Ana Cavalheiro pondered exposing the space behind the jeweler for years. Something about the creative area where a person’s inspiration comes to life compelled her—it stuck in her mind. But, as a busy jeweler herself, she couldn’t find the time to get the concept down on paper, or rather, up online. She finally launched SpaceUnseen.com in 2013, and has since crisscrossed the globe, landing in “jewelry studios & ateliers” from Taipei to Los Angeles and from London to Lisbon and back.
We caught up with Ana while she was in her studio in Los Angeles to learn a little more about SpaceUnseen.
What was your first experience with jewelry creation?
I think it was making necklaces and bracelets with beads and pearls. I quickly evolved into wanting to solder, hammer and join metal together.
Tell us about how SpaceUnseen came to be. When did you launch it?
I’ve always been curious about jewelry and artist spaces. I think it comes from this natural voyeur thing that human beings have. I know what a jewelry studio looks like, but I think the space changes with the designer’s inspirations and objects. That makes each jewelry space unique. Having said that, I travel a lot and always thought it would be cool to visit jewelry studios around the world to show how different and how similar they are.
I bought the SpaceUnseen domain name in 2011 but never came around to actually do it until February 14, 2013. I made it my New Year’s resolution, and since then, each time I travel, I try to make the maximum number of visits that I can.
How do you find the jewelers you interview?
Of course, this is a very biased process. I always look for independent jewelry designers who have a compelling story and interesting jewelry. It really doesn’t matter if it’s fine jewelry, fashion jewelry or concrete jewelry – [it can be] any type of jewelry. It just needs to be stimulating. I’ve listed designers by region, and if I’m traveling there, I’ll reach out to them and try to do a studio visit. Instagram has also proven to be a resourceful tool when searching for designers.
But, it has also happened that I’ll be visiting a town and see a really cool studio/store. I’ll just email them on the spot, explain what SpaceUnseen is, and ask for a studio visit. It happened in Reykjavik, Iceland. Good thing I had my camera with me!
How many jewelers have you written about?
In two years, I’ve visited 33 jewelry designers, and I still have to write up seven visits on the SpaceUnseen site!
Why do you think it’s important to share the behind-the-scenes aspects of jewelry making?
Sometimes, people see a piece of jewelry, and they have no idea of the amount of hours spent creating it. I wanted to show that behind each piece or collection, there’s a structured creation process. From the initial inspiration, to the design, to sitting down at a bench and actually doing it—tearing your fingers’ skin or working more than twelve hours in a row. Designers work hard to put their jewelry out there, and it’s only fair to show the hard work, sweat and blood (literally, sometimes) behind it. That’s why I look for independent jewelry designers. They have no financial backing from big companies and they work like hell to make something special and handmade for a client.
You’re so lucky to be able to travel the world learning more about your craft. How do you balance SpaceUnseen with working as a jeweler?
Truth is, it’s getting harder and harder to conciliate both of them. Writing about a studio visit takes me at least two to three full days of work, from choosing the photos to trying to write an honest description of my perception of the designer and the studio space. The problem is that I spend so much time traveling, when I’m back at my studio, my jewelry business takes over and I’m not able to spend as much time on SpaceUnseen as I would like. But, I love making jewelry and I absolutely love visiting studios, so I’ll keep going with this organized chaos!
What differences do you find in jewelers around the world? What similarities?
This is such a good question! And a hard one as well…
I think the main differences in designers are all about the way they think and view their business. European and Asian designers go through professional qualifications and gain master’s degrees. As a result, their vision is much more skill and piece oriented, not driven by sales or fashion trends. In North America there are more possibilities. Not being formally trained in jewelry making is not going to stop a person from becoming a jeweler and trying things on their own. It’s more open minded.
Another difference is the tools designers use. In Asia and Europe, they learn to make jewelry in a more traditional way, even though modern tools exist that allow you to work faster, better and more efficiently. Sometimes, modern tools are frowned upon because they don’t feel like using them qualifies a “real” handmade process that requires human skill. But, even this perception is changing amongst the youngest generation of jewelers I visited in Europe recently.
The main similarity is the passion with which people talk about making jewelry and using their tools. Their faces light up, and they talk faster about their inspirations, favorite tools and jewelry. There’s a common love for creating something by hand, a personal fulfillment that I have yet to find in other professions. Nothing beats the enthusiasm each designer has for making their own jewelry.
Be sure to keep an eye on Ana’s website, SpaceUnseen.com, as new, energetic studio interviews are posted all the time.