Piercings are quite possibly the coolest way to adorn yourself. Not only are you wearing gorgeous pieces that are an extension of who you are and what you love, you’ve created a place on your body for these pieces to live.
The ear has been gaining momentum as one of the most sought-after places to wear jewelry, and this spring we are adorning ours like crazy. We’re really excited about the All Ears trend that just launched on our site — some of the pieces don’t even require pierced ears! I caught up with 4 of the incredible jewelry designers whose pieces we’re carrying, to get an exclusive peek into their worlds.
First up is Molly Conant of Rackk & Ruin — the creator of the gorgeous Harpoon Earring!
Your Harpoon Earring is one of our favorites! If it had its own theme song, what would it be?
Grimes’s “Genesis” would be a great theme song! The swinging movement in the Harpoon Earring reminds me of all the crazy hair extensions in that video.
Is it true that your pieces are made mostly from reclaimed materials? Where do you find these?
Yup! I love using reclaimed/repurposed materials because it lessens Rackk & Ruin’s impact on the environment, and also because they can be an amazing source of inspiration! I’m always poking around flea markets and antique shops on the hunt for unique items that can be deconstructed and made into limited edition Rackk & Ruin pieces. I keep my eyes peeled for stamped metal banding, beaten up 1920s flapper bags with French steel cut beads, vintage findings, and anything that jumps out at me. If I come across an antique charm that’s too good to let go of I have it cast. I also use a lot of deadstock (unused vintage) brass chain left over from American factories that stopped producing after manufacturing moved overseas in the mid-1900s.
What has been your proudest moment as a jewelry designer thus far?
I’d say every time I teach myself a new metalsmithing technique or skill I’m pretty psyched. Being autodidactic means that a lot of trial and error goes into my design process. It was also totally amazing to find out that Zoe Kravitz wore a Rackk & Ruin earring to the Spring 2014 Chanel show… and being picked up by Free People of course!
It’s 2pm on a Saturday… where can we expect to find you?
Knee deep in endless kitchen demo/renovation projects. My boyfriend and I decided that completely gutting and rebuilding our kitchen in the middle of a Vermont winter was a great idea, so lately I’ve spent my weekends wandering the aisles of Lowes and picking paint out of my hair.
Here’s a little peek inside Molly’s studio! (Images c/o Molly Conant.)
Next, meet Sue Reese of Accessoreese — the creator of the beautiful Delicate Ear Pins!
Your delicate ear pins are so unique! How did you first come up with them?
One of my best friends has multiple ear piercings and I just have single lobe piercings. I’d told her how I love the look of a design up the ear lobe, but I didn’t want the commitment (or pain) of multiple piercings. She had just seen a designer on TV wearing what she described as “ear bobby pins”. It sounded like the perfect answer. We scoured the internet and found only a handful for sale and they were all fancy sparkly versions. Not my style at all. I’d already been designing and selling jewelry, so I came up with my own designs that were much better suited for everyday casual.
While you’re creating, describe the atmosphere. Are you outside? Inside? What are you listening to? Who else is around?
I am so lucky to have my studio in our house with the best view to our pond and gardens. Whenever the weather cooperates, the windows are wide open so I can enjoy the sounds of the stream and the birds singing. I was inspired to create my branch earrings from looking at the Japanese maple tree outside my window, but I find inspiration from unusual sources too. For instance, my twisted ear pins were inspired by the Egyptian symbol the Eye of Horus. I love the eye shape and I’m obsessed with swirls so my twist design was created with those two elements in mind. I enjoy the challenge of finding an interesting design that fits in such a small space. I figure I have about an inch to tell my story, so I draw two parallel lines on scrap paper an inch apart and periodically doodle between them to come up with new designs. Only about 5% ever get engineered into an actual earring that I can consistently reproduce, but it’s very rewarding when I find one that works.
(Above: Sketches! Image c/o Sue Reese.)
Do you create all of your jewelry by hand? How long does that take?!
I do make every one of my pieces myself. All of my designs start with different gauges of Argentium Sterling Silver wire. I use Argentium because it’s more hypoallergenic than traditional sterling and also resistant to tarnishing. The manufacturer also guarantees it is sourced solely from recycled silver, so it’s environmentally responsible as well. That’s extremely important to me. While I’m the only artist designing and making the earrings, my wonderful husband does help me cut pieces and make some of the components.
There are multiple steps for even the most simple designs from forming the wire, soldering, and cleaning, to finally tumbling and polishing for shine and strength. Each pair is slightly unique, but I form them together so that a pair matches exactly. On average each pair takes me about an hour to create.
What does free mean to you?
To me, free means the ability to have choices. Free to live our lives to the fullest and free to have a great sense of individuality along the way.
Is it true that you created the Double Line Ear Cuff with the gemstone just for Free People?! It’s beautiful. What was your inspiration behind this work of art?
YES! I love doing collaborations, it’s a little like going to a masquerade ball: you get to create a piece that is you-but-not-you; something you secretly wanted to play with or express, but held back because it didn’t quite fit with your comfort-zone persona. I’m a die-hard minimalist in my personal life as well as my design aesthetic, my eye is always on which elements I can remove. So when Hanna (FP’s accessories buyer) contacted me with the idea of designing something especially for Free People, it gave me an opportunity to experiment with something a little richer in its aesthetic.
This was also my first experience incorporating gemstones into my designs, and it was interesting because I ended up “doing it wrong.” I knew I wanted to use a tiny stone but with maximum impact… so I had it set backwards. Normally, a polished gemstone is set with the spike end in the metal, but I wanted to free it up to sparkle and catch the light. I never had any formal training in jewelry making or design, so I just never learned how it “could” or “should” be done, and in this case I think it worked out well!
Do you have a design philosophy? Do tell!
I’m a Capoeira teacher by day and my world is very much about movement. I see my jewelry in the same context: It’s never about how it looks in a still pose for the camera, but how it moves with you, the visual effect from different angles like when someone is gazing at the wearer across the room, how it catches the light when she turns her head. When someone wears my jewelry, I don’t want it to be about my jewelry, but about how luminous it makes her look. Every piece needs to fit like a second skin, so that the wearer can be absolutely comfortable and unselfconscious in it; it needs to draw attention to beautiful features like the lines of her cheekbone, neck, collarbone, rather than to the jewelry itself.
In your eyes, what’s the best hairstyle to accentuate an ear full of gorgeous jewelry?
For the line ear cuffs, a pulled-back ballerina style is my go-to favorite; I love how the cuffs frame the face, like its edges are dipped in gold. Sometimes I’ll also mix in a low, loose bun or flowing hair for a more casual look, tucked half over the ear so that the cuff is in and out of light and shadow.
(Above: A day’s batch of ear cuffs hammered and headed for a dip in silver cleaning fluid! Image c/o Gittit Szwarc.)
What does free mean to you?
To me, free means unencumbered by the inessential. Letting go of what you don’t need, be it physical items or emotional or mental routines that weigh you down or keep you from being and doing what you love.
Your designs are absolutely stunning. How would you want someone to feel while wearing them? Where do you envision them being worn?
I want someone to feel beautiful and creative when wearing my jewelry. My jewelry is a direct reflection of my aesthetic, and it thrills me to see others agree about what is beautiful, and then take it a step further and incorporate my jewelry into their own body and image. It really is the highest compliment. I say that I want someone to feel creative, because in the case of my ear jewelry, the ear pieces can be worn on many different parts of the ear, not just the first lobe piercing, so how someone applies my jewelry to their body is an expression of creativity. I also think my jewelry is unusual, so creativity is infused in the design as well as the wear. My jewelry is designed to be incorporated with the body for long term, daily wear, if desired. I work on the weight and durability aspect of all of my designs because I come from a background of body jewelry where all pieces need to be strong and last in the body for years.
What’s one thing about designing jewelry that most people would find surprising?
Designing jewelry is complex. The more detail you know about the methods, the more persnickety and obsessive one can get in perfecting a design. For example, a complete piece of jewelry needs to be completely thought out by dissecting the quality of its individual components. For example, in the white gold design selected by Free People, an 18k white gold diamond ring with two chains, the piece might seem simple, but to execute it well commands a good knowledge of jewelry. We use 18k nickel free (palladium based gold) so that it is hypoallergenic, since if people have a sensitivity, it is usually to the nickel in jewelry. Nickel free white gold is not easy to get – only a few people cast with it and to get chain that is nickel free is also challenging. The post that goes through the ear has to be sturdy and yet thin, to last for years as well as hypoallergenic. A designer has to know about different tempers and hardnesses, as well as machining or casting processes, to select the proper durability for a given thickness of wire and application. The diamonds themselves are ideal cut and have 58 facets on each stone to maximize scintillation and light performance. A designer should be well versed in the different parameters in choosing stones, and how different cuts aesthetically impact the overall design. All of these features of metals and stones need to work in harmony, and ultimately at a reasonable price point to be successful. It is a juggle.
What’s your workspace like? Do you find yourself hanging out there even when you aren’t working?
I work best when it is quiet, but often inspiration hits at inopportune times, like riding the subway. I have a phone with a stylus, so that whenever an idea hits me, I can sketch it out and save it. I also have a file with many sketches on paper collected through the years, and I would love the time sift though and make each one of them. I mostly design at home, at a desk, under a large, blooming gardenia plant. I do spend time at each of my stores, but usually it is sorting gems, or moulds, and working on the running of the business, not design. I don’t differentiate between “working” and “off of work”, because I am so infused with working, and thinking about the business, that only if I am at a party, watching a movie, or dancing at a club, do I think I am “off work”.
If you could live anywhere in the world… during any time period, where and when would that be?
I think I would choose NYC and 2014. I think as a woman, this current period of time allows us to have the most freedom and power to do what we want to do, and earn a living independently. NYC is a great place for a designer – you can easily source any metals/gemstones/fabrics here and go and fondle them, same day. It is also great because you can get your vision out into the international market right away in NYC. Therefore, and specifically under the freedom of American capitalism, I am glad that I am working in this time period in NYC. If I had to narrow it down further, I would say working in the mid to late 1990s was even better, because of the state of the economy. I do love Victorian and Edwardian apparel fashions, but being a woman during that time period does not appeal to me.What does free meant to you?
What does free mean to you?
Free means having the environment and privilege to do, think, and design your life exactly like you want it to be. I think we are happiest when we are free to express what we think is right, beautiful, and just.
A huge thank you to these 4 designers for talking to us — and supplying us with such stunningly gorgeous pieces. :)
Don’t forget to have a nice look at our All Ears trend. :)