In Praise of American-Made

A couple weeks ago, I paid a visit to the New York City workshop of Alex Soldier, at the suggestion of his daughter (and executive director), Maria. Soldier hails from the Russian city of Perm, where he served as the chief designer at the largest jewelry factory in the Ural Mountains. Since emigrating to America in 1990, he’s built a well-regarded designer jewelry brand—with Neiman Marcus, among other retailers—founded on his distinctive metalwork and sculptural sensibility; his pieces are rich with color, texture, and details, like the tiny freshwater pearls that complement the gemstones at the center of his new Anemone coronaria brooches (below).

I had been to Soldier’s workshop before—it’s a short walk from the JCK office—but Maria wanted me to see his newest collection of blackened and gold-plated silver cuffs, dog tag pendants, and baroque pearl pendants.

As I admired the pieces Maria showed me, I was reminded of how undeniably Russian Soldier’s work is: the heraldic accents, the richness of the gold, the artistry. But there is, too, an equally American quality about it. For starters, every piece is handmade in a building around the corner from Manhattan’s Times Square. Soldier emphasized this point as he showed me around the space behind the showroom where two jeweler’s benches littered with tools, wax models, and metal shavings betrayed a work in progress.

In my 12 years of writing about the jewelry industry, I’ve never known people to beat the drum for American-made more than in the past year. I noticed it a few months ago, when I researched a story about American watches for a luxury watch section running in the International Herald Tribune. At the time, President Obama made a news appearance at a lock factory in Milwaukee, where he enthusiastically promoted the business of “onshoring.” Everyone, it seemed, was suddenly hot on the prospect of buying and selling goods that had been conceived, designed, and manufactured domestically.

Even novelist Dave Eggers recently came out in support of American book publishing, explaining that his new novel, A Hologram for the King, about the demise of American manufacturing, led him to a plant in Detroit called Thomson-Shore, where he arranged to have the book printed. “Walking the production floor was very much like meeting members of an extended family. . . . The fact that they’re in Michigan makes it easier to communicate, to reprint, and to correct problems, and the prices are close enough to China’s numbers, when you take shipping and various delays into account,” Eggers told The New York Times. “I would be lying if I said it doesn’t feel somehow right to be printing books in the U.S.”

Closer to home, here in the jewelry trade, JCK Events, the organizers of the JCK show in Las Vegas (JCK’s parent company), recognized the groundswell of support behind domestic production when they called attention to 338 exhibitors who source materials and produce jewelry entirely in the U.S.A. in the show guide, the online map, and booth signs and decals.

At a time when the global economy is beset with so much uncertainty, the United States appears to be the lone bright spot on an otherwise gloom-filled map, and that alone is cause for celebration. I promise that we’ll do real justice to the topic in one of our upcoming issues, where we’ll highlight the marketing advantages of promoting American-made, but in the meantime, happy 4th of July!