Our new video series challenges five jewelers to conceive and execute an original design in seven weeks using genuine Swarovski Passion Topaz gems, $750, and heaps of creative genius.
On June 3, Project Runway, the groundbreaking 7-year-old reality series that challenges up-and-coming designers to create the best clothes as they vie for a career in fashion, put out a casting call for a spin-off series titled Project Accessory. “Do you think you have what it takes to be on Project Accessory on Lifetime?” asked a promotional blurb on the cable channel’s website. “If you design jewelry, handbags, shoes, or other fashion accessories, we will be holding open calls in June 2011 in the following cities: New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles.”
It would be easy to give PR producers credit for being first to market with a competitive reality program that highlights the jewelry industry, which has been strangely absent from the reality TV phenomenon of the past decade. But the truth is that JCK beat them to it.
At the JCK show in Las Vegas last month, this magazine unveiled episode 1 of JCK Rock Star, a new 12-part series that pits five emerging, New York City–based designers against each other as they struggle to conceive and execute an original piece of jewelry using a $500 assortment of genuine gems from the Passion Topaz collection by Swarovski, the series’ sponsor. In addition to the gems, each of the designers has $750 to put toward metals and accent materials.
Each month, a new episode documenting the seven-week challenge (taping concluded at the end of June) will appear on JCKonline.com, and in June 2012, the magazine will announce the winner at the JCK Las Vegas show.
To determine the winner, Rock Star relied on a panel of judges to assess the pieces based on creativity, innovation, and wearability: JCK editor in chief Victoria Gomelsky; Daniel Cohen, president of Swarovski U.S. Holding Ltd. and an executive board member; and Randi Udell-Alper of Manhasset, N.Y.–based luxury retailer London Jewelers. Aided by consultations with Leila Tai Shenkin, an esteemed artist-jeweler who lectures at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, the contestants’ work is distinguished by a remarkable diversity.
“So far the competition is exciting because each designer has chosen a completely different mix of stones,” says Erwin Wieser, managing director of the Americas, Swarovski Gems. “I guess you could say they have chosen their own personal mix of Passion. We loved seeing the surprise and excitement in their eyes when they have the chance to explore new grounds.”
Russian jeweler Nina Basharova, a New Yorker by way of Israel, says she had a vision of her piece on day one, when the designers were shown the rainbow palette of stones with which they’d be working. “I’m making a modular piece in many ways,” she says. “It can be worn as a pendant and also as a ring. It has a tree line shape with various stones which will be set in pavé on the side.”
Corrupt Design owner Michael Bruder describes his jewelry as “a mixture of art nouveau and art deco patterns and styles put together with graphic design and graphic art, mixing and merging things from the past into a modern and futuristic style”; this competition, however, has forced him to rethink his long-established design ethos.
“I like to make really nice ornate things,” says Bruder, a former aerospace engineer who hails from Germany. “When I started to design [the Rock Star piece], I ended up with 120 stones that I would have to set. Okay, that might be overkill, so I tried to trim it down.”
“The goal is to create the piece for the competition, not to put it into a production line,” Bruder continues. “I wanted to try and make something that is all about the Swarovski gems, something that would match what comes to mind when I think about using those sorts of stones. It’s not about modifying a particular design that I have. It is more of an art piece.”
Likewise, Rosanne Pugliese—a Brooklyn-based designer who worked for Calvin Klein until 1997, when the birth of her second son inspired her to launch an eponymous line of jewelry using 22k gold as a signature—says the designing process for Rock Star is completely different from her own method. “When I work with jewelers in my studio, we don’t send out a lot for casting,” she says. “We work right at the table with the tactile metal in hand and fabricate. We have a real craftsman’s approach to it. For [this] piece, I really had to plan ahead, sit down with a sketch, and figure out which stones I was going to order ahead of time.”
Pugliese chose a range of rain-forest green topaz gems for their strong, seductive color. She is using a lot of the emerald-cut shape in her Mondrian-style pendant. “The goal is to create something that is in my signature that really highlights those gemstones in a new way,” she says.
Walter Adler Chefitz, a protégé of David Yurman who launched his new Walt Adler line at the recent JCK Las Vegas show—where his Dome ring won Best in Show in the Design Center—says the gems themselves are his chief source of inspiration. Because he usually works with sterling silver and uses gemstones only as accents, the competition has taken him in an entirely new direction.
“I’ve been studying the Swarovski stones, and learning how the shapes and colors can create patterns,” Chefitz says. “I’ve spent 10 hours laying them out, and now I’m incorporating them into a design that is sculptural with a tribal edge. I chose a bracelet because it offered me a large enough canvas to showcase the Swarovski stones.”
Last but not least, there’s Alex Woo, the daughter of a bench jeweler and owner of a 10-year-old eponymous collection of silver and gold jewelry. Although her childhood was steeped in jewelry, Woo always thought she would become a sculptor or a painter. A class in jewelry rendering and a 1998 award for excellence in design from the Women’s Jewelry Association changed her mind. Woo derives her inspiration from her prolific world travels; for the Rock Star competition, she is revisiting Morocco.
“The designs are based around the Moroccan lanterns, so it will have that pendulum effect,” Woo says. “The great thing about Swarovski is that they are really big on calibration, and making sure that all their gems are matching colors and shapes.”
Although being in front of a camera is a new experience for most of the contestants, the experience has proven formative and fruitful in ways the designers could not have predicted. Chefitz, for one, has learned that he thrives on working under less-than-ideal conditions. “My design parameters have expanded, and I have definitely realized that I can get by with less sleep,” he says.
Meanwhile, Basharova says she loves the drama-free, mutually supportive atmosphere of the competition, and that the challenge has already benefited her career. “It has affected the way I think about design,” she says. “Even if I don’t win, I feel like all of us are winners.”