Chicago-based jewelry designer, Martin Bernstein, uses spaghetti-like compilations of tricolor gold chains to create sultry, organic-looking, and mermaid-esque styles.
Jewelry designer Martin Bernstein
Year firm launched: 1981
Signature style: “It is jewelry that is comfortable to wear yet at the same time, a one-of-a-kind handcrafted item featuring tricolor 14k gold as well as sterling—for a variance of patina—chains with South Sea pearls and rough cuts of gemstones. Each piece has an organic nature that physically accentuates movement and sensuality while visually presenting profiles like no other. With each and every piece, I am attempting to meld within the creative dance of materials.”
Training, education, and design process: “I studied studio art at the University of Michigan. I actually majored in painting and photography at school, but I never felt that being an artist was referring to any particular medium—it was a state of mind, the way I filtered the world.
Painting was all I really wanted to do, but it got to the point that I didn’t want take the time to stretch the canvas; I just wanted to move paint around. I wasn’t thinking of the finished products. I didn’t feel it was necessary or fulfilling to limit myself to the framed rectangle on the wall. As time went on I found that I was creating environments of these encrusted colorful, highly texturized surfaces that filled the rooms—and, sadly, where I was the only inhabitant. Before that I had played with jewelry as a medium but had only made a few pieces for myself, and had used finished jewelry parts as elements and color in other objects I had made, like vases, decanters, and chandeliers.
I decided to immerse myself in jewelry making as expression. In the beginning, I was taking older pieces that were broken and damaged and intertwining them; It was similar to my painting in that I just wanted to [create] with whatever was around. I made necklaces out of chandelier crystals and metals from old pieces of jewelry.
Eventually, I began to work more from scratch with the raw elements. I bought spools of gold and silver chains and gemstones of all types. As this was moving along I found that I wanted crisper colors and sharper sparkles, finer surfaces; all of this was leading me to using the finer elements that I have been using for sometime now.
Now, I maintain abstraction in both my artwork in my jewelry, which is all one-of-a-kind. My pieces are highly asymmetrical with intertwining chains capturing the pearls and gemstones, and all made here in the U.S.
So I never really came to making jewelry like most jewelers do. I don’t design ahead of time. I just begin with some element and start making. This process for me is the most satisfying to see the invention come to life right before my eyes. Also, I believe that this process breaths spontaneity into the jewelry making that I don’t see elsewhere.”
Materials of choice: “Basically everything is 14k yellow, white, and rose gold. About 5 percent is sterling silver. The elements I use range from fine pearls—natural, South Sea, keshi, Tahitian, and top quality freshwaters—to rubies, opals, tourmalines, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, tanzanite, and more.”
Jewelry trade show exhibits: “I don’t exhibit at the shows. Instead, I travel the U.S. twice a year to various cities and resort towns personally searching for the perfect locations: stores that carry extremely unique fine jewelry and are in the market for the most unique items in the world.”
Accolades: “For four years, I was chosen by the World Gold Council to receive a Blue Ribbon Panel award, recognizing my designs as the very best of what was new in gold jewelry.”
Accounts: “About 10 or so in the U.S., including Jensen Stern Joaillier in Ketchum, Idaho, and Hirshleifer’s in Manhasset, N.Y. I have one international account—Ghidini Gioielli in Brescia, Italy.”
Starting retail price: “The starting retail for gold earrings is around $500 and about $2,500 for a gold necklace.”
Retailer buy-in: “I have no really set buy-in for stores. Each store is an individual case and must be dealt with as such.”
Earrings in 14k white, yellow, and rose gold with South Sea baroque pearls, $3,200
Bracelet in 14k white, yellow, and rose gold with aquamarines, beryl, raw diamond nuggets, and citrines, $4,800
Necklace in 14k white, yellow, and rose gold and sterling silver chains with multicolored Tahitian pearls, $14,000
Necklace in 14k white, yellow, and rose gold and sterling silver chains with Tahitian keshi pearls, $17,000
Necklace in 14k white, yellow, and rose gold with a 60 ct. natural pearl, $280,000
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