1st PlAce - Silver/Argentium® Silver
“I heard the perfect title for my piece, ‘Itado.’ It is from Bambara (Mali) and means ‘It is for you and you deserve it.’ It is meant for the person who is wearing your piece.” The life, art, smithing and stamping techniques, history, travels, and spirit of Matthieu Cheminée are a fascinating and inspiring story of a man who has found his passion in making jewelry. We are all better in countless ways for him being a part of our world.
About the winning piece:
What materials did you use in the winning piece?
Silver, 18K yellow gold, diamonds and a pietersite from Namibia.
What processes did you use?
I started making the piece by stamping. I made a stamp out of steel and then stamped the silver to make the entire texture and pattern. I then cut out the bracelet and formed it by anticlastic raising.
I made two stamps specifically for this bracelet. I created new stamps for each of the pieces I entered into the competition. I initially drew the stone setting in 3D. The stone sits in a bottom silver base. The top, the bezel in 18K gold, is to hold the piertersite stone securely. The diamonds were set before the top was put on. This way there was no soldering around the stone. I laser soldered on the top, and the silver part on the bottom was soldered with a regular torch.
What inspired the piece?
I was inspired at the last Saul Bell Design Award dinner. It was so much fun. I needed to come back again. And I was inspired by the stone when I was in Taos and saw it at a gallery that carried my work. The stone was originally set in another of my rings at the gallery, so I took it out of the ring and designed the bracelet around it. I do this often, take a stone out of one piece and use it in something else. I drew up pictures of the bracelet at the hotel in Albuquerque during the Santa Fe Symposium.
How long did it take to make?
It is hard to say. Probably a week, not full time. If I count the hours, it was probably three days.
What did you learn from the piece?
I learned to set the stone with the laser. This will allow me to set more stones this same way.
Do you think this piece will influence your work going forward?
I think with the stone setting, it most definitely will. In the future I will laser solder from the bottom as well.
Does it reflect your current look/designs/brand?
Totally. I am trying to keep the same style. Evolution in the design aspect is something I believe in. I will always keep the stamping as a base.
What do you like most about the piece?
The color of the stone, and the contrast between the stamping pattern and the stone works quite well.
About the Saul Bell Design Award:
Tell me a little about yourself and what you are involved with.
I have lived in Montreal for the past 16 years and lived in Africa before that. I wrote a book called Legacy, Jewelry Techniques of West Africa published by Tim McCreight at Brynmorgan Press. Tim and I also started The Toolbox Initiative. As our website states, “The goal is to assist jewelers with limited resources through the collective strength of the metalworking community and to create new connections worldwide.”
Did you study jewelry?
I did. I am initially from France, and then I moved to Taos, NM, which is where I learned to make jewelry by watching Navajo jewelers. Then I moved to Africa for three years and learned about the techniques I experienced and saw there. And then it was on to Canada because I felt I was missing some classical craftsmanship skills. I studied for a year and half and then started teaching in Montreal. I still often take workshops to improve my techniques.
I love to go to Africa to just sit and watch. I absorb so much in just a few minutes.
When did you discover you loved making jewelry?
The first minute I moved to Taos and saw Native American jewelry. I also love photography, and it was a big switch for me to go from that to jewelry. My father was a volcanologist. He traveled all over the world and brought my mother back beautiful pieces, which piqued my interest. Navajo and Tuareg jewelry are among the strongest influences in my jewelry.
How long have you been making jewelry?
My first piece was about 29 years ago. I have been making a living at it for the last 15-20 years. There were times when I was teaching and didn’t make much jewelry then.
Who is your design/jewelry mentor?
I am self-taught, so no one person. But many people are my mentors, including people who open their shop or studio to me and share their knowledge.
When are you most creative?
In the morning between 6 and 10.
What is your artist statement/design philosophy?
I have a passion for ethnic techniques from around the world. I am fascinated with the know-how, the transmission of the craft and the transformation of raw or recycled material into beautiful ornaments by gold and silversmiths of those different countries.
Describe your current jewelry collections.
I am currently working on a second book about stamping. I have interviewed about 15 jewelers who stamp their work. The book will also cover how to make stamps and other pertinent information about the process.
Do you have a staff?
I do it all. Sometimes I use a stone setter for pavé work or someone to print 3D.
What is your favorite material to work with?
I really like 18K yellow gold. I love silver as well. I don’t like to work in white gold.
What makes your work stand out from other designers?
The stamping. To create a pattern with stamps makes a difference from other designers who stamp as well.
What do you love about making jewelry?
There is so much I like about it. I like being a part of a community of makers; we are one family. And I like the fact that there is so much we can learn every day about jewelry and working in metals.
Describe the first piece of jewelry you made. When was it?
I gave it away a long time ago, but it was a bracelet which was stamped. There was a woman I knew who had a workshop in her house, and she showed me how to stamp. I was 18 years old at the time.
Are you influenced by trends?
I don’t think so. I am influenced by many things that are around me all the time, most of the time it is on a very subconscious level.
What is the one thing you most love about your studio?
I love the fact that I can carry my coffee down to my shop.
I love my bench. I made the bench out of a big piece of oak and carved out an indented space to work in. I feel like I am encased in my jewelry. African artifacts surround me in my studio.
What is the one thing you would change about your studio?
I am always dreaming about a large loft with big windows. But I love my current space. We have a farmhouse in the country with a workshop where I can make work. Hopefully I might start a school there.
What is your favorite tool?
Stamps definitely. A good file.
One word of advice did you received when starting to make jewelry?
At least for a while, when you are first beginning, to stick to one process. Give one style or process a chance and just follow through the motions for a while to decide if it is right for you.
What one bit of advice would you give beginning designers?
Definitely give 100% to one thing so you know what you are doing. It is very important. Find yourself and keep at it. Give it a chance.
What work inspires you?
I am really inspired by the Navajo and Tuareg jewelers. They all inspire me in different ways. It is magical. I like Todd Reed’s work as well. It is so cohesive and well designed.
What achievement in your jewelry life are you most proud?
I am very proud of where I am today that I am making jewelry, teaching, writing books and being involved in the Toolbox Initiative.
What jeweler would you most like to have dinner with or visit their studio?
Charles Loloma, a Navajo jeweler. Any jeweler … I just love meeting jewelers to see where they work and what they surround themselves with. It is fascinating. You can learn so much from anyone. Maybe, I would visit Kate Wolf’s studio.
About the Saul Bell Design Award:
What did you feel when you found out you were a winner?
I was quite excited. I got the first email, which said I didn’t win for a box I had entered, so I thought I hadn’t won anything. Then I got the call that said I had won. I am so excited to go back and be in Albuquerque for the Santa Fe Symposium and the awards dinner.
Interview by Marlene Richey