Elizabeth Garvin makes jewelry that plays with pure essence. She refines and extracts forms down to their simplest–almost mathematical–form. All hand-made in her New York City studio, each piece has an energy that inspires, a legacy of the artists who make it with such care.
Geometry and industrial elements are most recognizable in her designs. Nature in its organic form is not immediately apparent. But if you distill down the shapes, nature is inherent in the outlines and the repetition.
The recurring shapes in Elizabeth Garvin’s collections repeat as if telling us a story, each permutation a little different. Like the recurring rivets in her designs, joining tops to bottoms, upper layers to lower. The result is sculptural and invites further exploration, drilling down to other levels.
In addition to the form of the jewelry, the surfaces of the gold and silver add to the design. There is often a contrast in finishes: of bright polish juxtaposed to etched. Some surfaces have crosshatched lines, random in their direction, yet ordered, as if someone has deliberately placed each one.
Some of Elizabeth’s designs hold gems, but not so literally in prongs. In keeping with the clean, industrial lines, gemstones are often bezel set or appear held by the tension of edges of the metal design itself.
Elizabeth Garvin Interview
I had an opportunity to speak to Elizabeth, to get a little deeper into her vision and process. The full interview can be found here at the Contemporary Jewelry Design Group’s website, where Elizabeth is a member and I am an Editor.
idazzle.com: When did you first start making jewelry?
Elizabeth Garvin: I’m from a creative family of artists and designers. My father is an architect and my sister is in the fashion industry. I gravitated towards jewelry very early on. Jewelry was another kind of play for me: instead of LEGOS or dolls, I played with a bead loom I found in our basement.
I’ve always loved to figure things out.
I started at Massachusetts College of Art, studying photo and film, painting and sculpture, then I transferred to NYU for a liberal arts degree. Since I was doing a lot of conventional classwork like reading and writing, I also took metalworking classes at Parsons at the same time: I needed a hands-on art class. I became almost obsessed with metal work. People would stand around my bench, watching me, and ask what class I was in, thinking it was my major. It was more just for my enjoyment at the time.
I knew then that I would never learn it all, never run out of things to discover about metal and jewelry.
When did you start producing a collection of jewelry?
One of the first things we learned was how to use a coping saw. As soon as I started working with the saw, I had the idea of doing maps with cut outs by the coping saw. When I had a little collection of maps done, I went to a store on 5th Ave—this was back in the 1980’s—walked in, and showed them my collection of oxidized metals-and-rivet maps. They bought them. It was a revelation: I can sell this!
It’s interesting that rivets were part of your design then: I noticed that you use them in your recent designs, too.
I guess that is part of my “natural geometry” design aesthetic.
But somehow not too industrial…
Jewelry is going to touch you, be part of what you feel throughout the day. It has to make sense on the body.
Do you spend more time on the business or the actual jewelry making?
I should do more with the business but I love the bench, I’m drawn to the bench. There’s a lot of back-and-forth as the business needs me more, then production and design need me again. I’m always juggling. I find I have a plan for the day, but something else needs to get done. I try to carve out as much studio time as I can.
All of your jewelry is made in your studio in NYC, correct?
Yes, it’s all made there. Some stone setting is done elsewhere in the city–it’s such a particular discipline.
Speaking of your studio, I noticed that a few of your jewelry artisans have been with you for many years. What is your secret for retaining people?
Hmm….I think there is always a bit of luck in finding the right people. There is a studio “culture” here that is thoughtful and collaborative. There is a theme of always moving forward with new techniques and challenges. I think that spirit can keep and motivate the best people. It’s also a pretty laid back environment. We laugh a lot. In a way, our techniques are too special. Having a production line is not possible for my pieces.
Is that your design or your process?
Those go hand in hand. I really like clean lines…
…And those are the hardest to do, right? There is no way to hide imperfections!
We’re always pushing the limits and striving for perfection.
So what does your design process look like?
So my most recent collection, Elizabeth Garvin Fine started out with me getting dressed for an event. And a classic case of me not having exactly what I wanted to finish my outfit.
That sounds familiar…
The design came to me complete, every detail was there. I envisioned a spiral with several layers and diamonds set on the edge. In black metal. But I had to figure this out; I turned to CAD. It took several months to actually execute. After working through the nuances of one piece, I wanted to build a collection around this idea, this theme. Since I had the vernacular developed I could apply it to the rest of the collection.
Do you have a favorite piece that you make, or material that you work with?
Ha! My favorite piece is the newest piece I’m working on this week. I can’t wait to see the finished object, complete.
A big thank you to Elizabeth for sharing her aesthetic and inspiration with me! You can read the whole interview here at CJDGjewelers.org, and see her collection on her website at www.ElizabethGarvin.com.