I’m so glad that JCK Events asked me to profile a few prominent designers leading up the JCK Las Vegas jewelry show. This time, I had the pleasure of interviewing a friend I’ve made in the past couple of years, Judi Powers, and discovering a new-to-me inspiring artist, Baiyang Qui. This is an excerpt of the article, you can go to JCKinsider.com to get the whole profile–and more beautiful jewels!
I have had the privilege of knowing Judi Powers for a couple of years. She is not only a talented designer, but she has an engaging presence in the industry that is magnetic. Her designs reflect her love of life and connections, from her love letter initial charms in a lilting font to gemstone jewelry that she sources with care and responsibility. One glance at her look book and you instantly get that Powers is interested in translating precious materials into the favorite pieces you want to wear everyday.
Your first career was in book publishing. Your love of story is evident in the way you present your jewelry. What other ways does your first career impact your current business?
Thank you! I always agonized over writing and as I began making jewelry, I found that each piece was like an entry in my diary, that it told my story but without the anxiety of writing it down. My first career taught me everything I know about building lasting relationships, which is at the heart of my own business. It taught me how to champion the things about which I’m passionate and to be fearless in the process. It taught me about teamwork and collaboration. It taught me how to be a manager and negotiator. It taught me that business and social good should go hand in hand. And, perhaps most importantly, it taught me about humility. Quite simply, it would have been impossible for me to start my own company without my first career.
You talk a lot about sustainable materials. How do you go about making that a reality in your work? How hard is it to be true to that in today’s jewelry climate?
I source primarily from a small handful of vendors who are transparent about their business practices and vocal about sustainability. Some days it’s quite easy to be true to my commitment to working sustainably; other days it’s difficult. It is most challenging when I need a specific stone very quickly and none of my go-to sustainable suppliers has what I need. It’s challenging when someone new approaches me about buying their goods and they evade my questions about child labor and health insurance: They waste their and my time because they just want the sale. And, sometimes it’s challenging justifying to retailers and customers why one of my pieces costs a little more because it is sustainably made, especially when we’re living in a challenging economic climate. I’ve been very fortunate to have met and built relationships among fellow sustainable jewelers and suppliers through Ethical Metalsmiths, a professional nonprofit to which I belong, and the Jewelry Industry Summit held earlier this year. The people I’ve met have been so generous with sharing resources and ideas, and I’m so grateful for that. We are all working toward the goal to make sustainably made jewelry the norm rather than the exception, and that is a really wonderful thing.
You’re pretty active on social media. What’s your favorite platform to tell your story?
I love Instagram. I studied art history as an undergrad and grad student and the steady flow of individual images reminds me of slide shows in the lectures I loved so much. And I totally buy into a picture being worth a thousand words! I like Facebook for having conversations and for announcing events. The two platforms are so different and each one is really valuable to me in its own unique way.
Baiyang Qui of Baiyang Jewelry
Baiyang Qui is a metalsmith artist who will also be exhibiting as a Rising Star in the Design Center this year. Her award-winning designs use very fine-gauge precious wire, sculpted into jewelry that despite its volume, is completely airy: translucent through cells. The designs layer and wrap the body. Though sheer, her jewelry clearly occupies space through the reflective quality of the precious metals. I am particularly intrigued by the dimensional forms that completely encase a gemstone or pearl. The designs feel both novel and familiar: Repeating patterns with variations can definitely be found in nature in petals, fractals, the veins in a leaf. Quite simply, you must see Qui’s work to believe it.
I am intrigued—astounded—by your work: The junctions of each wire are perfectly clean! I was even more amazed when I saw from your Instagram that each piece starts as a hand-drawn sketch! Can you tell me a little about your process and fabrication?
I usually start my work from hand sketches, simply loving the paper and pencil. Getting inspiration from reading, traveling, everyday life, I always love to draw things, even if it’s not related to jewelry. After the design is picked from sketches, sometimes I work with CAD/CAM with more details, finalizing dimensions and shapes. Next step would be the fabrication. My current work is created with extremely fine gauge wire of high karat gold and platinum. The metal wire is drawn down to size 0.35 mm in diameter and cut into small sections. Every joint is fused one at a time with laser welding technique.
Each piece is individually laser welded? I am in awe. You design jewelry from simple studs to fantastic pieces that could only be described as sculpture. Do you have a favorite type of jewelry to make or do you prefer to design the art pieces?
Jewelry is a wearable object. A piece of jewelry is never completed until it has been worn. By making statement pieces, I always love to push my thinking process: Those pieces help me develop both ideas and techniques. The design elements from the statement pieces can be transferred to create more everyday wearable jewelry. Sometimes the process is reversed; from smaller earrings, I move to a statement brooch. I really enjoy both types.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve found in being a jewelry designer?
To me, as an emerging jeweler, the biggest challenge might be getting out of the studio and finding the suitable retailers to present my work.