Organic Alchemy: Raw, Rustic Jewelry

Sometimes, you just like it rough.

There is a movement, picking up steam, that celebrates jewelry in an organic style. This is not an old-school ideal of precision and alignment, polish and perfection, down to the inclusion-free gemstones so carefully set. This is jewelry with heft and soul, bearing the marks of its creation. Akin to Impressionist paintings, it begs the viewer to look not just at the content of the work, but invites scrutiny of the surface to appreciate the brushstrokes.

Although this style may be rustic, this is not jewelry finished without skill or care. Every single detail is intentional. Provocative. And ultimately as singular as the one who will wear it. This is art and artifact, dug up from our entire 200,000 year love affair with adornment.

Trying on a silver, gold, and pin-set emerald ring by Brandon Holschuh at JCK Tucson…

This is also jewelry that changes as the wearer makes it their own. As opposed to looking scratched or worn as a highly polished piece of jewelry might look after a few weeks or months of wear (I politely call this patina), this fresh, raw interpretation of jewelry evolves, becoming part and parcel of the wearer. Sometimes gems reveal themselves as the metal wears away, or the actual color or finish evolves from matte to burnished. Every piece is becoming what it is supposed to be.

We’ve seen asymmetrical outlines and organic faceting styles in gemstones for a while in designer fine jewelry, but now the metal is textured, manipulated, clearly showing the hand of the maker. It’s not necessarily a new movement: a number of designers have been working in their own vein of this aesthetic for their entire careers spanning several years to a decade or more. Here are a few accomplished artists making their own very distinct interpretations of this new/old form.

Jennifer Dawes Design

Jennifer Dawes, who has always celebrated sustainable beauty in her jewelry, continues to push boundaries with rough or minimally faceted gemstones that complement her hand-hammered recycled precious metals. Her designs are all about letting the natural materials shine. Since everything ends up at her bench at some point in the process, you can see a little bit of Jennifer in the finish of each design.

Polly Wales

Polly Wales has been casting gems into her work since she started designing jewelry over five years ago. I distinctly remember seeing a photo of her early work and it was a mic drop for me. Kind of like in 1991 when I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time. The energy and embrace of a more chaotic process truly translates in her work. Yet there is nothing haphazard about it. Polly is classically trained as an artist, and in her studio the casting machines were built by hand to preserve the integrity of her carvings. Her materials are carefully sourced to reflect her commitment to social responsibility.

A post shared by Polly Wales (@pollywales) on

Polly Wales Ourika Shield Ring available at Greenwich St. Jewelers, click on image.

Brandon Holschuh

While I’ve known Jennifer Dawes and Polly Wales for a number of years, Brandon Holschuh is a recent discovery. I was immediately awed by the scale of his work–some of his jewelry borders on sculpture territory–and the raw energy of it. Everything is completely hand fabricated in his studio, with dark metal, burnished gold and pin-set gemstones lining concave cavities you just want to explore. I got to meet Brandon recently, and seeing his work was exciting: he is definitely one to watch in 2017 and beyond.

Brandon Holschuh Ring Stack.

Variance Objects

Variance Objects is another recent (2016) discovery for me, thanks to editor Lorraine DePasque. Launched in 2013 by an Architecture and Urbanism major (and a Masters in Landscape Architecture!), Nicole Rimedio creates each piece by hand in her Santa Cruz studio. They cut their own gems in house, allowing the natural beauty of the rough gemstone to unfold according to their inherent characteristics, rather some idealized beauty. Every piece is hand fabricated, not cast, with a complex layering of silver and gold that gradually reveals itself. Their pieces start out dark, and through the polishing of daily wear, transform into its transmutable form. The resulting jewelry feels like something born of the very metamorphic rock it comes from.

Variance Objects Opal Ring.

Page Sargisson

While Page Sargisson does make jewelry with a more classic finish, she created a series of work where she melts the wax around rose-cut sapphires, casts the rough-hewn gold, then sets the sapphires into the band. The result is tactile metal with gems that appear to have just been revealed, peeking through the precious gold.

Page Sargisson mismatched rose cut sapphire earrings.

Page Sargisson sapphire earrings.

Susan Wheeler

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Susan Wheeler over the past year or so, as our paths have crossed due to our shared interest in responsible sourcing. Susan is a fine arts sculptor, using sun baked clay as her models for casting in precious metals. This singular texture of the metal is instantly recognizable and provides a tactile foil for the ethical gemstones and diamonds she chooses.


Allison Neumann

An increasing number of jewelry designers are using rough gemstones in their jewelry, and Allison Neumann embodies this beautifully. Her rings and pendants featuring pastel-hued natural sapphire crystals immediately captured my attention. Rough gemstones have their own beauty and I love that Allison works with their crystal shapes in such a lyrical, accessible way.

Allison Neumann Providence Necklace featuring a natural rough sapphire from North America.

This is an aesthetic that may not speak to everyone, as any avant-garde art movement is polarizing. There will always be a place for highly skilled, super clean workmanship, as well as minimalist design. But as jewelry gets ever more individual and as one-of-a-kind as the wearer, we move away from labels that may not fit anymore such as “engagement ring” and “men’s band.” The new organics speak the many languages of celebration, talisman, sculpture, milestone, and love in every form.

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