Exit Interview with Alan Revere

This week, Alan Revere, founder of the Revere Academy, announced he is retiring and selling his famed jewelry-making school. Here, he talks to JCK about how teaching jewelry-making has changed over the years, why he’s not interested in CAD-CAM, and why creating jewelry is different than making just about anything else.

JCK: So why did you decide to retire now?

Alan Revere: Two reasons. One, I just turned 70. I had a retrospective of my work about three months ago. The [school’s] lease is coming up for renewal and it’s available so I wanted to make it available to someone who wants the business.

JCK: What kind of reaction have you gotten?

Revere: I have received a lot of interest. I have a colleague fielding the interest. I know some of the people and I don’t know some of them. I’m really looking for someone who has three things. One is the money. The other is the skill to run an organization like this. The [last] is energy—someone with energy to take this into the future.

I’m weeding out people by asking them to submit a modified business plan by mid-August. So we’ll see. If nobody shows up, it’s always been my plan to shut the door and walk away.

JCK: Why did you start the school?

Revere: I had graduated from [University of Virginia] I went to Woodstock where I decided not to go to law school and then traveled around and ended up at the Institute Allende in Mexico. That’s where I got my first introduction to jewelry-making, Mexican style. I ended up at the Fachhochschule für Gestaltung in Pforzheim and got into a goldsmith program.

Then I came back and started making jewelry. Some people asked me if I could show them things because I had a higher skill level. I put in an extra bench and it was obvious there was a huge need; people were really devouring it. I started teaching classes and it grew to the point where I had to move to the city and get an office. Every year or two I would just add on space. It evolved very organically. I didn’t have a business plan until I was two-thirds of the way through it and by then I already had 15 teachers.

JCK: How have things changed over the years?

Revere: Today it is largely women. When I started teaching it was 85 percent men and they were largely looking for jobs. Now it’s largely women and they are entrepreneurial and they are empowered and they have picked up the torch and they are running with it.

JCK: Has modern technology changed how you teach?

Revere: We offer CAD classes and we have a laser. But most of it is still by hand.

I like to say that anyone can sit at a computer and press a few buttons but the jewelry comes out not quite lifelike. There is a vitality that is missing when people design through the CAD/CAM process. I have done a little bit of it; it doesn’t interest me at all.

People who want to make jewelry through CAD really should be learning jewelry by hand first. And then, if they want to, they can go with CAD. But you really need to know how it works, what the parameters are.

JCK: Is there a danger in the skills you teach dying out?

Revere: For sure. I see myself as a transporter of information across the millennia. The person I learned from, he learned in the early 1900s, and he learned from people before him. He passed his skill directly to me. I’m sure it can be passed on for hundreds of more years.

A long time ago I had a dream that I was the last goldsmith. That was kind of crazy. I thought, “What does it mean?” Now in a way, I am. I am part of a generation that learned handwork. I’m not sure the next generation will be the same. Things are changing.

JCK: Is it tougher for new designers today?

Revere: The answer is no. There will always be a place for skilled bench jewelers. We get calls all the time looking for good jewelers. In some ways, it’s easier and let me tell you why. I think that standards have dropped. Consumers are not looking for a finely made piece of jewelry with the same level of precision. They are looking for something creative and contemporary and there may not be the same level in making it. So in that sense, it’s easier.

JCK: You have taught so many young people. What advice would you give someone just starting out?

Revere: Whether it’s jewelry or anything else, find your passion and then dive in 110 percent. I see so many young people who don’t realize how to make things with their hands. Schools don’t push art a lot. I’ve always been about bringing more beauty into the world. When I make something beautiful and people tell me it’s beautiful I feel like I have achieved something.

JCK: You talk a lot about how good it is to create something. Why do you think that is?

Revere: It really feels good. It lubricates part of your neural pathways. It is just beyond compare, beyond words.

When people start to make jewelry they get addicted, it’s like they can’t put it down. They keep wanting to do a little bit more—let me put the bezel on, I want to put the rest of ring on—and the next thing you know you have worked all night and it’s six in the morning. Jewelry is something real. It’s not just a slash on a keyboard. It is something that will last thousands of years.

When you look at cultures, what speaks most about the culture? It’s the jewelry that remains. Everything else is gone.

You don’t need a big factory. You don’t need a lot of technology. You don’t need a lot of workers. But you can sit down at a bench and create [something] precious, something that will outlive you.

It’s not like a drawing. People throw away paper. Clothing falls apart. Furniture will burn. Glass will break. A piece of jewelry endures. The materials are resistant to the environment. That’s why they call them noble metals.

(Images courtesy of Alan Revere)

JCK News Director