This artist is making quite the comeback at JCK Tucson 2016
This Contemporary Jewelry Design Group designer is as humble as she is kind. I had the honor of getting to know Belle Brooke Barer (pictured, right) a bit better, and while already in love with her work, I fell quite hard for her spirit. This devoted romantic partner and mother has managed to keep her business rocking and the creative vibes flowing. I respect that she has truly created an authentic Belle Brooke Design aesthetic: I can immediately look at a piece of work and recognize that it is hers. The melody she creates in her work with use of positive and negative space fascinates me, excites my creative palate, and oddly provides a profound sense of peace. Her design philosophy is no joke: It truly has an effect on her audience.
Out of all the awards you’ve won over the years (quite an impressive list, I must say), which one has the most meaning for you? Why?
That is a hard question. Right off the bat I want to say Spectrum, but in reality, the most meaningful award was the Halstead Bead Grant for Business Development. I was only the second annual winner, and over the years I have developed a great relationship with the Halstead family, Hillary in particular, and I have even taught a workshop at their facility to the employees. What I really like about this award is that it is also a grant for which applicants present a detailed business plan and are judged on more than just the collection itself. The grant also gets great press each year and each winning artist receives media attention.
Double half-circle deco pendant in matte oxidized sterling silver and 18k yellow gold with 0.41 ct. t.w. diamond melee and 15 ct. natural Australian chrysoprase cabochon on a handmade chain
Could you talk more about how the yin-yang caught your attention and why you choose to explore this in your work?
I studied photography for a long time before even considering jewelry as a career. I worked a lot in black and white and had a job doing large-format black and whites for a firm that made reports for the Library of Congress records. All of the archival records were processed in black and white. I don’t feel like I ever left my photographic eye behind, just transferred the principles into something more sculptural. I make jewelry based on photographic principles because that is what comes naturally. I find meaning in the representation of yin-yang because you simply cannot have one without the other, they are inextricably connected and we have to learn how to live in this balance.
Cielo Pololu leaf pendant in matte oxidized sterling silver and 18k yellow gold with 0.3 ct. t.w. diamond melee
Do you have a favorite piece of work? How long did it take to make? Why is it special to you?
The Hera necklace (you can see it on the slider under Company Philosophy on my website). It took a few weeks to make, it involved detailed layout to get it totally proportional, and was one of my first pieces to feature larger cabochon stones. I love the design, the way it sweeps across the collarbone, it moves. It is my go-to piece for special events.
Hera necklace in matte oxidized sterling silver and 18k yellow gold with 1 ct. t.w. diamond melee and 50 cts. t.w. natural Australian chrysoprase on a handmade chain
I see you studied at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts. I’m a huge fan of Alan Revere for his contributions to education as well as his beautiful jewelry. Could you tell me more about your experience there?
I had a great experience at the Revere Academy. I was lucky that I was living in the Bay Area at the time I went there. I had taken a few sessions at a metal arts school in Berkeley [Calif.], and I was selling jewelry and photography at local art fairs, and one day I realized I really needed a serious and more technical education if I was going to be successful. That is exactly what the program delivered, everything is done properly and you really learn about what you are doing, the traditional way. Alan is a wonderful teacher, and I was so lucky to have him as the main teacher during my session. The students are encouraged to try and to fail, jewelry-making is not something you learn overnight, everyone has to take a patient and realistic approach to learning this difficult craft. The program is focused on really giving students the skills they need to succeed in a jewelry career. It is such a fun experience, it is a bit like jewelry summer camp, you get to totally geek out on jewelry full time for eight weeks. Alan brings in lots of different special guests locally, nationally, and internationally. We had a private Munsteiner visit while I attended, and now every now and then I find myself over there giving a little talk to the students.
Who is one of your best friends in the industry? How did your relationship start? How has it blossomed?
I’ve been a bit out of the networking loop for the past four years as I needed to devote more time to my family. I’m thrilled to get back into the action and reconnect with old friends and peers. Without a doubt my best friend in the industry is my partner, Mark Haughton. We live together in Taos [N.M.], and share a 650- square-foot workshop. Our relationship certainly blossomed with the birth of our daughter. Part of what makes doing the show this year a milestone is that this is the first time we both can attend the show together, as our daughter is now 4 and it’s a little bit easier to prepare and travel.
Cielo Chandelier pendant in matte oxidized sterling silver and 18k yellow gold with 0.12 ct. t.w. diamond melee and 1 ct. natural color rose-cut diamond
What is the biggest piece of advice you could provide to emerging talent or someone just getting started in this industry?
My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you take the time to work for someone else in the industry. I cannot express enough how important this is! Just going to a jewelry school is really not enough skills wise or business wise. Before my time at Studio 311, I also worked as the sole employee for a small photography company doing archival work. Running a business, being a designer, and all the other hats you wear as an entrepreneur are all skills that have to be learned, and through a real-life example is a very effective way. I owe much of my success to my time working for Studio 311, it was a truly valuable experience.
Why are you excited for JCK Tucson?
I am excited because I have always loved exhibiting in Tucson, and I think this show will be a great fit for me and will draw high-quality attendees.
I am also excited about the opportunity to participate in the Uncommon Goods challenge. The Tucson shows have a fun and very laid-back vibe, which is really me; it’s more camaraderie with a less competitive feel than Vegas. Going to Tucson is fun! The weather is refreshing, the town is funky and cool, and the desert world is spectacular.
Luz petite half-moon hoop earrings in satin-finish sterling silver with oxidized interior and 0.12 ct. t.w. diamond melee