Seattle artist Chuck Domitrovich of DownToTheWireDesigns has been working as a jeweler for more than a decade.
Tell me about your work, Chuck.
My work is mostly made with sterling silver, brass, titanium, mokume gane, and some 14 and 18k gold. I also use semi-precious cabochons and faceted stones to give my work color.
I try to keep my work playful. I love incorporating clever connections and moving parts into my pieces. I try to make things that are unexpected. My work has a definite style to it, but I like to think that it is also constantly evolving while remaining coherent overall.
I try to make work that has a broad appeal to it and it is important to me that I price it so that anybody can purchase it. I have sold in high end galleries and have really enjoyed that experience, but I have always maintained my production line simply because I am not comfortable with the idea of only people of means being able to a buy my work. My rule of thumb is to always make sure that the people I know can afford my work.
For the past several months I have been working on new one-of-a-kind and limited edition rings. These are fun for me in that they allow me to challenge my skills and creativity and give me a break from the work that I do for my production line.
Many of these rings are bigger and bolder than my usual work with large stones or moving parts as central features. Some of these are created with certain themes in mind. My Rings for Scientists series and Orbit series are examples of making several distinct rings that explore one idea.
I love working with metal. I like the process of fabricating something by hand-- cutting the pieces, filing them to a final finished shape, and fitting everything together. I also like the tools that are used to create something with metal.
A piece of jewelry can be like a puzzle, with more complicated pieces having a natural order to their construction. I like the challenge of figuring a new piece out. If you do things out of order, you may have to start a piece over while you are in the middle of it. Despite that, metal is a very forgiving medium in that most mistakes can ultimately be fixed. It is fairly unique in that regard.
I get great satisfaction from every finished piece of jewelry I make. With jewelry, you can hold a finished piece in your hands and really inspect it close up-- that scale is very appealing to me.
I like to incorporate texture into my work where I can. This can be achieved by using etched or impressed patterned metals, by adding file or hammer marks, or by mixing different kinds of metals within a piece. For me, texture is not merely a tactile experience but anything that breaks up the surface of the metal. I don't care for smooth glossy surfaces that show no hint of how a thing was made.
Metalsmithing is something that few people do and often people will look at a nice piece of jewelry and have no idea how it was made. I really think it is a shame to polish something up to the point that you can no longer see any traces of the human hand that made it. To me it is more impressive to see an imperfect piece that you know was handmade than to see a flawless piece that could very well have been made by a machine.
How did you originally got into your craft?
While I was attending the University of Washington, I decided to take an art class every quarter to fill in the holes in my schedule. One quarter I had a three hour break between classes and the only art class that would fit it was a beginning jewelry class. At the time, I had zero interest in jewelry. I knew nothing about it and wondered if I should even bother taking it, thinking I might be better off just using that block of time to study. I ended up taking that class and was surprised at how easily all the basic skills came to me. I loved everything about working with metal and I had the patience and attention to detail necessary to do well within the field. It was a very unexpected match.
Years later, I was at a gem show and walking past a display case which held the Miss America tiaras. This type of work had never really interested me and I had never before bothered to check out the display cases at the gem shows because of that. This time, however, something caught my eye. It was a pair of antique Russian crowns from the time of the czars. They were rough in a way that I appreciated and set among the gems and the pearls were photos of the czar and czarina. Everything about the metalwork and style of these pieces appealed to me and you can imagine my surprise when I looked down at the description in the case and saw that they were made by a person with my same last name! Granted, "Domitrovich" is probably much more common in Russia than it is in the U.S., but it was still a thrill to see my last name followed by the title "Jeweler to the Czars". It added to my sense that metalsmithing was somehow in my blood and that I was meant to be a jeweler.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
I love to play basketball and I love to ride my bike.
My parents signed me up for a youth basketball league in the fourth grade because I was very shy and they hoped that it would help my social skills. I have played ever since and have some very fond memories of playing.
I took up biking in high school after seeing the movie Breaking Away. It totally inspired me to buy a broken down ten-speed at a yard sale. It was a cheap bike that weighed a ton but I stripped it down of everything that was not essential because I wanted it to be "light enough to race". Never mind that it was still way too heavy and that there was no one to race against in my small home town. But I rode it everywhere and have always had a bike to ride since then. I have often said that riding a bike is the closest experience I will ever have to being a superhero.
I have been doing both things for so long that they are second nature to me and I really like that. I don't have to think about either while doing them and there is a great freedom to that. No matter how stressful or out of control my life might seem, I can always find refuge in either sport.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
When you run a business all yourself, you have to be competent not only at your craft, but you also have to know how to keep track of your inventory and receipts, how to correctly price, photograph, and describe your work, and how to promote your work. And as if it is not hard enough just to stay on top of all of that, you have to be able to jump from task to task efficiently. It is pretty easy to not get much done in a day when you have ten totally unrelated things that you need to focus on.
What item in your shop would you most like to receive as a gift if someone were shopping for you?
The one piece of jewelry that I sell in my shop that I also own and wear regularly is my Sterling Silver and Titanium Panel Ring. It is a simple ring that has a very tribal feel to it. Although I have sold it to many women, it is a very tough, masculine ring popular with men as well.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Well, besides the very self-delusional goals of being in the NBA or riding in the Tour De France, my career has taken a very roundabout path. The truth is that until I started making jewelry, I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. In college I flirted with the idea of becoming an architect and a lawyer but graduated with a degree in philosophy and no clear plan.
I was unable to do any metalsmithing for a couple of years because I did not have access to a studio. I ended up managing the bead store where I had worked while in school. While I was there, I immersed myself in exploring wirework, and I stumbled upon what I thought was a really great design that I could sell. I eventually quit my job and bought the tools and supplies I needed to start my own studio and I officially became a jeweler.
What other shops or artists out there do you love?
Seattle is home to many talented metalsmiths, several of which are good friends.
Of these, Victoria of Experimetal is as talented as they come. She is the jeweler whose designs I most consistently envy.
Another is Jessi of JessiTaylor. I have one of her mangles and have not taken it off since I got it.
My secret plan is for the three of us to take over the world one piece of jewelry at a time. (You heard it here first!)
EtsyMetal counts many of the best jewelers selling on Etsy among its membership. I am proud to be a part of the group and among such talented metalsmiths.
I would also like to give a shout-out to two good friends who I met through Etsy and whose work I really admire. The first is Corinne of SugarcubeDesign. She is a really talented graphic designer with a talent for making me laugh. The second is Amy of honeybee a jeweler who works with precious metal clay and was one of the very first people I met on Etsy.
What's going on in your shop these days?
At the beginning of this year I set out to donate one set of items each week to charity. I often get several requests for donations every year and thought that 52 would be feasible. However, giving stuff away has been more difficult than I thought it would be. I have already given several donations to charitable groups and have more lined up for later in the year, but I am falling far short of my goal.
So I have decided to offer charitable listings in my Etsy shop. These listings will be available for purchase and the entire purchase price-- minus the shipping-- will be donated to the buyer's charity of choice. The buyer will get the jewelry-- to keep for themselves or give as a gift-- and they will also get the satisfaction of knowing that the money they have spent is going towards a good cause.
Details and restrictions can be found within the descriptions of each charity listing in my Etsy shop.
What does your future hold?
I am currently working on a children's book and I like the idea of writing more in the future-- not just children's books, but novels as well. Ideally I could make a living from writing and continue to make jewelry as well. I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Visit DownToTheWireDesigns at Etsy and downtothewiredesigns.blogspot.com