An old master once said, “The art of jewelry making is really very simple and can be summarized by ten techniques. However,” he said with a smile, “there are ten thousand tricks.”
–From the Preface to Professional Jewelry Making by Alan Revere
A few months ago we received an advance copy of Alan Revere’s Professional Jewelry Making, and, to put it lightly, we were blown away. This revised and expanded edition of Alan’s earlier book Professional Goldsmithing, is a full color comprehensive textbook that takes the reader from beginner to professional through 35 projects, and is just stunning to look at. Each project is broken into steps and the photography is so good you feel like you are in Alan’s studio watching it happen. To celebrate the release of this amazing new book, I asked Alan Revere to take some time for an interview on The Studio.
Spencer Baum: The original release of Professional Goldsmithing in 1991 was groundbreaking because it brought traditional European jewelry training to a broad American audience. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to get formal training in Europe?
Alan Revere: I studied Psychology at the University of Virginia but had an interest in art. I was headed for law school and a career as a lawyer but all that changed when I went to Woodstock in 1969. My experience at Woodstock made me decide I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I didn’t want to argue, so I changed course, and enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program in Mexico where I learned traditional silversmithing techniques. From there I sought out rigorous formal training as a professional goldsmith, and at the time, there was no comprehensive structured program in the US, so I went to Germany to study under the master goldsmiths there.
SB: Can you describe what your European training was like?
AR: My training was in Pforzeim, a German town that is famous for its jewelry industry. During the time I was there, the town had more than 2,000 jewelry manufacturing companies. For two years, I studied goldsmithing for 45 hours a week, and in the evenings and on my vacations I worked with my teachers at the factories. I was totally immersed.
The first word I learned in German was “genau” which means exact, and that really was what the program was all about. They taught me to work with precision. They challenged me to use my senses to make the most precise work I could. There was lots of skill-building and designing, but more than that, the training was about learning to work with precision.
The training I got in Germany wasn’t available in the US at the time. It was a comprehensive program that started with the basics and covered everything. My instructor was the chair of the masters board of professional goldsmiths at the time. There were programs like this in Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, but none in the US. There were students from fifty-five countries in the program with me and many were sons and daughters of jewelers.
SB: How did you get your start as an educator and a writer?
AR: When I came back, I got a job as a goldsmith, and teaching just came naturally. People found out I had been training in Germany and were curious, so I started teaching the things I’d learned.
Around this time, George Holmes (who was the editor of JCK magazine) asked me to write an article that was meant to be about three short goldsmithing techniques. Instead, it wound up being three long articles. Since then I’ve written maybe a hundred articles for JCK first on goldsmithing, then repairs, then stonesetting. These articles provided the foundation for what eventually became the book.
In 1979 I founded the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts with the vision of creating a place where master craftsman pass on traditional skills to the next generation. It was at The Revere Academy that I really learned how to teach. I practiced presenting these techniques to thousands of students, so that I now know how to present new and challenging material. The book is the result of my teaching. And the teaching goes on.
SB: What were your aims with the original Professional Goldsmithing book?
AR: When the first book came out, there was nothing else like it. There still isn’t. The book provides a comprehensive training in professional goldsmithing and does it step by step. My aim was to show and explain the techniques step-by-step with clear photography of the steps as they occurred. It’s one thing to draw on a page something that may or may not be feasible to do, but it’s another to do it and capture it with a camera in a way that people can see it.
SB: The photography is spectacular. Talk about the process of getting those shots.
AR: At the beginning, I would have a photographer in the classroom every day, we would take the film to a lab at midnight, they’d process it, then at 8:00 AM they’d be back and we’d be looking at the images and starting the process again. So much work went into the preparation of that material. And we’d do it again and again if we had to, at every step, to ensure the reader could clearly see everything that was going on.
Barry Blau made a tremendous contribution with the original photos. They are truly the best close up jewelry photos ever. We broke through and reached a new level with the photography, which was later emulated by the German series that followed (I guess in that sense I taught the Germans a thing or two in return).
For the reworking of Professional Goldsmithing into Professional Jewelry Making, Christine Dhein, the assistant director of the Revere Academy, stepped in to do a new level of professional digital photography.
SB: What’s different about the new edition?
AR: The new version is much more friendly, much more visually attractive. Projects are presented in two columns instead of three. All the photos are larger and have been touched up. The new projects we’ve added are the longest projects in the book. I really like the new locket project. It’s something a lot of people have wanted to make. I’m very pleased with how everything turned out. I really like the black cover with the gold imprint. I love the visual table of contents. And working with Tim McCreight has been wonderful. You’re one step from heaven when you’re associated with Tim.
This is it. I may do another book, but this will the main book of my life.
SB: Between this book, the Revere on Goldsmithing DVD’s, and the Revere Academy, you’ve had quite an impact as a teacher. What kinds of things do you think about as far as your legacy as a jeweler and a teacher?
AR: I had a dream, a long time ago, when I was just getting into this, and I kept this dream alive forever. The dream was that I was the last goldsmith. I never really knew what it meant. I knew these people who came before me, who taught me, were far greater masters at the art than I am, but they taught me, and I can be the bridge. I learned the old skills and have the tools so I can pass them on in a modern way. I feel very fortunate. You know, jewelry making is 7,000 years old, and for the most part, we’ve been doing it the same way for all this time. Certainly for at least the past four centuries jewelers have largely used the same tools. When you think of the other trades that have such a far reach into history, none of them has survived intact, but goldsmithing has survived. Now something different is happening. We are at a crossroads of sorts, and I feel passionate about ensuring that the old ways are not lost. I feel fortunate to play my part as a bridge to the masters of the past.
To be able to share this info, pass it along, and keep it alive is very rewarding — far more rewarding than the dollars.
SB: What advice would you give to a novice who wants to become a professional jeweler?
AR: More than advice, what I have is encouragement. Unlike any other career I can think of, jewelry is something that, on your own, you can become a master of. You can’t learn to fly an airplane on your own. You can’t teach yourself how to be a dentist or an engineer or a dancer on your own. But with goldsmithing you can really teach yourself if you have the right book. If you take the time, you can learn these techniques from Professional Jewelry Making.
A few years ago a woman wrote me a letter after she used my first book, Professional Goldsmithing, to teach herself to make jewelry. She’s in the northernmost town in Canada. She’s four hours from the nearest city. She spent the winter making projects from the book. She made every one of them. And they were great! And that would be my encouragement to the novice jeweler. If you want to do it, you can do it! It’s all there. It’s clear. I’ve taught this to thousands of people. I know what steps to give in what order, what to emphasize, what new material to give. The book is a textbook to take you from start to finish. If you can do the projects in the book, you are a professional. No doubt about it.
And what a great opportunity it is for anyone to make jewelry. Jewelry is permanent, and it’s so universal. How often in our lifetime do we have the chance to make something special that lasts forever?
What a marvelous way to think about the trade. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you also, Alan, for your time, and congratulations on the amazing new edition of the book.
Would you like to dive in and try a project from Alan’s book? Click here to access a PDF of The Locket (project 19), in its entirety. Professional Jewelry Making is available now on riogrande.com.