Hey Now, You’re a JCK Rock Star



Walter Adler Chefitz wowed the judges with a triple twisted Möbius studded with 225 Swarovski Passion Topaz gemstones

For Walter Adler Chefitz, the road to winning JCK Rock Star—the magazine’s first original video series, a 12-­episode competition pitting five designers against each other in a bid to create the most beautiful piece of Swarovski gemstone jewelry—was marked by countless sleepless nights, numerous failed executions, and a ­last-minute scramble to Mexico City, all of which took their toll on the New York City–based designer.

“The piece was impossible,” he says, reflecting on the silver bracelet encrusted with 225 Swarovski genuine Passion Topaz gemstones that nevertheless impressed the judges.

Chefitz, a former David Yurman design director, signed on to the competition last spring in part to give his 1-year-old jewelry company, Walt Adler Jewelry, a nudge and in part to stretch himself creatively.

The online video series, which was filmed during the months of May and June 2011 and aired in monthly webisodes culminating with this month’s finale, challenged the competing jewelry designers to create an original piece using a range of Swarovski precision-cut genuine gemstones. Entries could take any form; the only requirement was that the finished piece be innovative and finished within seven weeks of the competition’s start.

Emma Hopson
Walter Chefitz

Photograph by Ted Morrison
Chefitz’s winning Mesmerize wide bangle in sterling silver with 26.40 cts. t.w. Swarovski Passion Topaz has a retail value of $9,500.

 

Chefitz and his four worthy opponents—Nina Basharova, Rosanne Pugliese, and Alex Woo, who own their self-named companies, and Michael Bruder, owner and designer of Corrupt Design—were given a selection of Swarovski Passion Topaz gems in a range of shades; indeed, the only color not represented was yellow. During the sketching process, each contestant received a personal consultation with Leila Tai Shenkin, an accomplished ­jewelry artist and instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Going into the competition, Chefitz says he was ambivalent. “On one hand I was intimidated,” he says. “On the other, I had no expectations.”


Emma Hopson
Michael Bruder

Photograph by Ted Morrison

Bruder’s pendant in non-tarnish sterling silver features a mix of Swarovski Passion Topaz in an Art Deco–meets–Art Noveau style; the retail value is $1,500.

A week before Chefitz’s bracelet was to be revealed to the judges, the piece was far from finished. In a last-minute decision, he hopped a plane to Mexico City, where the factory he works with is located, to oversee and speed up the production, only to learn the time crunch was the least of his worries. The moment he laid eyes on the piece, he knew it didn’t work.

“I brought home polishing cloths and a liver of sulfur, and I sat on the roof and just—till my fingers got blistered—worked it down,” he says. “That night, it started to come to life.”


Emma Hopson
Rosanne Pugliese

Photograph by Ted Morrison

Pugliese designed the Modernist collar above in 22k and 18k gold, oxidized sterling silver, and Swarovski Passion Topaz; the retail value is $4,600.

Soon, however, other problems emerged. Despite hours of polishing and buffing, the gems looked cloudy and muted. Chefitz extracted one and realized condensation was building up. “I didn’t know this stone well enough,” he says. “We took the piece and put it in an oven for 45 minutes and prayed,” he says. “When it came out, it glistened. It popped.”

Although the process may have been chaotic behind the scenes, the judges—JCK editor in chief Victoria Gomelsky, Swarovski North America president Daniel Cohen, and Randi Udell-Alper, vice president of London ­Jewelers, with various Long Island, N.Y., locations—deemed the end result awe-inspiring.


Emma Hopson
Alex Woo

Photograph by Ted Morrison
Woo’s Moroccan Star Lantern pendant in sterling silver with approximately 5.75 cts. of Swarovski Passion Topaz was inspired by her travels; the retail value is available upon request.

“It started with his presentation,” says Gomelsky, referring to a black custom-made box the designer had made in Ridgefield, N.J., the day before the judging episode was filmed. “There was already a level of professionalism and sophistication that impressed us.”

Chefitz delivered a triple twisted Möbius bracelet that curves and winds around itself, gradually leading the eye from green gems to turquoise, Paraiba, and ice-blue colors in an ombré effect. On the back of the piece, the designer used a theme he incorporates into most of his designs—a pattern based on his initials, W.A., that, when stretched by algorithms and equations on a computer, resembles a tribal motif. An optical illusion, the piece seems to have neither a beginning nor an end.


Emma Hopson
Nina Basharova

Photograph by Ted Morrison
Basharova’s one-of-a-kind Tri-O ring in palladium with Swarowski Passion Topaz can be worn as a ring and as a pendant; the retail value is $1,500.

“Walter’s piece was so original,” Gomelsky says. “Plus, he did a great job of adhering to the guidelines and synthesizing it all so elegantly.”

For Cohen, whose family has been cutting crystal for 117 years, the piece was “harmonious and balanced,” he says. “Both from a shape perspective and quality, there was an intrinsic flow that was really appealing.”

Udell-Alper sealed the judges’ unanimous decision to name Chefitz the winner. She gave the piece high marks but says she was equally impressed by the designer’s positive outlook. “As a retailer, I love seeing passion from a designer,” she says.

Chefitz says he owes his trademark optimism to a defining moment in his life five years ago. After unveiling the Waverly Watch for David Yurman at the Baselworld fair in Switzerland, he decided to visit friends in Spain. While there, he suffered a brain hemorrhage that landed him in a Barcelona hospital for two weeks and subsequently put him out of work for three months. “Three days in, I decided I was going to be better off,” he says. “You can either be a victim or you can be a survivor.”

The near-death experience turned him from a pessimist into an optimist, and ultimately led him to venture out on his own with the 2011 debut of Walt Adler Jewelry. The collection features a wide range of silver and gold styles united by Chefitz’s signature touches. Standout pieces include a leather Bond bracelet with clasps in bronze, silver, or 18k gold that retails for $85 and up; a Dome ring that can be fabricated in sterling silver or 18k gold, with diamonds or gemstones, starting at $1,950; and lockets, made of any combination of materials and engineered to open without hinges, that can be had for as little as $940 retail.

Chefitz prides himself on perfecting even the most subtle details. Large-scale, silver links imprinted with his signature tribal motif are ingeniously created with small openings so that, when they come into contact with the opening of another link, they perfectly line up to detach from each other. Removable and interchangeable, the puzzle-like links pop up in bracelets and other necklaces for both men and women, allowing the wearer to adjust size and add or subtract pendants and/or metal.

“What I learned from David [Yurman] is how to create a collection—how you take the dome ring and create something that complements it at a much friendlier price,” he says.

Although jewelry is in Chefitz’s blood—his great-grandfather founded Adler’s Jewelry in New Orleans in 1898, and it remains an institution today—a circuitous route led him to the business. A rabbi’s son, he grew up in Miami and studied fine arts and ergonomics at Tufts University before attending University College London and the Museum School in Boston. He moved to the West Coast in 1998 and started dabbling in technology. Realizing that tech was not his calling, Chefitz began night classes in jewelry and, in his garage, taught himself CAD. The CAD experience landed him the job with Yurman and a new life in New York City.

But in the end, he says he didn’t decide on jewelry: “It chose me by all means.”