I can’t believe I have neglected my blog for almost a month! I guess this is how much time it took me to recuperate after the Couture Jewelry show. So many friends to see, so many drinks to drink, so many events to attend and only a few hours of sleep – especially when you don’t want to miss a beat! Thank God it’s only once a year.
My new post is about Wendy Brandes, a former journalist-turned-jewelry designer with an outgoing personality. When I saw her NY Taxi ring I thought of Jeff Koons famous Balloon Dogs and it triggered my curiosity about Wendy.
Josette: You have attributed the inspiration behind some of your jewelry to pieces you have seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Do you think that a good design has it roots in history, or is it part of the evolution of an object?
Wendy: I’ve always loved the patina that gold acquires over centuries. It makes the metal look so lush. My first exposure to that was “The Treasures of Tutankhamun,” a blockbuster museum exhibit that came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978/79. The Tut tour was such a pop-culture phenomenon that when Steve Martin performed a funny song called “King Tut” on Saturday Night Live, it got to #17 on the Billboard charts. https://screen.yahoo.com/king-tut-000000724.html. My father took me to the exhibit (I still have the coffee table book) and it was like an entire world made of intricately worked gold.
After that, I would always linger over ancient gold pieces on display, thinking, “I wish this were a store instead of a museum!” I wanted to bring it all home. When I started designing jewelry, I realized I could make pieces like that — even better pieces, in some cases, thanks to improved technology. For instance, I like the Egyptian swivel rings with a scarab on one side and an inscription on the other, but you can see the mechanism from six feet away. My Hathor swivel ring — with a center gem that can be flipped from turquoise to carnelian — has the mechanism completely concealed. No one ever guesses that the center swivels without my demonstrating it.
That said, I don’t think design has to be inspired by history to be worthwhile. I actually have two collections in my own line. My ultra-luxe, 18K gold designs are the ones inspired by history. My WENDYB by Wendy Brandes diffusion line in silver is inspired by current events, pop culture and social media. I’m the queen of Emoji jewelry!
Josette: Your jewelry has a lot of personality, your pieces always have a story behind them. You are truly a story teller with a lot of imagination. Do you think that creativity can be learned or is it given?
Wendy: Sometimes creativity has to be freed more than learned. Creativity can be suppressed by fear. You can be scared to attract attention, scared to risk criticism, scared to be different from everyone else. Worrying about potential reactions to your ideas stops you from exploring those ideas. You need to become convinced of your own value and let go of the external worries in order to create.
Josette: When I look at some of your pieces, especially the NY Taxi ring, I think of Jeff Koons. Would it be a stretch to say that you are the Jeff Koons of the jewelry industry?
Wendy: I just read Ingrid Sischy’s story on Jeff Koons in the July issue of Vanity Fair, pegged to the opening of a Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum, http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014/07/jeff-koons-whitney-retropective. I was struck by the technical challenges of his work. In the 1980s, while working on his “Equilibrium” series, Koons got advice from the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman on the proportions of distilled and saline water required to suspend basketballs in fishtanks. More recently, he’s consulted with M.I.T.’s Center for Bits and Atoms. About his “Celebration” series, started in 1994, Sischy wrote:
“A fundamental problem with the ‘Celebration’ series was that the fabricating processes and the technology had not caught up with Koons’s visions. These evolving technologies are so sophisticated and so much a part of the work that the Whitney devotes an entire chapter to them, written by Michelle Kuo, the editor of Artforum, in the catalogue for the show. Reading about the CT scans, structured-light scanning, volumetric data, customized software, and personalization of fabrication technologies, I started to understand why all those people are needed in Koons’s studio.”
All of that to achieve something as clean-looking and “simple” as the famous Balloon Dog! I identified with this because my complex gold pieces require an enormous amount of labor from a team of people. The taxi ring, which is part of my Maneater ring series, called for a highly skilled wax sculptor; a mold maker; a metal caster; a gem cutter for custom-cut stones; a gem setter who can do a beautiful job setting hundreds of gems with a diameter of one millimeter or less; an engraver; and a project-managing jeweler. I need artisans who are the best of the best for that kind of work.Plus there is my labor coming up with the design and monitoring it every step of the way, either approving or making changes to the work. (I rejected the first wax model of the taxi because I didn’t like its proportion relative to the shank of the ring.) So many consumers are used to judging the value of fine jewelry by the price of the raw materials or the presence of extremely large gems, but those are not the major costs with pieces like this. As a result, I take the time to educate people about what goes into the designs. Really, they need to be viewed as portable works of art rather than simple adornment. I am striving to create jewelry worthy of museum display. My dream is to go full circle and have my work seen in the place that inspired me in the first place.
Thank you Wendy for giving me the opportunity to get a look into your world, I have no doubt that your pieces will one day be displayed as work of art – in my mind you are the “Jeff Koons” of the jewelry industry.
Some helpful link that Wendy would like us to visit: