My favourite precious metal, is of course, 22k yellow gold: Carolyn Tyler

1) When did you first discover that you wanted to be a jewelry designer?

When I was a young child, I was bullied in school for being skinny with big feet and buck teeth and didn’t have many friends. I spent hours alone drawing with colored pencils, inventing costumes for kings, queens, extra-terrestrial beings, and horses. I always adorned my subjects with sumptuous and brightly colored jewels. Some looked ancient, like the buried archaeological treasures from the Los Angeles Art Museum Etruscan and Egyptian exhibitions that my parents took me to frequently, and some looked futuristic, like baubles on an Alien queen from the Star Trek TV series that was popular at the time. When I grew up, I went on to study Archaeology under the famed Egyptologist, Brian Fagan, at the University of California, and this deeply influenced my future designs. I resonate very deeply with Greco-Roman design motifs as well.

2) How would you describe your designs?

I jokingly refer to it as “pirate booty” because it has an opulent “buried treasure” feeling due to the rich 22k yellow gold with the characteristic antique/vintage style matte finish. I have made this my trademark surface texture, rather than the garish high polish that most commercially-produced jewelry of the modern era has. My work is classic, but, at the same time, it is elegantly casual and can be worn as “everyday jewelry”. I also have called my look Ancient/Futures because it has a timeless yet modern aspect, and Archaeological Revival because of the obvious hand-craftsmanship and bespoke nature of the designs. It is becoming extremely rare to find museum-worthy modern jewels because nearly all production-line work has molds and is cast so that many duplicates can be made at once, which reduces cost. Also, they are machine-finished because no one wants (or has the skill) to do the painstaking hand-work. Additionally, so much jewelry design is now computer-made on CAD systems, further depersonalizing the overall feeling of the finished pieces. My designs have an intrinsic soulfulness in them because they are made with love from the moment I have an artistic inspiration, through my personal choosing of the stones and materials, to the hand-fabrication by my dedicated Balinese master craftsmen, and the finishing ritual protection-and-abundance blessing done by my Hindu Balinese staff.

3) What are your favourite materials to work with?

My favorite precious metal, is of course, 22k yellow gold–white metals leave me cold, but high-karat gold shines like the sun. It’s warm and buttery glow is friendly, unlike the white or grey metals, which have a cool, moonlike quality. So-called “white gold” is a misnomer (even an oxymoron!)–gold is yellow–Period. There is no such thing as “white” gold, even though there is a mixture of metals marketed under that name. It is actually 75% yellow gold, mixed with palladium, silver, and nickel, and plated with white rhodium, which gives it the white color. I always use 22K (93.6% pure gold) or 18K minimum (75% pure gold) in my designs. I love designing with gemstones, especially opals, and pearls, ancient coins, fossils, and archaeological artifacts. I adore stones that play with light, like moonstone which has adularescence that makes it glow, star sapphire which has asterism, producing the ray-effect, and ammolite, which has iridescence from the layers of nacre-like aragonite in it’s pearly fossilized shell. But lavender Australian opals are my favorite, by far–I am never without my three opal rings and pendant.

4) How important is color to your design process?

Colour is my main inspiration. Unlike commercially-oriented designers who buy calibrated gems in bulk, we designer-artists choose our unique gems first, then design our original pieces around the stones. I was an artist and graphic designer before coming to the world of jewelry, so pleasing color composition is second nature. I love pairing complementary colors, shapes, and textures, and get a lot of inspiration from the natural world, especially scuba diving in tropical waters, where God was surely having fun with color and design. Some of the combinations in marine creatures is outrageous–purple, orange and green stripes, deep plum and yellow with black and white polkadots! I love the luminosity of cabochon (unfaceted) gems, especially rubellite tourmaline (hot pink) and peridot (acid green), and the play of color (fire) in Australian and Ethiopian opals reminds me of the iridescent scales on a parrotfish.

5) How did your knowledge of color theory change the way you think about design?

In my advertising days, it certainly did affect how I designed the look of a campaign, because I had to pay attention to the psychological effect the colors I used would have on the target consumer; for example: orange and red were great for food packaging because they make people want to eat. However with jewelry design, color theory doesn’t affect my work. I go on pure visceral/sensory attraction–if a gem of any hue gets my heart rate up and my salivary glands in gear, I know I must create a piece with it. I figure if it has that affect on me in it’s unglamorous rough state, it will be magnified for the consumer when set in an artful frame.

6) Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

I am inspired by so many things and people…Egyptian and Etruscan/Byzantine jewelry, the Art Nouveau/Belle Epoque and Art Deco Eras and the famed jewelry masters of that time: Rene Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Georges Fouquet , the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt inspires me with his meticulously detailed Japonisme-style backgrounds and fabrics (I named one ring style after him), my studies in anthropology, archaeology, and tribal motifs from Asia and Africa. Having lived in Bali, Indonesia for the last 25 years has had a major effect on my designs as well, as their Hindu sensualism and exuberant way with color has influenced my sensibilities.

7) What was the biggest risk you ever took with a design?

I take a risk every time I design and produce a piece, because I do it to please myself, not to play into trends or fashion, or even to satisfy store demand. Unlike commercial jewelers, I make what turns me on, and then I hope it has the same effect on at least one other person who sees it and gets heart palpitations over it. My work is not known for being edgy or avant garde, so I haven’t done anything terribly risky or risqué in that regard, except I did have a bit of naughty fun designing a somewhat sad-masochistic-looking black neoprene rubber dog collar and cuffs with sharply-pointed and polished black onyx “spikes” sticking out, set in granulated gold “sleeves”. I called it Suffrance, and sold it to a gay couple in Houston, who bought it the second time it was ever shown. I never made another.

8) What are you working on now?

At the moment, I am obsessed with tiny carved gemstone Buddhas and other various deities like Ganesha, Hindu god of prosperity, and Quan Yin, goddess of compassion. I will make some of Mother Mary and Jesus as well. I have dozens of small embellished carved gemstone shrines from crystal or chrysoprase with little gold-lined niches which hold the tiny gem statues, encrusting them with gold, gems, and sometimes a touch of silver, and making long beaded “mala”-style (like a rosary) tasseled necklaces with holy rudraksha seeds to clip them onto. These pieces are more than decorative– they have real power, and people can feel it, and they become beloved talismans that are worn every day and kept by the bed at night. I bought lots of rough gems in Thailand recently, like tanzanite, ruby, sapphire, opal, and lapis that my carvers are working on right now. Recently I sold a huge 109 carat carved lavender Australian opal Ganesh pendant with ruby eyes to a client in Hawaii–it was a stupendous one of a kind carving and she was very lucky to choose that one. She knows she got a real prize. I think all my collectors feel that their pieces are truly special, and they are!