Meet the new Southwest Designs Blog. We plan to keep you informed of Jewelry-oriented trends, places, activities and processes that are relevant to our business. Please let us know if there are certain things you'd like to hear about. We welcome your input.
January 19, 2017
We're on Facebook! Admittedly we still have a lot of work to do, but the page is up and running. The page URL is: https://www.facebook.com/SouthwestDesignsNV/ Our goal is to use this site for more frequent updates on Southwest Designs Jewelry, events, promotions, and other relevant information. We believe the site will allow us to be more spontaneous in our communications. So please take a few minutes to visit!
August 27, 2016
GALLUP, NEW MEXICO
We recently visited Gallup, NM, a trip we’d looked forward to for quite a while. We previously tried to reach Gallup in January 2010, but had been turned back by a fierce and unexpected snowstorm. We finally made the trek in April 2016 on a return trip from southern New Mexico, heading north to Albuquerque and then west to Gallup.
Gallup is located approximately halfway between Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ, and is bisected by historic U.S. Highway 66. The city was founded in 1881 as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, and named after David Gallup, a paymaster for the Railroad. According to the 2010 census Gallup has a population of 21,678, with approximately 43% of its residents being Native American including Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes.
And here lies one of Gallup’s greatest attractions. Gallup is home to many of the finest tribal artists in the U.S., practicing their crafts including jewelry, weaving, pottery, painting and sculpture. Jewelry is prevalent; Gallup boasts over 100 jewelry stores (and 100 restaurants) and is a treasure trove of outstanding handcrafted works.
Our plan was to spend 2+ days in Gallup, including a visit to the Saturday Flea Market. We hit the downtown area shortly after arriving on a Thursday afternoon, trying to get a handle on our surroundings. Gallup is a sprawling area with a dusty, old Western town feel to it; trains rumble through on a regular basis and the storefronts are a bit worn. But the façade belies the reality – you walk into a store with cracked windows and a loose door and are blown away by a multi-million jewelry inventory.
Gallup’s riches far exceeded our expectations. We realized there was no way we’d be able to visit even a fraction of the available venues. Many of the stores were familiar to us – including Al Zuni Global, Indian Touch of Gallup, Red Shell, and Ray’s Trading – but there were dozens we’d never heard of. We needed a plan.
We ended up dividing our time into three segments: driving around town to identify stores we wanted to visit (Thursday); hitting the streets to visit as many stores as we could (Friday); and visiting the Flea Market on Saturday along with wrapping up final purchases. Sounds reasonable, but there were numerous stores where you could easily spend a half a day.
In the end, we scratched the surface of what Gallup has to offer. We were on the go – taking breaks only for lunch at the terrific Coal Street Pub in old-town Gallup – but ultimately realized we’d have to return for a longer stay. For the most part we bypassed finished Jewelry (very tough to do!) and limited our purchases to things we could integrate into Southwest Designs creations, including strands of locally-made Sterling Silver beads, Turquoise rough rock (for cabochons), and various finished stones including Kingman Turquoise, Spiny Oyster Shell, Shell Heshi, and several varieties of Coral.
We also indulged in several Tufa Cast Pendants handmade by Merle House, a highly accomplished Navajo artist. The highlight of this purchase was that we were able to meet Merle – he was working in the back room at Indian Touch of Gallup. We shook hands all around and Jim spent a bit of time watching Merle work, receiving a few tips.
Bottom line, we plan to head back to Gallup when we can. It is a vibrant community with many accomplished Jewelry artists and a vast display of exceptional handcrafted work.
May 19, 2016
CREATIVE DESIGN PROCESS
We are often asked about our creative design process. "How do we conceive our designs, where do we find our materials, how do we continue to develop unique Jewelry?" We emphasize original, one-of-a-kind pieces, so the creative process is fundamental to the success of our business.
There are five major components to our creative process, and each is essential to producing exceptional Jewelry designs.
- Having a vision for the business and the product
We would be the first to admit that we lacked a comprehensive business plan when we launched Southwest Designs. But we did have a vision, and we've been steadfast in executing it. Our vision was to create exciting, high-quality, distinctive pieces of Jewelry, influenced by Southwest culture and employing the rigorous techniques of Native American artists. This entailed a commitment to investing in materials and tools, and to learning what it takes to handcraft authentic custom Jewelry. This is not a side road; rather, it is a motivating and intense dedication to continual improvement and excellence in Jewelry design.
- Acquiring raw materials
- We've all heard the phrase "junk in, junk out." While this was coined by data specialists, it is very apt in Jewelry design. To create beautiful and compelling pieces of Jewelry, you must invest in high quality, compelling design components. We strive to find exceptional raw materials that will enrich our work. While jewelry retail store offerings are a component of this search, we largely rely on wholesale shows and foraging along the backroads, looking for gems. The Tucson Gem Show in Tucson, AZ is a major buying venue for us. The Show features over 4,000 vendors from around the world, and offers an amazing selection of semi-precious gemstone beads, rough rock, and fine sterling silver and copper components. Other sources include the Las Cruces, New Mexico Farmers Market; local artist shops in Gallup, NM and Sedona, AZ; the Kingman Turquoise showroom in Kingman, AZ; unsung stores along highways across the western US; and the many Art Shows we've traveled to and participated in. Jim has also swapped rocks with fellow lapidrians and rock collectors. We have learned along the way and over the years how to distinguish the best from the rest, enhancing our Jewelry designs.
- Acquiring and mastering the use of requisite tools
- When Jim first joined Southwest Designs as our Silversmith, he began his training on used tools, typically passed down by a retiring metalworker. As we expanded the complexity of our designs and techniques – and as Jim forayed into lapidary (cutting, shaping and polishing gemstones) – we've invested in workbenches, soldering torches, grinders, a hydraulic press, rolling mill, several rock cutting saws and finish saws, flex shafts, polishers, dapping (forming) blocks, sawblades, pliers, hammers, stamping tools, clamps, charcoal blocks and chemicals. Owning the tools is one thing; the larger challenge is learning to use and then master the tools to further our creative reach. This has included formal classes, online instructional videos, reading and re-reading books by accomplished Jewelry artists, and sharing concepts and techniques with colleague metal workers. The process is never-ending. But it is also rewarding and inspirational.
- Many pieces of Southwest Designs Jewelry require collaboration between Lisa and Jim to achieve the desired finished design. When this occurs, Jim is at the front end of the project, cutting rock, forming a cabochon, and painstakingly devising and handcrafting a pendant setting that will bring out the beauty of both the stone and the metal. The finished pendant is then passed to Lisa, who is tasked with designing it into a necklace. There are a myriad of options, ranging from draping the pendant on a handcrafted sterling silver chain, to designing it into a multi-strand creation of blended gemstones and metals. The seeming complexity of this process could be overwhelming if it were not guided by a commitment to artistic value. Bottom line, our goal is to have the finished necklace be more than the sum of its parts. That is, the necklace will be more compelling and impactful than any of the individual components, even if they are in their own right quite exceptional. Through collaborative design we bring out the best of our individual creative works.
- Design risk and experimentation
- Creative design demands risk and experimentation. There is no direct route to creating exceptional Jewelry; rather, it is a thoughtful process of repeated attempts that can only be streamlined through experience. For Jim, the process is a mix of tool mastery, inspiration, taking creative risks, and persistence. Plus having the fortitude to scrap an unfinished piece that looked great in concept but less than ideal in execution. For Lisa, the process demands materials knowledge, design iteration, and the dexterity to attempt and complete highly complex designs. When designing with gemstones a number of things are considered, including color, transparency or opacity, shape, length, weight, style, use and impact. This is an iterative process that involves experimenting with one gemstone then another, and blending secondary stones into the mix to achieve the right balance. Typically this involves designing, re-designing, and designing again various necklace or bracelet patterns that fall by the wayside if they don't hit the mark. Once the gemstones are determined, sterling silver and/or copper components are tested and retested. It is not enough to have an acceptable design. The finished Jewelry must be uncommon and exceptional. So we push on. Many pieces take 2-3 days from concept to completion (and sometimes longer). This is the art and black magic of Southwest Designs Jewelry creation that leads to one-of-a-kind pieces with singular style.