My monthly column for National Jeweler, Designs on Marketing, has brought many wonderful opportunities. I'm extremely grateful that it connected me with Vittoria d'Aste-Surcouf of VAS Bijoux. Not only do I consider Vittoria a client, but she truly is a soul sister. We view the world and approach it the same way: with a sense of curiosity, wonder and laughter. She is an absolutely incredible custom fine jewelry designer based in The Bay Area in California. It's been extremely cathartic to share not only what I learned from my eight years as a custom jewelry designer for my former company, Salt + Stone, but to help her create and implement a strategic marketing plan that gives her an opportunity to tell her powerful story.
When and how did you start designing jewelry? Have you always been creative?
I began designing 10 years ago. I had started in college with beadwork but the designs I was dreaming about (yes, jewelry designs often come into my dreams) were using gemstones and made with precious metals. I wanted to make these designs and decided to pursue this field.
Yes, I have always been creative and I have experimented with almost every type of artistic media. As a child, I would always have creative ideas of things I wanted to make or design from Halloween costumes, dresses for my dolls or art for my walls.
Did you go to school to hone your craft? Tell us about your jewelry education.
Not exactly. I had just finished my Masters in Modern Art History when I decided to switch gears completely and design jewelry instead. decided to forgo the traditional approach and jumped right into bench work with a master goldsmith. I also apprenticed with this jeweler for two years prior to starting my own business.
My rendering skills are completely self-taught. I also studied Diamond grading and Colored Gemstones through The Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Sustainable jewelry seems to be top of mind for you. Could you please describe (briefly) what sustainable jewelry means? Why is this important for you? The jewelry industry at large?
Yes, it is very important to me. I am a newcomer to producing sustainable jewelry however it is something I have wanted to do for quite sometime. Sustainable jewelry are pieces that are produced with ethically sourced materials and can extend towards green-minded studio practices. I explain how to go about producing sustainable jewelry in my column Designer's Diary for National Jeweler.
Sustainability is more than just knowing you are helping create a better life for an artisanal miner in Brazil but it is about a lifestyle choice. It is a practice that should be applied to your life on a day-to-day basis. It is the idea of not creating excess and waste.
You'll be in NYC this month to talk on a panel. Could you tell me more?
Yes, and I can't wait! Because of the article that I wrote for National Jeweler, Stuller invited me to speak on sustainability during NYC Jewelry Week.
What is your favorite project right now? Why?
I have a few that I am working on that are really fun but my favorite a necklace that I am working on. I am up-cycling a gorgeous amethyst and three-colored gold estate watch fob (that dates back to the Victorian era) into a necklace. I am using an estate watch chain and adding some design elements that will make it very unique. I love working with estate pieces and transforming them.
What inspires your designs?
So many different things. My work is primarily bespoke so it is usually the client who is ordering the piece that is the inspiration. I work to really connect with the person and tap into their unique style. My job is to turn THEIR dream into a reality and make it look pretty. I find that to be the most interesting challenge. Like an actor playing a role. You have to see things through the eyes of that person.
If you weren't a jewelry designer what would you be doing with your life?
I would have been a costume designer. I thought about this for a long time but decided to take a different route.
You currently reside in Napa Valley. Could you talk about the impact of the recent forest fires? How has this affected your family? Your home? Your work?
While the Kincade fire was just over the mountain ridge from us we were very fortunate not to have been faced with evacuations. The power outages were a bit tough and we went for four days without electricity. I did not mind is so much but working proved to be a challenge since there was not internet. However, it was just a momentary setback. At this time I was working on deadline for my Holiday Gift Guide. Luckily the local library had power but no where for a conference call. I found myself sitting in my car on a couple of different video calls using my phone as a hotspot. You could see and smell tons of smoke in the air. Unfortunately, this has become the "norm" in this area.
What is your favorite gemstone at the moment? Why?
I have been obsessed with Sphene for a while now and I am dreaming about having the perfect pair cut in a shield shapes for earrings. There is something powerful and other wordly about a green sphene. Once they are made they will be my Wonder Woman power earrings.
What has been your favorite part of working with me? Your least favorite part?
You are the best, what can I say! You are extremely knowledgeable in your field and you care deeply about your clients. I don't have a least favorite part.
Would you recommend Bubblegum and Duct Tape to other creative entrepreneurs? Why or why not?
Absolutely, and I have! I see the positive impact that my working with you has had on my business and I wish that for other entrepreneurs as well. I know talent when I see it. :)