As you can see we have been keeping up our promise of delivering a nice and constant flow of interviews in early 2019!
Today, we interview our friend “Huckleberry” jeweller and jewellery designer at Jai 108 Presents here in Bangkok. The idea behind this interview is simply to break an enduring myth: Everything that comes from Asia isn’t cheap or mass produced!
So here it comes!
AsiaLounges: Hi Huck, thanks for joining us today for this interview and to help us debunk the myth of Made in Asia = Low Quality! So without any further delay, tell us more about you: Who are you “Huckleberry” and where are you from?
“Huckleberry”: Thank you for having me. I was born and raised in Southern California. We used to travel across America a lot to do festivals and concerts. It was on one of these trips in 1985 that we stopped in Arkansas and went digging for quartz crystals. At that time Quartz crystals were at their peak in popularity among the ‘new age’ and ‘metaphysical’ crowd. I started to make jewellery with them, and return frequently to Arkansas to mine them. This is also when I first started attending the Tucson gem show, and broadening my knowledge regarding gems and minerals, specifically to incorporate in the jewellery I was making. A few years later I went to Nepal and India and started designing silver (and later gold) jewellery. I worked in Jaipur, India for twenty years prior to moving to Thailand.
AsiaLounges: I suppose the first question that one should ask is: What is the main difference between what is generally understood as being mass produced and, say, one of kind type jewellery or bespoke jewellery?
“Huckleberry”: Well, this is a very good question. I guess the simplest answer would be, jewellery (like mine) that is made in workshops run by husband and wife teams who have 10-20 workers versus a factory with hundreds or even thousands of workers. The former tend to hire more skilled craftspeople who understand each aspect of making a piece of jewellery versus a factory that just trains people to one aspect of the job, such as filing, setting or polishing.
AsiaLounges: As we are both from the “West” I think we can safely assume that the main reason behind the train of thoughts saying that Made in Asia = Low Quality / Mass Produced is inherited from ethnocentrism and historical behaviour. I mean, so many stuff are mass produced in Asia from phones to computers and of course, jewellery that one just tends to assume that it is the norm. In your opinion, how can one be sure that when someone like yourself, or us even, claiming to do bespoke or one of kind jewellery it is indeed the truth?
“Huckleberry”: Another good point. Yes, there have been so many revelations in the news in recent years about working conditions in Asian countries (sweat shops etc). My thought is these were centred around the clothing industry primarily. Large companies in the west using ‘cheap labor’ to ‘mass produce’ their items. I think jewellery falls low on that list since jewellery is a ‘luxury item’, whereas clothes, shoes, computers, telephones and automobiles are all in high demand by societies rich and poor. This is not to say that a lot of ‘lower end’ inexpensive jewellery isn’t ‘mass produced’ in large factories. Though I think it is a misnomer to assume that all jewellery ‘made in Asia’, or even a majority falls into this category. Of course the simplest way to find out, would be to ask the artist/manufacturer (in this case, me). With cheap jewellery (which more often than not, is not even made from silver), purchased in a department store, by a large company, for example, it would be nearly impossible to inquire who the ‘artist’ is, or how and where was it was made.
AsiaLounges: Another way to look at that question would be to ask, what sets your brand, Jai 108 Presents, apart from people like Tiffany & Co’s Silver Jewellery or people like Pandora?
“Huckleberry”: I am not that familiar with Tiffany & Co.’s infrastructure. Pandora I am familiar with because they have a factory here that employs thousands of workers. In their defense, I would say, that though their jewellery could definitely be considered “mass produced”, the working conditions are no less in caliber to large manufacturing plants in the west, with time cards, overtime pay and good quality work environments. ( I have toured large jewellery manufacturing plants here). What sets my little company apart, is that I am just one person overseeing every aspect of the manufacturing process, from conceptual idea to finished piece. I also pride myself on ‘customer service’, meaning that I respond to each and every inquiry personally. Answer any questions the customer may have etc. Whether I design one piece for a customer, or a whole line of jewellery, I work directly with them and can walk them through each stage of production.
AsiaLounges: Design wise, could you take us through the process? I understand that, while we already wrote something about design in the past, most of our readers are not necessarily aware of the designing process and, of course, the associated costs and technologies. Can you tell us more about that?
“Huckleberry”: Sure. I find the whole process of designing jewellery quite fascinating. The majority of my designs are made using computer aided design software (CAD). This is one of the reason why people associate this designing way with mass production as it appears to remove the traditional paper and pen touch of the design. While it couldn’t be farther from the truth, it is good to remember that you can produce a single piece or a hundred whether you use CAD design or hand carved wax as base for your production. It only makes design faster and more often than not more efficient.
Taking an idea, a concept, a sketch, and transform it into a piece of jewellery can be very challenging.
I work with three different CAD designers, I explain what I want, what size stones and where I want them set. They then render an image on the computer which has to be very exact, because we often use stones that are less than one millimetre in diameter. Additionally, between the different ways in which the gems can be set, the thickness of the different parts of a piece of jewellery and the material itself, we end up with virtually limitless design possibilities.
Once the CAD design is done, we 3D print the design in either wax or resin depending on the complexity of the design and the level of details we wish to achieve. Once the “wax” has been confirmed to be conform to our expectations, made sure that all the gems can indeed fit and that the size is as it was intended we can then proceed to either make a mold or a silver master piece (which will then allow us to make more of the same pieces if need be).
Once the mold is made, I take it to one of the two ‘casting’ factories I use on a daily basis. With this mold I can make the same design in either silver or gold. I use a different factory for each. Within 24hours I can go to pick up the font and then decide which of the three workshops I will take it to. At this point, I explain what I need the workers to do to the head of the workshop who then translate it to their teams for me.
Then each piece needs to be filed. I then select the stones for each piece or go to visit one my gem suppliers should I not have the required goods. From there, I need to clarify the colour scheme to the teams so that the setter may do his deed properly. Setting at this point is a bit like a puzzle really, each gem has a specific position and inverting a blue with a green gem would make the end product look awkward.
When the filing, setting and polishing of the piece of jewellery is finished, the person in charge of the workshop will give it a final inspection before presenting back to me. All in all, these mom and pops jewellery shop need between 8 and 10 workers for a single piece of jewellery to be finalised.
To give you an idea of just how, virtually, impossible mass producing this type of jewellery would be. This piece of jewellery features over 150 gems, in six different sizes and ranging from 0.8 to 1.5 mm. Without entering too much in the details, it has 80 rubies in six different sizes that need to be colour matched. While it may sound like a relatively trivial task, one only needs to go to the first jewellery shop they find to realise that the vast majority of earrings already showcase a minor colour variation. And that’s only two stones… so imagine the nightmare that colour matching 80 gems can be!
AsiaLounges: Since you are taking us through the design and manufacturing processes that your brand, Jai 108 Presents, for example goes through, how about telling us more about your own line of jewellery? What does Jai 108 stands for and what is your target audience?
“Huckleberry”: I guess I tend to focus more on ‘niche’ markets, Sacred Geometry, Yoga, Egyptian, Astrological signs, New Age etc. For a few years I was one of only two people ‘officially licensed’ to make jewellery using the trademarked images of the famous rock n roll band The Grateful Deads.
To give you an example, I entered the Chakra jewellery in order to answer the request of a friend of mine whom happens to be a Yoga teacher. Now, much like most of your readers I guess, I didn’t know what Chakra jewellery looked like. So, I took to the net and checked what was currently available. From there, it was a “simple” task of making something new and improved. Mission accomplished by the look of my order queue.
AsiaLounges: In the few pieces I’ve seen from you being shot in Arjuna Irsutti Photography’s studio, I saw a lot of interesting stuff. Lot of animalistic shapes, lots of pavé settings, etc. Is it out of personal preference or is it a market requirement?
“Huckleberry”: Haha, for good or not, I pay no attention to what is trending on the market. Personal preference for sure, my favourite stones are Sugilite, Moldavite, Gem Silica, and others that few have even heard of, which are not in demand at all, never have been, and hence, very difficult to sell. But I continue to use them out of passion, in this sense, one might call me an artist rather than a jeweller. But, it remains my hope, that someday, people will appreciate my art, and see the value in it.
AsiaLounges: As you know, we are quite picky with our gems and we’d definitely like to hear more about your philosophy gem wise. What do you think of treated gems? Are there gems that you’d rather work with than others?
“Huckleberry”: Yes, I prefer untreated gems, although in this day and age, most stones are ‘treated’ in some way, sapphires for example, I have heard that 90% of the smaller ones used in jewellery are ‘heated’ which is an ‘acceptable’ treatment, where as nowadays they have so many other tricks, such as filling them with coloured lead or glass. I stay away from these. I am also a little old fashioned, in my mind, Amethyst is purple and Citrine is yellow, so I stay away from stones such as ‘green amethyst’ or ‘lemon quartz’ even though they are treated in a way accepted by the industry.
AsiaLounges: What about production wise? Are there specific materials that you’d rather work with than others?
“Huckleberry”: Yes, as I stated above, Sugilite and Moldavite I love. And of course gold, I work with 9k, 18k, and 23k gold. It is funny that I prefer 9k gold over 14k gold, but I do. Of course, 80-90% of the jewellery I make is silver, and most of the jewellery I wear is silver, something about the end result of setting certain stones in gold is quite appealing to me.
AsiaLounges: Last but not least how can interested Loungers contact you?
“Huckleberry”: Well, I am about to launch my 61st monthly give away on facebook. Last month I gave away a little opal pendant set in 18k gold. Needless to say, these have grown quite popular. I also find it very easy for people to ‘interact’ and get in touch with me. As well as seeing the myriad of different things I have created which have not been offered on our website.