Mar 24, 2017
Objets D’Art: Hannah Jewett’s Sculptural Jewelry in Metal and Lucite
A steady stream of light reaches into Hannah Jewett’s home studio—it makes the silver chains suspended on the wall, the geometric shapes stacked in clear bins, and the panels of lucite in various compositions, gleam. It’s a minimal space, but all of the objects within it are striking and confident. Jewett describes herself as an accessories, clothing, and lifestyle designer that just left her full time job to keep up with the jewelry orders that have been pouring in on Instagram. Recently, Refinery 29 praised her hoodies for replacing the traditional drawstring with beaming silver chains and shapes (and yes, you can easily unclip the chains, so it is washer friendly).
Although she has a clear eye for jewelry, she didn’t practice or study that skill formally. She moved from Santa Barbara to San Francisco to cultivate her skills in painting and drawing. But over time, her interests became three dimensional, and in her last year she gravitated toward jewelry. After graduating from college, she migrated to New York, where she ended up working for an architectural model making studio in the garment district. At lunch, she would scour the area for materials, and at night she used the laser cutter to create shapes from acrylic and lucite scraps.
In 2014, she partnered with Nikki Mirsaied to create the brand Mir Ett. Their collections were beyond the scope of necklaces and bracelets. As they explained in their mission statement, it was “A platform to conceptualize object-based designs.” One of their signature pieces was a beautiful set of hand weights cast from brass and resin. The wearable accessories include clear cables gathered with a large silver magnet, and bracelets that form the slim outline of a cage. The materials are more modest then their looks might suggest. “We’d go to like Bed Bath and Beyond and like the Container Store and buy materials, instead of going to actual jewelry stores,” Hannah told me. Quickly, the collections found critical acclaim and are now for sale in the Naguchi Muesum and Brooklyn Museum. In 2017, Hannah has taken that aesthetic and created a line of necklaces, keychains, hoodies, and magnets. She just launched a stunning collection on her new website, but Hannah says she’s “Just another BFA in the world trying to figure it out.”
Did you go to school knowing you wanted to study jewelry design?
I did visual art, in a broad sort of scope. In California, at CCA. I went in not really knowing what I wanted to do. I had a background in drawing and painting and stuff. So I kind of did that combined with sculpture, some film stuff here and there. But when I was working in film it was mostly set design focus or object focused. I was always interested in that aspect of it.
I didn’t really even get into jewelry until the end of my time at school. I just sort of took that and ran with it. It’s been 5 years or so. I had a little less than a year before I moved here. Just another BFA in the world trying to figure it out. What do I do now? In San Francisco there is way less opportunities for jobs in the arts and the creative industry. And the city was changing so much, like right when I graduated all of my friends and classmates were either moving to LA or NY. So I just kind of followed the crowd, and I’ve kind of always wanted to live here too, so it worked out. It was just an open window.
We’d go to like Bed Bath and Beyond
and like the Container Store and buy materials,
instead of going to actual jewelry stores
What was it like when you first moved to New York?
I didn’t have a plan. I was just like I’m going to wing it, and it took a while to get set up. I moved here, had no idea what the fuck I was doing, and I met up with a friend of mine from San Francisco (Nikki Mirsaied) and we kind of joined forces and were designing here for awhile. It was a little bit on and off for a couple of years, but then we produced a bunch of solid collections together (Mir Ett). Up until a few months ago I started doing my own thing and that’s been my main focus.
For your previous brand Mir Ett what were the first pieces you started making?
Our first collection was a merger of our best pieces that we had previously done that we wanted to reproduce as a company. We were like these are our favorite parts of the these two separate brands that we created before so we married them.
One of the things that we had in common with our work was that we worked with unconventional materials. And we both had a background in visual arts, so it was kind of like small scale sculpture almost. We did do jewelry for sure, like we did necklaces and bracelets, but we also did weights. Like I made these custom brass and lucite weights. We kind of wanted to play around with weird materials and make unexpected, not just accessories but household objects. Like I did this one clutch that was made out of a bath mat. We’d go to like Bed Bath and Beyond and like the Container Store and buy materials, instead of going to actual jewelry stores [Laughs]. So that was kind of one things that drove us in the beginning. And I think the collection that we ended with was a little bit more conventional materials, but it was also a new way of working for us. We did 3-D printing and stones, and different techniques.
A lot of these materials, I look at, and I have no idea how you would make something out of it. Like a rod or a metal sheet. So, how would you make the weights?
It was a casting project. So resin and brass.
And you did that at home?
Yes, which you should not do. [Laughs.] You have to be really careful with it. I’ve always worked from home because jewelry is small scale and I don’t need a full studio. Like I don’t need to pay someone to do what I do. But I do for casting resin in the future.
What is your partner from Mir Ett doing now?
She’s kind of going in the art direction/ creative direction world. More editorial stuff. We worked together on a shoot recently and that was fun. She asked me to do custom accessories styling. So making styling accessories for the models, but also dressing the set. So doing hardware pieces for the set. We’ve always had the dynamic where taste and aesthetic has never been an issue. So nice to find someone you can read on that level and don’t have to give direction.
These magnets are beautiful, but also functional. What was the origin of these?
I needed a space saving solution. And I needed a spot to hang stuff. It’s always nice when an idea comes along like that.
Do you sketch your designs out before you make them?
I don’t sketch as much as I used to. Working 3-dimensionally I do a lot of sketching but it’s spreading everything out, and drawing in 3-D.
I had all of these different shaped beads lying around. So a lot of my process is finding what I like, which is really basic what am I gravitating towards, and collecting that, and seeing what comes out of that. It’s kind of crazy how half of the design process is what fits together.
It’s kind of crazy how half of the design
process is what fits together.
Where do you get your materials?
The architecture studio, where I work, is in the garment district, slash jewelry district, and so on my lunch breaks I’m at these stores everyday. I have to run errands all the time. If I forget something I have to go back, catching stores before they close. That’s been my life for the past year or so.
Which things are people responding to the most right now?
Of the recent work that I’ve been doing, the hoodies have been getting the most attention. I buy the hoodies, take out the drawstring. This is chain that’s threaded through. I add these clasps to the inside so you can take it off and wash it. So you unhook these parts and clasp these too.
Are there stores that are curating interesting collections?
There are tons of cool retailers in NY with really thoughtfully curated collections. I’ve been lucky to work with people like Zoe Fisher of Handjob Gallery (which recently closed but she is in the midst of opening a new space with Patrick Perish that I’m excited to see). Chad Phillips recently became the buyer for Brooklyn Museum store and bought some of my work for the shop, which he just transformed into a totally new, fresh space. Sight Unseen has a great online store that features a lot of new designers (jewelry and other products as well).
I saw that you were commissioned to make jewelry for a fashion shoot. Is that work you seek out?
I feel like it’s a brand. There’s this creative aspect that’s going to run through the whole thing. When I do a look book, I’ll have a voice in that. I want to be in control of how my images turn out. I love the process of working on shoots. That’s fun for me. So those are the things I look forward to. The focus has been getting my website done and filling orders. I just finished the shoot for online photos for a few weeks ago.
How do you feel like jewelry fits into the gallery/ fine art world?
Fashion and art tend to go hand in hand. It’s fairly common to see jewelry designers featured in gallery settings, and inversely artists in retail spaces. I’ve always been interested in exploring the intersection between art and design, and don’t think there is or should be a solid line between the two.
What are other jewelry designers that you follow right now?
There are so many designers I really admire- Tauba Auerbach is making some amazing sculptural jewelry and accessories. I also met Tapley recently at a pop up where we were both featured and have been keeping up with her as well. I feel like I’m constantly being introduced to other jewelry designers thanks to instagram, which has become a critical tool for me in both sharing and selling my work.
Your space is so clean. Marie Condo would be so into it.
I’ve been a minimalist for a little bit now. I prefer it that way.
Photos by Jane Bruce
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