By Rachel Kalina
Hand-hewn art runs in my blood. Even at a young age, I was inspired by my family’s handmade, entrepreneurial heritage. My company, The Wood and Watch, was actually named for my father, a woodworker, and my grandfather, a watchmaker. My great-grandfather owned a jewelry store, too.
My father is the source of my curious and creative nature; we both love to figure out how things work and explore new skills and techniques. We also share an appreciation for antiques, and my dad ensures that my studio has everything I need to create. Need a flex shaft? No problem. Want a torch? Check. Have a question on how to best solder two components? Call dad.
My mother has also always encouraged my artistic nature. My first Etsy sale was even made possible thanks to one of her vintage brooches, which I turned into a necklace. Mom proudly wears the jewelry I make just for her, and she’s secured me many customized commissions.
I love to create modern mixed-media jewelry with antique elements. Context, complexity, and layers intrigue me; I like my jewelry and my gems a little rough around the edges. In my designs, I use a range of techniques, such as metalsmithing, stringing, and wire working. I eschew animal byproducts—pearls, leather, silk, wool, suede, and shells—in my work, because I’m a vegetarian and do not wear them myself.
For tangible inspiration, I often look to the past. I research antiques of all sorts and study their design and context. Hunting for supplies and then looking through my stash of vintage beads and antique jewelry parts gets me thinking of new jewelry to make. I use a sketchbook journal, but I also like to create in the moment with the pieces and shapes that I’ve gathered in front of me.
My creative process starts when I yearn to be in my studio. Before I’m even aware of it, there are metal components and beads in a tray on my bench and pliers in my hand—and it’s 1:00 in the morning. Usually, though, my creativity is sparked by supplies: banged-up brooches with just the right amount of luster left, old brass chains my mother rediscovered from my grandfather’s watchmaking days, candy-colored gems with innovative facets, etc. All of these “toys” get me in the mindset to commence creative “play.”
Although I can’t pinpoint precisely when my interest in jewelry making started, in theory The Wood and Watch began during childhood, when I’d wear my handmade creations to define my personal style and “record” sales in old ledgers. In practice, it started in 2007 on a folding table in my tiny first apartment in Queens.
The Wood and Watch quickly gained momentum, and its collection pieces are now worn around the world and showcased in the Queens Museum of Art. My headquarters have grown from a corner to a full-fledged studio, complete with an array of workshop tools, a jeweler’s bench, and a multiplying collection of inspirational bits.
My studio is a study in curated chaos. I’m constantly seeking a balance between collecting and culling. Shadow boxes house antique jewelry specimens, celluloid postcards and charms, travel souvenirs, old lockets, tiny watch vials filled with rhinestones, and all of the little bits I hold dear. Heirlooms from my grandfather remind me of my handcrafted heritage. His antique wooden bench with iron legs is the cherished focal point of my studio.
Equally invaluable to me are the tools my father has given me: my flex shaft, a jeweler’s saw, various pliers, a torch, hammers, and everything else a metal-loving girl could want—along with the knowledge of how to use them. And, of course, for holidays and birthdays, tools and how-to books make the best presents. My husband, Mark, sweetly gifts me with the shiny objects of my affection, like dapping tools and an anvil.
My favorite way to “storganize” (dibs on this word combination) supplies and tools is to use containers in ways other than how they were intended to be used. Thrifted glass cups and bowls can tidy up the various supplies on a worktable. A ribbon holder can just as easily house wire spools. A tiered spice rack can maximize shelf space for small jars of baubles, and a corkboard with pushpins offers a great way to organize samples of chains or fabric for quick reference.
A friend recently commented that my studio is “like a real-life pinterest board,” and because I adore letting my inner hoarder run virtually wild on that site, I took this as a compliment. My studio is the tangible expression of me. Chalkware and bird décor, weathered picture frames, lithographed tin, victorian boxes, raw gems, a cabinet filled with beads, shelves of vintage supplies, and aged books round out my magpie-style nest. It took three years of conscious building before I felt truly at home in it.
In my new space, I’m able to claim a corner of the world that’s just for me. I can decorate it, shape it, and be surrounded by what intrigues me. Nesting is fun, and I like to be in my studio organizing supplies even when I’m not creating. With this tailor-made place, my ideas and projects have a space to intersect and become realized. It is now a part of me, my physical place on the planet.
The Wood & Watch Jewelry: Antique-modern jewelry that's curiouser and curiouser.