Principles of Design

I doubt that one of the people with the biggest influences on me would even remember my name.

Study the basic concepts of figure, ground, line, contrast, pattern, proportion, color, symmetry, movement, unity, and balance. Students learn the principles of two- and three-dimensional design and develop language to analyze product design, plate presentations, decoration, and packaging on visual, tactile, and conceptual levels.

In 2004, I was quite young, yet already three years into my culinary career, and already terribly jaded. I had an associates degree in culinary arts, and had worked in several restaurants of varying quality, back of the house, front of the house, a little bit of everything. And I was accepted to what is probably still considered “the Harvard of culinary schools” into the baking and pastry program.

I had started out my culinary career as wanting to pursue the savory side, and that the sweet side was all wedding cakes, bread, and bakeries – nothing I was interested in. It was midway through my associates degree that I fell in love with pastry. With pastry, you could make anything you wanted utilizing several fundamental ingredients – namely sugar, butter, eggs, flour. And suddenly it was like my world opened. With savory food, you were tied to ingredients and keeping those ingredients recognizable. Who would want to eat a chicken thigh that looks like a flower? Baking did not have aesthetic limits.

Boom.

Which is how I found my way to The Culinary Institute of America, and specifically to Bruce Ostwald’s Principles of Design class, the first college level art class I ever took. Sure, the curriculum was based around food, creating plates that would have interesting textures and colors, as well as incorporating different complementary flavors and temperatures. But at the heart of this class was design – art. Visuals. Contrast. Texture. Negative space. Color. Movement. So while I was trying my hardest to continue cramming knowledge about food into my brain, my heart was learning something else – creativity. Expressing myself through a variety of mediums.

 

The problem was, sugar and chocolate couldn’t hold my interest. I was too interested in people, and when you make food, you have essentially no contact with the people you’re making it for.

Less than two years later that I returned to school, and this time I was aiming for art history. I had picked up some culinary French, and I had always had an interest in architecture, so art history made sense.

Until it didn’t.

At 22, I had just spent five years working towards a career that I really enjoyed, but that felt somewhat lacking in the practicality department – the restaurant world is very difficult to have a family in, and making a living wage seemed downright impossible – I had the best culinary school in the country on my resume and was only able to command $9/hour with no benefits. What sort of career could a bachelor’s degree in art history give me? On top of that, I felt like an anomaly – my peers were just graduating with their four year degrees, and I was already well on my way to being career changer.

So while the practical side of me chose something that was somewhat more useful – a bachelor’s in psychology is applicable in a variety in positions, though not exactly a career jump starter – I used everything in the rest of my background’s arsenal, including my interest in my father’s long time career, to gain enough momentum to create another career for myself. Which, over the years, I have turned into my day job.

And then there is the creative side, which you see here, where the spark that was discovered through Mr. Ostwald’s design class has been a glowing ember and has turned into a bonfire. Only, it’s in jewelry, rather than food. Because I can work one on one with my clients, and hopefully create something that they hold dear for years, or even generations, to come.

My most memorable piece in my principles of design class was mixed media on blue background, with diamonds cut from magazine ads exploding outwards. I should have known.

 

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The Résilient in Photographs

I’m doing a photo heavy and commentary light post because I have too much on my to do list, but I still wanted to share the beauty of this ring with you, and I haven’t been able to put a blog out about it yet.

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The center stone is a Amora Moissanite cut into the OEC pattern, and all of the other stones are diamonds. The Amora Moissanite has been discontinued, which, after seeing it in person, is a real shame. They have replaced it with the Forever One Moissanite, and the OEC cutting is also nowhere to be found.

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Sometimes, through great times of turmoil, comes great beauty.

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New York, New York

A touch over two years ago I posted a blog entry about a planning a specific project:

https://thegemstoneproject.com/2014/11/28/new-york-city-inspired-ring/

Well, it evolved. I will get to that in a second.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

The first time I ever went to New York City was when I was 18 years old with my parents for a business trip for my dad. I remember walking the streets wearing furry Steve Madden shoes and having a doorman compliment them. I fell in love with the city in that trip, between the Empire State Building, the flagship stores, the food, the energy and life of the city. I didn’t know it at the time, but only a few short years later, I would be going to school slightly upstate from the city.

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It wouldn’t be until I went to NYC via train from upstate that I would first experience Grand Central Terminal in all of it’s glory, between the Oyster Bar, the marble floors, the tile ceilings, and the glorious teal ceiling bedecked with celestial gold in the main hall. For me, with the Grand Central ceiling, it was love at first sight. Every time I would take a trip to the city via MTA, I would be delighted to experience it’s beauty once again, and I would look forward to seeing that ceiling every time.

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So, since I don’t get to do that regularly anymore, I had to base a piece of jewelry around it.

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My starting point, as is often the case, was color. I had a copper bearing precision cut teal tourmaline from Barry Bridgestock that was absolutely the color of the ceiling.  I knew from very early on that I had to have yellow gold, as the zodiac symbols all over are painted in a golden color. It was only later that I would decide that the piece would need to have white gold as well, which was a difficult conclusion for me as I’m typically not a fan of mixed metals.

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In planning the rest of the elements of the design, I took into account an incredible number of details from around GCT, from the arches of the hallways, to the color of the walls and the floors, to the incredible iconic pendant chandeliers. I evaluated every single one of the zodiac symbols, the detail of the arches, the Tiffany glass of the clock, the golden clock in the middle of the terminal, the detail of the windows. Essentially, the entire building is one very large piece of functional art, each detail has had painstaking work put into it by artisans of years past. There is some sad irony in the fact that most people who witness it never take the opportunity to enjoy those details.

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I started out thinking that it would be a ring. I soon found out that between the stone size, the ring size and the sheer scope of my vision for it, a ring that size would be essentially unwearable on a regular basis.  So I ended up changing it to a necklace. And of course I took the opportunity to use a stone that I have an infatuation with – a rose cut diamond. This time around, I decided that it should be prong set with a hexagonal surround, to echo the geometry of the iconic graphic feel of the Art Deco era.

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For a while I considered something that had to do with my zodiac sign, my husband’s zodiac sign and my daughter’s zodiac sign, but that became too complicated and didn’t end up making any sense design wise. So I simplified,

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I considered adding a detail from the arches (also seen on SNL’s GCT set) to the eventual outer halo, but nixed that idea as it became too busy. I also considered having no negative space, with just the contrast of diamonds and metal color to guide the design, but again, cited the busy-ness of the design for utilizing negative space rather than adding more to an already complex concept.

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I ended up with just a thin outer diamond halo to provide some structure for the centerpiece of the piece, and I chose a octagonal shape for it inspired by the octagonal frames around the medallion detail on the large arches on either end of the building. (Bottom left corner in the below image.)

Grand Central Terminal Ceiling
Grand Central Terminal Ceiling

I originally designed the star’s diagonal points to stretch all of the way to the halo, but after thinking, and evaluating the actual stars of the GCT ceiling, as well as looking at the Art Deco stars, I realized that while it may be less stable, shortening the diagonal points would be better for the over all aesthetic, and echoed the compass like shape of the actual GCT stars.

Grand Central Terminal Taurus Detail
Grand Central Terminal Taurus Detail

Elevating the star and the stone just a touch was the finishing detail. I used fancy yellow diamonds on the yellow gold and single cut white diamonds on the outside halo, in keeping with the Art Deco era.

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It is not very often that I create jewelry for myself anymore. This isn’t a piece that I will probably wear often, but it is a small, sparkly tribute to a city that I love, and the Art Deco masterpiece that lies within it.

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Gem Blast: Holiday Edition

It has been a crazy week, with a family birthday plus Thanksgiving and then ten completed projects when I was expecting 5, plus a bunch of gems.  I have more on the way, and with the holidays gearing up, things are just bound to get crazier!

So this week, I’m just going to post a handful of my favorite pictures that I’ve been taking in the past couple of weeks! Some of this will be a preview for new items to come – some will probably hit etsy before they get to the website, due to holiday shopping demands

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Be on the lookout for new things to come! For additional pictures of some of these pieces, check out my Repertoire page.  And don’t forget to check out Facebook for all of my etsy promo codes.(Hint: there is one for today! After all, it’s Cyber Monday!)

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Ombré du Soleil

They just wanted to be made. – Elle

I had posted these on instagram the other day, just a small macro shot, and immediately got requests to see more. Well, the thing about that is that these are ridiculously difficult to photograph for one simple fact – they are huge.

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A couple years ago, when we were still in California, I had an overseas collector send me a great number of stones to sell on consignment. That’s the reason my etsy shop was initially opened. There were a handful of stones that I knew immediately that I didn’t want to sell – I wanted to create something with them.

My starting point in this particular project was the largest pair of spessartites. They just glowed, in an almost unearthly way, with this ridiculous neon orange that photos don’t really do justice, as orange is one of the hardest colors to photograph accurately.

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Now, this collector had sent along literally about 40 carats of spessartites, including a handful of smaller round oranges with fantastic color, and a pair of bezeled round spessartite earrings.

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Spessartite, as with most gemstones and colors, goes through bursts here and there of popularity and trendiness. Unfortunately, just as I got this package, spessartite was hitting a slow spot, so most of the loose gems that I had never even hit the market. Instead I started to have big dreams for them, all brought upon by the incredible color of that large pair. I created a sketch of the initial idea, which included using the bezeled studs as is and then later amended it to add a few details, involving a change to the stud.

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About six months ago I went to visit my favorite gem shop and one of the first things on my mind to pick up were gems that would fit the ombré  color scheme I had dreamed up.  I needed to find exactly the right graduation of color and size to match cohesively with the overall concept. Luckily I was able to find that in some sapphires from Madagascar.

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As soon as I had all of the stones collected, I sent the picture to a friend.
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And a couple months later, she asked me when I was going to make the earrings? Why hadn’t I made them already? I had all of these beautiful stones, why not make use of them already? So I turned around that week, and sent them off to the jeweler, along with a picture of the sketch.
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As I mentioned before, the sketch went through a couple of revisions. The final version ended up being so large that the entire thing wouldn’t fit on one page of my sketch book, so I had to improvise a little bit, and drew the stud separately from the rest of the earring. A quick note: I draw everything at 5x scale.
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 So, lets talk specifics of the finished product.
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The bottom 5 stones are spessartites, the top three in the bottom section are sapphires. The top stone (the stud) is a spessartite and then the rest (second stone in the stud and then the little connecting section) are all fancy yellow diamonds.
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These are definitely more hefty than I usually make, but the one thing I wanted out of these is that I wanted to have that heft, and I didn’t want them to feel cheap. I feel like they easily could have gone the costume jewelry route, but the setter managed to avoid it, keeping the walls between the stones quite thin, and the edges from stone to outside rim thin in most areas . The largest stones are 7mm and very deep so we really had to have a lot of metal to hold them all in place.
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The settings are open in the back to let in a ton of light, even though they are bezeled. The emphasis for this project was really on the stones, the ombré effect and the concept of light. Seeing as how it took about two years to find the right stones in the right sizes, tones and saturation to I really wanted to not detract from the concept as a whole and keep the ombré effect in the metal that’s holding the stones together. As you will see in the images below, the color of the stones change from one image to another – the most accurate devices for color viewing are Apple products, iphone, ipad, Mac computers, and images with the brightest colors and least amount of brown are the closest to real life.
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14 grams of 18kt yellow gold

.16 carats of yellow diamonds
.41 carats of yellow sapphires
14.13 carats of orange garnets

14.7 total carats

They measure just over 2.5 inches long.

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Everyone keeps asking me, “why did you make these? Are they for yourself, or to sell?” and my answer has been, “They just wanted to be made.”

At the moment, I don’t know what the future holds for them. But absolutely something bright.

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Proportions & Balance

I started writing this blog a year ago.  The reason I haven’t completed the entry until now is because it’s incredibly difficult to put something that comes as instinct into words.  I cannot talk about exclusively proportions while leaving out the rest of the elements that could create conflict even within the correct proportions. So here is my attempt at it!

Typically I will design a piece of jewelry by being inspired by one or more of four things:

  1. A specific gemstone.
  2. A design concept, or inspiration piece.
  3. A shape.
  4. A color combination.

Note that size is not one of them!

I feel as though most designs are made as a frame for the center stone, which is why we see so many plain diamond halos for a variety of colored stones and diamonds.  They are popular, but not particularly interesting or unusual, and designed to basically be background noise for the center stone.

Proportion is the word for the relationship between sizes of one element to another element.

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A vintage ring that had wonderful proportions, with the size and shape of the side stones impeccably enhancing the center stone.

So I think about the piece of jewelry as a piece of art. That means choosing a focal point, and building everything else around that.  The background shouldn’t overpower the focal point, and the entire piece needs to have balance and cohesion. This is most obvious with 3, 5, and 7 stone jewelry, but can be applied to haloed items as well.

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Now, the key with the proportion is to ensure as to not overpower the main stone or the main focal point with the details. With a multi stone ring (3,5,7 stones traditionally) the idea is to make the stones uniform, or to create a flow or pattern to enhance the center stone or to create it’s own unit. The ideal is to create harmony between elements, and stick to having one main focal point. I have attempted pieces before that failed at this for one reason or another, and luckily I was able to learn from them. The Art Deco period of jewelry was particularly adept at creating jewelry with many small background elements enhancing a strong central element.

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The Resistance ring with diamond side stones becoming the background and a vivid emerald center stone taking center stage.

A problem that I see pretty often is that an item of jewelry will have multiple focal points, or multiple elements that prevent a cohesive unit, either with sizes, shape or color.

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As far as size goes, I always look towards math. Typically if you pair side stones with a center stone, they should follow a mathematical pattern. For instance, I have a drawing of a 5 stone with three rounds and two pears as my current Facebook default picture (seen above). The center stone is 8mm, the side rounds are 4mm, and the pears are 2mm wide.  Often, working from a center stone down to sides, is best to figure out what kind of proportion you want. Half is a typically safe size, with a third being pretty standard as well.

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This version of the Ingénue holds a 3.5mm rose cut and a 7mm spinel. 

A deft hand must be used to have a sense of how color, proportion and size work together and create unity with all elements, or balanced design. Creating a ring that has multiple colors is always going to be a bit tricky, which is often why using a lot of restraint is key. Sometimes things that seem like an obvious pairing look horrible together if any element doesn’t harmonize with the rest of the elements.

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So, I would advise that when you are considering putting jewelry together, ask yourself a series of questions:

  1. What is my focal point?
  2. Does this enhance or detract from my focal point?
  3. Are these the right proportions? Should they be larger or smaller?
  4. What does the negative space look like?
  5. Is this balanced?

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One of a Kind

I spent the last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico – the place where I was born and raised. Taking almost an entire week completely off from jewelry and getting back to my roots, spending time with family and friends was one of the most refreshing things I could have done at this point and it gave me some new perspective on things that I’d been dwelling on and feeling stagnant on for too long. I guess that standing in the middle of a thunderstorm in the mountains will help do that to you.

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One of the things that I enjoy the most about gemstones is that they are all unique and one of a kind. Sure, you can get some that look similar to others, but they will always have unique characteristics, whether it’s in the form of color, inclusions, cut, whatever. No two are identical.

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Working with various colored stone vendors has shown me that I’m not alone in loving gems for this very reason – colored stones are always so different, and sometimes they can totally surprise you with what you fall in love with.

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So this, my most recent blog, and the first blog in a long time is an ode of sorts to the one of a kind, and an indication on where I am heading creatively. I’m going to take a step back from feeling like I’m treading water coming up with stock designs, and taking a flying leap into the water and swim like my life depends on it – making pieces as unique as the stones they hold.

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More to come.

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