Creative Profile: Vanessa Gade Jewelry
Vanessa Gade’s striking collections are much more than timeless, breathtaking pieces. Her work is thoughtful and thought-provoking with a visual simplicity that opens up to layers of tactile and conceptual complexity the moment you interact with a piece. We love that each piece is created with equal parts precise craftsmanship and intellect, so that even a chain has a symbiotic relationship with its pendant, making an integral, kinetic whole.
Gade happened upon jewelry making by chance while studying to be a historian in college. Having come across the jewelry studio next door to the darkroom she was setting up, Gade began her education in jewelry while studying abroad at an art school in Florence. Upon returning to the States, she paid her dues at a unique artisan jewelry store in San Diego, working her way up to having her own case as the shop jeweler by the time she left.
What made you change course from a life in academia to pursue jewelry making?
I had a hard time with spending my life in a field that was so esoteric, that only a handful of people would really grasp or enjoy. I was really struggling with this at the time and I was also very passionate about jewelry and loved it so much, and finally when I was twenty-five I made the decision that jewelry is what I love and I want to pursue it, and if I do that I want to respect my craft and be properly trained. So I came to the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco and graduated through the jeweler program, then launched in September of 2007.
Has metal always been your first love as a medium to work with?
For me, metal is a really incredible medium to work with because a lot of people look at metal and think it’s a very static, structured medium, but you actually have this amazing ability to really craft it. It has a fluidity to it especially when you’re doing things like forging items or just by the direction I take my hammer in, I can move the metal in whichever direction I want to so I can create indents.
Your work has such striking geometry—how did you first get drawn to these shapes, and how do you balance the technical precision of your pieces with the intimate, personal aspects of jewelry?
I think I’ve always tended toward minimalist, modern aesthetics—my mom was a huge mid-century modern furniture fan, so I think growing up around that certainly had an influence. When I was first experimenting with jewelry, I had a whole series of different lines that had all sorts of different elements: some were very dainty and feminine, some were really large stones, so there was a whole wide range.
When I was sitting down to develop the collection that I was going to launch in 2007, I needed to find something that was really distinct. I wanted to work with the circle because it’s a personal symbolic shape that I think has resonance for a lot of people and I also wanted to do something that I hadn’t seen done before. How many reinventions of the circle can you try to come up with that haven’t been seen before? And actually what happened was I used to wear a whole big stack of bangles, so I had my bangles sitting on my bench and I happened to draw a string of chain across my stack of bangles and that was the ‘Aha’ moment, and the ‘Inner Circle #101’ was born that day. I wanted to do something that didn’t compromise the simplicity and form of the shape, but was really striking and unique, so in this way, the chain becomes the design rather than just a carrier for the pendant. The function becomes the form. The whole thing’s kinetic, it’s an integral piece.
It’s really precise for all its fluidity—every shape and hole is deliberate.
Sometimes people ask me ‘Oh, can you move the holes out a little wider,’ or ‘Can I just put the chain in any way,’ and I always think that the most beautiful works of simplicity are the ones where you don’t realize how much goes into them. Each one of these pieces has many iterations and when I finally have one in 3D, it might not hang right. And the challenge is that even when the whole pendant is abstract and asymmetric, the whole thing hangs completely in line. If I move them slightly one way or the other, it would interfere with the way it’s balanced.
When did you first get drawn to architecture, minimalism and geometry?
I guess when I started taking photography in high school. All of my first photographs, even when I was fifteen, I would usually just love anything that was super high contrast. That’s why I love black and white—I love developing in black and white. At certain times of day like late afternoon or early morning, the light has that really crisp quality and things cast these really cool, sharp shadows.
What are your three most treasured pieces of jewelry?
That would have to be a necklace that my dad gave my mom on one of their wedding anniversaries and her wedding ring, a string of pearls that Zach (my partner) gave me that he had bought in India that he was saving to give to someone special, and then the very first piece, the ‘Inner Circle #101’—that piece is just very indicative of what’s become.