudoku!

What are your goals with your jewelry?

Keep learning new technique and created new designs and really enjoying what I’m doing.

Lilian's work has been published in both Bead & Button and Art Jewelry and she can be contacted via email at:

For a full view of her work, go to Webshots at:

It is my pleasure to share Lilian with you!



Tuesday, February 12, 2008 Samples

My first posting!

Although my new blog is going to focus primarily on the best of the best--the most accomplished jewelry designers I encounter as well as interesting news from bead shows and seminars, I can't not also showcase my own pieces! Above are just a few from my website:

If you know of jewelry designers that you think should be showcased on this blog, please let me know!

Thanks for your support!