Elaborately detailed, hand-rendered jewelry designs were once a critical step in the custom jewelry design process. They were the only way for a designer to communicate the idea in his head to the customer who would pay for the final piece. As CAD and 3D printing have given jewelers new ways to collaborate with customers, the importance of hand renderings has faded. Jewelry designer Rémy Rotenier is convinced that putting pencil to paper should still have a place in the design process.
“It’s unfortunately an art that is fading away,” Rémy says. “But people fall in love with these sketches. You barely finish one and they want to give you their credit card.”
Rémy is speaking from experience, having trained in and worked for some of the world’s most prestigious jewelry design houses—including Tiffany & Co. and Alexandre Reza in Paris. Today, he owns and runs his own design house, Rémy Design, as well as contributing to private label collections and designing a line for Jewelry TV.
Remy believes hand-drawn pieces help jewelers and designers connect with clients, plot out new designs, and encourage sales in retail settings. He has taught the art of hand-rendering jewelry for years at such schools as the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and the Revere Academy in San Francisco. Now he is bringing that curriculum to jewelers everywhere with a new two-course instructional DVD series that captures his week-long class.
The first concept Rémy’s pupils learn is “counter sketching,” or quick black-and-white drawings done in front of a client. Mastering a few simple techniques can help anyone, including sales associates, connect with a client and make the next sale.
“Sketching is a wonderful communication tool,” Remy says. Hand-drawing designs is a way of connecting with a potential customer and building a rapport that could lead to a devoted repeat client.
“The person walking in your door is feeling a ton of stuff,” he says. “A lot of times they are a little bit shy and they are going to be talking about something that is extremely personal. Whether they are redesigning Grandma’s necklace or it’s the first time they are going to propose—whatever the situation, it is not nothing. These are objects that we endow with a ton of emotions. When you sit down and sketch for someone, it gives them a feeling of importance. You are going to be focused on them, literally breathing them in.”
Once students have a grip on sketching, they move on to gorgeous full-color design renderings. Bringing jewelry drawings to life with color helps to seal the deal and ensure that the finished piece will match the customer’s expectations.
“In scuba diving they have a saying: ‘Plan your dive and dive your plan.’ In diving it’s very important, so you don’t run out of air,” Rémy says. “It’s sort of the same with jewelry design. If your client committed to a black-and-white sketch and then you put it in color, chances are the finished piece is going to meet their expectations. You are putting chance on your side.”
Rémy’s ability to understand clients, to extract the idea they have inside their head and translate it into jewelry, is one of his greatest talents as a designer. It’s also the reason some of his colleagues refer to him as the Mind Reader. He divulges some of his secrets for working with clients on a custom design in his DVD series.
“It’s about listening,” Rémy says. “And it’s about really caring for people. I tell myself: by the time I’m done with this meeting, I will have the perfect piece of jewelry for this person. You have to convince yourself that you have it. The reason is that it makes you relax. You have to be confident and smile internally that you are going to be able to do this. And,” he adds, “one of the tools for doing that, after you’ve told yourself you can, is staying with them, really listening.”
Part of “listening” to a client is simply observing.
“It’s about understanding them, he says. “How do they cut their hair? How do they wear their makeup? What other jewelry do they wear? Ask key questions like whether they are going to wear the piece every day or only on special occasions. All these things are going to push the pencil in the right directions.”
Never held a pencil? Not to worry. Rémy starts at the very beginning. He covers fundamental skills as basic as how to properly hold a pencil before rapidly building the material to more advanced techniques. Shot at Blaine Lewis’ New Approach School in Tennessee, the DVDS break down the process into digestible steps anyone can master. Students will find their abilities steadily, almost imperceptibly, growing as one lesson builds upon the next.
“I have students who come to me and say, ‘I don’t know how to do this,’” Rémy says. “And I always tell them, just stay with one little exercise at a time. Don’t look at the whole picture because it can make you panic. If you just do one thing at a time, you’re suddenly there.”
His teaching process combines the rigorous training he underwent during his years of schooling in Paris with his own methods, which he has refined over years of teaching. The result is a method all his own, one that he believes can help jewelers, designers, sales associates, pretty much anyone with a hand in the jewelry industry, bring the design ideas in their heads to life and capture their next sale.
“It took me a while to refine my curriculum and become comfortable enough to put it on DVD,” he says. “I want people to relax holding their pencil. I want them to start making friends with it and then start learning and getting more comfortable with it. There is sort of an organic way to get there.”
Rest assured, Rémy says, “If you use the DVDs and you practice everything on Part 1, after a couple of weeks you will be so comfortable that you will be burning to move on to color.”
Companies occasionally hire him to do paintings of a particularly special piece. They realize a photograph can’t capture its personality and ask Rémy to do so with his brush. The paintings often go to the person who buys the piece to hang in a dressing room or a study. This desire for the hand-drawn, even when a CAD drawing already exists, still thrives, and not just in the high-end market. Rémy believes it is a way of preserving the romance of jewelry and of gemstones.
“Even in this age of wild technology and of everything CAD, there is room for the romance of jewelry design still,” he says.