Crafting exquisite, not infrequently one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces might be a dream job and aspiration for many, but for Vancouver-based jewellery designer Alexandra Dodds it has turned out to be an unexpected calling that has found her instead. Experimenting with organic materials and traditional jewellery-making techniques, the designer creates sculptural pieces that are as much art as they are wearable adornment, and keenly explores the transformative nature of earthly elements in her work.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a jewellery designer or was it a lucky accident that brought you onto this path?
I've never been one for planning too far ahead, I always knew I would work within a creative industry, but jewellery design was not something that was well thought out. I studied fine arts, where I primarily had a drawing/sculpture/installation practice. A good friend of mine at art school was experimenting with some bronze casting. I had a few ideas for some rings I wanted to make for myself. I made a few pieces, I loved the material and process, and the transformative effect of lost wax casting - being able to preserve delicate forms into metal.
Do you have a particular technique or material that you enjoy working on/with most?
The technique I primarily use is lost wax casting.I really enjoy the sculptural process of the material, it's quite versatile. I also like to experiment with casting different organic material – essentially any organic matter that will burn up, can be cast – when you start experimenting with things like paper that leave residue and ash, you get some interesting and experimental textures and forms.
Do you lean more towards experimentation or preservation of tradition in jewellery-making?
A balance of both...the traditions I value are craftsmanship and being hand made. I am using traditional techniques of lost wax casting and granulation but in an experimental way.
Being self-taught can be challenging, but also quite rewarding when you find your own technique. There are lots of hazardous chemicals and equipment used in the process of jewellery making, so it is definitely beneficial to learn some things from the masters of the trade. I have attended different skill-based workshops to refine some techniques. One memorable one was casting with a centrifugal hand sling when I was in Berlin – when you are spinning molten metal over head with a gas torch in the other hand, I think it is best to learn from someone who knows what they are doing before attempting it yourself! I think that if I went to goldsmith school and was traditionally trained, my jewellery would not be quite the same.
Is there any jewellery designer, past or present, that inspires you? many. A favourite contemporary jewellery of mine is Karl Fritsch – he pushes boundaries of wearability and luxury, juxtaposing materials like precious gold and emeralds with rusty nails. Ricky Swallow, a sculptor, not a jeweller, is another favourite artist of mine who inspires me a lot, reminds me about the importance of craftsmanship and the capability of your own hands. I would say that most of my inspiration quite often comes from anything but jewellery!
Do you ever struggle with finding balance between art, inventiveness and wearability in your designs?
That is something else that I have been beginning to balance. When I was fresh out of fine arts school, I just wanted to make big bold sculptural pieces, wearability wasn't my foremost concern, but when I sculpt my pieces I constantly try them on and sculpt them directly onto my hand, so they fit the form of the body and the larger pieces are actually more comfortable than they look.
As my business has progressed, I have had to start considering every aspect – the materials used, the weight of the piece, the cost of the piece, etc...all little things that add up to making a really great piece, but also a saleable product – which has been challenging! I didn't start making jewellery to run a business, but I really love what I do so it doesn't feel like a job too much of the time.
Every piece in every collection of yours has its own name. How do you choose the titles for bracelets, rings and neck pieces?
A mixture of places... I like everything to have its own name. They are a collection of words from vintage geology books which I collect for the oversaturated images – which I also use for collages and drawing in my process. Some of them are inspired by the music that I was listening to at the time of making the piece, and others are just word plays, throwing around cosmic/geology/space words to find something fitting for the piece!
Since you work with custom-made orders as well, has there ever been a request that challenged or creatively influenced you like nothing before?
There was one really memorable job, where I made two pendants to hold clients' deceased cat's whiskers. That was a first of that kind. I really enjoy making personal pieces, I have been doing a lot of engagement rings for people who want something a little less traditional which I really enjoy doing.
Having moved to Canada from New Zealand, do you feel your aesthetic is changing under the spell of a new environment?
Perhaps subconsciously... I think my work is constantly changing because I don't enjoy making the same thing over and over, and I want to keep experimenting and pushing forward. I live in Vancouver, the city is very aesthetically different to where I am from in Wellington, NZ. There is a lot of Brutalist architecture in my neighbourhood – these are huge abrasive buildings, with lots of exposed concrete, clashing with the beautiful mountain vistas. I thought they were an eyesore when I first moved here, but have started to really like them. I think these are going to influence some of my future pieces...
What would be a jewellery designer's dream job for you?
To have a successful line of your own...I want to keep working for myself for as long as I can. I would really like to collaborate with other designers who work in different materials – textiles/ceramics...
Everything has an inherent story to it. What is the story that you'd like your pieces to have in the world away from your studio?
That they were forged within the firey depths of a volcano...That's something I do think about and love about jewellery... the materials used were formed from the earth so long ago and will last longer than our lifetime, into other lifetimes.
What is the best way to wear Alexandra Dodds jewellery?
I like them to be versatile. I have simple textured stacking rings for the minimalist, and hand-engulfing knuckledusters for the daring. My favourite way is to stack them up, clashing different textures and metals. They should be worn everyday and everywhere, you should look after them but don't be too precious.
What are you working on at the moment and what are we to expect from you in the near future?
I currently have lots of personal pieces that I am working on. I have also recently got back from Italy where I launched my new collection, so I have been busy getting that all ready for the new season.