There are times in your career when you pinch yourself, and this is definitely one of those moments. Alishan’s reputation precedes him. He is well-known for creating gorgeous handmade work that is built with integrity and passion. I wish I could take credit for this master’s involvement with the Design Center relaunch in Tucson, but I’ll admit it’s our fearless leader, Katie Dominesey, JCK Industry vice president, who opened this great’s eyes to all the hard work and changes we’ve implemented for this year’s show. Alishan’s wife, Lydia Tutunjian, handles the other side of the business, including the marketing and sales, creating a seamless team effort that’s a united front on all accounts. It’s an honor to have such a high caliber of talent at the Design Center, and I was pleasantly surprised by two things: his humility and how the art always comes first. I hope you enjoy this small peek into Alishan’s world as much as I did.
I really enjoyed the video on your website! Is all of your work handmade in California? Why or why not is this important to you?
Alishan: All our jewelry is made in our studio from idea to finished product. I choose to do it this way, because it allows me to express myself and call each piece my own creation, without any outside influences. In addition, I enjoy the process of transition and evolution of each design from concept to the final three-dimensional piece. The process inspires me daily.
Fabricated broach/pendant in palladium, oxidized sterling silver, carved matted black onyx, colorless diamonds and black opal
I noticed a centrifuge casting machine in the video. Do you do all of your own castings? Why did you make this choice?
Alishan: I cast all the gold and sterling silver in our studio but farm out the platinum and palladium casting. Casting in-house gives me the freedom of doing it whenever I desire, hence saving me time. I get very impatient with new pieces and like to see them completed right away.
I see that you are self-taught jeweler! That’s incredible. How many years do you have on the bench? How long did it take for you to create wearable art? Did it come naturally?
Alishan: When I arrived in Los Angeles from Armenia in 1970, I ended up in the jewelry district while continuing my art studies at the city college. I started as a diamond setter but discovered some of the German and Swiss artists at the time and became attracted to the design aspect of jewelry. I got involved in jewelry-making. I drew pieces and tried to make them. Many years of experiments, challenges, and solutions have been rewarding. I consider my teacher of the craft to be Oppi Untracht. His book Jewelry: Concepts and Technology gave me all the insights of jewelry-making, even though I never had the privilege of meeting the master himself. I still work at the bench all the time, and that’s what I enjoy the most. Art and craft is a lifetime work, and I learn every day.
Are all of your designs sketched out first?
Alishan: It starts from an idea, and then I make several sketches. I have volumes of sketchbooks and keep them all.
In the video you are using the lost wax casting process. Do you carve all your models by hand? Do you incorporate modern technology, such as CAD, into your work?
Alishan: I carve most of my designs in wax or fabricate them in metal. Recently, after much hesitation, I decided to incorporate CAD technology, which I had resisted for a long time. There is something magical about building work by hand, but in order to keep up with orders in a timely manner I needed to be open to building some of my models using the computer.
How would you describe your aesthetic? What do you want to say with your art?
Alishan: My aesthetic is who I am, my culture, where I come from, and constant daily influences. Jewelry is my expression and conversation with my audience, like any other form of art.
18k yellow gold earrings with colorless diamonds and natural multicolor rose-cut diamonds
Who is a fellow jewelry designer you admire? What attracts you to them and their work?
Alishan: There are so many modern designers that I admire, however, the ancient masters and their craft is very inspirational to me.
How do you contribute to building community within the jewelry industry?
Alishan: I am involved in many industry groups, among them American Jewelry Design Council (AJDC), Contemporary Jewelry Design Group (CJDG), and I get involved with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) every year. At GIA I participate in the designer panel discussions and provide coaching for the students.
Why are you excited for JCK Tucson?
Alishan: I love traveling to Tucson for Gem Week, it’s an exciting time. JCK has proven to be experts at organizing trade shows and providing a great environment where business is conducted. Although the show in Tucson is new, I’m excited to be involved, as I know they will do great things.
Marquise shape rings in 18 karat and oxidized silver with colorless diamonds and gemstones (black boulder opal, Munsteiner cut pink tourmaline and Mexican fire opal)