wM EXCLUSIVE: PART 1
wonderMode sat down with New York-based jewelry designer and artist Janis Provisor to talk about the process and design behind her unique collection of hand-crafted jewels. Although Provisor travels the globe to locate the best artisans and raw materials–gold from Bali, pearls from China, moonstones from San Francisco–she’s not new to artisanal techniques. She and her husband, Brad Davis, began creating Dandong silk rugs using their own developed technique while living in China in the ’90s; they now operate studios in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. This is a two-part series; tomorrow, Janis will discuss her and Brad’s recent collaboration with Hermes.
A few years ago, you and your friend, Debi Wisch, began Janis Provisor Jewelry, but you and your husband, Brad, also own Fort Street Studio, a company that produces hand-crafted silk rugs. What was it like transitioning from rug design to jewelry design?
I actually began making jewelry about the same time as Brad and I began Fort Street Studio. Brad and I were both active participants in the New York art world showing in galleries and museums, but took a year off in 1993-94 to live in Hong Kong and China. What began as a one-year adventure turned into 9 years of living in Hong Kong. As we were beginning the carpet company I felt I couldn’t spend the time I needed in the studio, but needed to do something ‘hands-on’ so I began making jewelry for myself.
Were there things that you learned about rug production that you were able to use in your jewelry line?
No, each discipline is very different, except that the initial design work both come from something I would like to ‘see’ in the world.
Can you briefly explain the manufacturing process of the jewelry—from the time you arrive at the concept to the time the piece arrives in the store?
I often begin by making something for myself, like the first moonstone ring. Then if I like it, it comes into the line.
Since I have no background in metal smithing or jewelry making, I’ve had to fall back on what I know best–my hands, my eye, and of course my ideas. All of the stones—both precious and semi-precious—sit in piles in my studio, and I begin just with the materials. I don’t draw or design before hand—no diagrams or preliminary drawings—just an idea.
I string and restring the beads over and over again until I come up with something I like. I then send it to a master stringer in Hong Kong to knot the piece. The manufacture is very low-tech, and all the design and initial assembling is done by me alone in my studio. While living in Asia I found a goldsmith in Bali with whom I formed a personal relationship. She makes me all my clasps, earrings, bracelets and rings. I go to Bali periodically to discuss new ideas, work in her workshop, and we make prototypes together. I prefer to work this way as it’s the closest way I know to making art, and creates the balance I need with Fort Street Studio.
Where do you get the raw material for your jewelry?
My materials come from all over the world. Since I’m in China often I find sources there, and that’s where I have all my quartz and special beads carved; but I also visit markets where I find individual stones, and I visit pearl markets and farms in China, as well. I also have an extraordinary moonstone dealer in San Francisco.
You and Debi sell your collection though exclusive trunk shows. Do you have plans to expand the line?
By the time I moved back to New York in 2002 the jewelry had become a glorified hobby, and I sold it to friends and friends of friends in small trunk shows in Asia and in Aspen during the summers, but, I had no intention of making it into a business. Debi Wisch, my partner in Janis Provisor Jewelry, talked me into going back into production with the foray being a trunk show at her home.
I was not interested in retail and wanted to keep the collection and production small and special. We are not totally averse to retail but we felt that the line could be more special if we were ‘quiet’ in our approach and we could be more attentive to our growing client base. We did work with Bergdorf Goodman for a while, but felt it was not our venue. We now have two specialty retail boutiques that we’re thrilled to be working with, Julianne in Port Washington, New York and Gail Rothwell in East Hampton.
As an artist, is jewelry design your main creative outlet?
I would say that I give equal weight to both jewelry design and carpet design, working on both all the time. They are both what I do and or think about on a daily basis. And, I’m also beginning to go back to the studio making art.
To see more of Provisor’s decadent gems–including bangles and earrings–and for exclusive invites to upcoming trunk shows, visit her website, JanisProvisorJewelry.com
(images: Seth Smoot, Janis Provisor)