As promised, I have someone very special for you in this week’s “Meet a jeweller”. As you already know, the outstanding jeweller Janis Kerman is currently celebrating a 45 year journey in the world of contemporary jewellery with a one person Retrospective exhibition at The Guild, Montreal. There have already been two very detailed interviews with her for this occasion, one by École de Joaillerie de Montréal, the other by Metalaid. You can check them out to learn more about her career, achievements and inspirations.
I want to give you something else. Janis was very generous to open the doors of her workshop in Montreal, to unveil some “behind the scenes” moments and to share her understanding of the jewellery art and craft. Honestly, it is a challenge to create an interview out of our meeting because it is simply too hard to condense it, to choose photos and words and not to make it the size of a little book. She has done so much!
What does your ordinary workday looks like?
Most days begin very early with gym or pool time. I like to get into the studio by 8 am so I have approximately two hours before the phone starts ringing to get things set for the day. The day’s tasks are pretty much set up the day before when I close down. Of course, things inevitably change with the first phone call or email request!
There are two types of work I am currently focused on – commissions and the production for Bande des Quatres , a collaboration with my daughter since 2011.
The design evolves from a unique collaboration that is exciting for both of us.
I do a lot of heirloom redesign. For a recent commission – my client wanted to create a piece of jewellery that will put together two elements from her mother and grandmother, blending these two precious memories into one complete creation to wear.
How do you produce your pieces? What is important for you in this process?
First and foremost, the most important thing for me was and is to make the most clean and well-crafted piece possible. Whether it’s a one of a kind work or a lesser expensive production piece.. NO matter!
Even if one chooses to work with non-precious materials, it is very important, in my view, to make a clean, well-made piece that will stand up through time. Regardless of what you do, the quality of your work is something that immediately makes you stand out in the market. I know that I have very high standards, but for me the back of the piece should be as well executed as the front. It is like clothing; I won’t buy something that is not well finished inside…
When something is not well made, it is like a lie. There is the fear that the client discovers it. The quality of the piece is the only truth and shows the respect the maker has for it.
You have such a long career, you have witnessed many changes in the industry. In your view, what is the technology bringing to jewellery?
Oh, the changes are spectacular. CAD, 3D printing, laser and other things that can save us so much time and help us to create alternate work! It is amazing! You still need to know how to make jewellery to best utilize these techniques. They do not replace the creation process, of course.
And how did the time influence contemporary jewellery, the sphere in which you are working?
We need to clearly understand, that contemporary jewellery was and is not for everyone. It is for that rare 2 percent of the population who want something special or custom made, with a unique design. The rest simply won’t buy jewellery or will be perfectly fine with the cheap things or even with expensive generic, recognized brands. There are more artists working now in this genre and you need to be much more creative not only in design but also in marketing and business. In terms of business I pretty much learned as I went along. For most successful art jewellers today, it appears that they seem to follow the same business principles as anyone structuring a new venture. A good business plan, a strategy for a reasonable growth, to be organized and be able to back up their promised delivery schedule and provide a solid, saleable product.
Speaking about that, for a jeweller one of the hardest things is to find her(his) voice in that polyphony, the particular style, the brand. How did you find yours?
I’m not sure I “looked” for my particular voice or style. I feel that by experimenting over the early part of my career, that my voice presented itself. However, I can say that I always created jewellery for myself, to my taste. You need to start with yourself, with who you are, what you want to say. Then your clientele will be attracted to you because they will hear and relate to your voice.
I’ve always been inspired by architecture, interior design, design objects… Painters, sculptors such as Miro’ and Calder are at the top of my preferred list. My jewellery inspiration comes more from a European design aesthetic and a few innovative Americans as well.
Tell me a bit about the challenges of the jeweller’s work?
Well, my work is a lot about problem solving. The challenge is when everything is planned and then at some point you need to make changes, which may entail new and different approaches. When working with people, you may spend hours working on the design, sketches and concept and then end up that the client doesn’t want to proceed with the project. It could be a budget issue, a design issue. Whatever it is, the project won’t be advancing. In such situations you need to be a lady and to move on.
What in your understanding is a successful jeweler?
I guess a successful jeweller can be defined as one who has a monetary success enough to support themselves and their business growth. As well, one who continues to grow their product base in a way that makes sense .. meaning that there is a design trajectory that moves forward and creates continued interest from the artists’ client base. I never put all my “eggs” in just one basket, so to speak. I always did commission / special order work for clients, limited series/productions pieces and pieces that I just wanted to do to explore or play with and integrate new ideas/ products, new techniques for the galleries who represent my work. This allowed me to work between the three areas and keep my studio busy.
Thank you, Janis, so much for sharing your experience and your work that you love so much! Thank you for being such an inspiration, both as a jeweller and as a woman!
Below are some photos of Janis’s pieces being presented now at The Guild till May 28th. Also, you can check with The Guild or with Janis if you want to get a copy of the Retrospective book about her 45 year journey.
All photos are the courtesy of the artist