By Shawna Kulpa
The end of an era is upon us.
Earlier this year, award-winning jewelry designer, author, and educator Alan Revere announced his plans to retire at the end of the year. For nearly 50 years, Revere has been working for the betterment of the jewelry industry: executing beautiful jewelry designs using Old World techniques, encouraging jewelers to advocate for their art, and educating students both young and old at the San Francisco jewelry academy that bears his name.
With his impending retirement nearly upon us, we could think of no better time to pay tribute to a man who, many would agree, has had the greatest influence and impact on the industry.
Growing up in Great Neck, New York, Alan Revere says that his family was business-oriented, even though they had an appreciation for art. While both of his grandfathers and his mother dabbled in painting and sculpture, it appeared that he would follow an academic path and enter the business world as well.
After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in psychology and a minor in art, Revere had plans to go to law school. He spent that summer of 1969 living with his father in New York’s Greenwich Village. Then a friend invited him to a musical festival that was taking place that August in upstate New York, on a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur.
“I like to say that I went to Woodstock instead of law school,” he says. All jokes aside, that experience made him decide that law school wasn’t for him and that he would go to art school instead.
Following the festival, Revere packed up his Volkswagen bus and drove around the country for a year before settling down at the Instituto Allende, an arts and crafts school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, that one of his art teachers in college had recommended. On the first day of class, he made a silver pendant and “my world turned upside down,” he says. “Everything changed when I touched that first piece of silver.”
He studied at the school for two years, earning a master’s degree. “I kept a logbook of more than 200 pieces of jewelry I made in the two years of graduate school,” he remembers. “And I sold them all. I was cooking.”
It was during this time in Mexico that he crossed paths with Harold O’Connor, who had come to the school after studying in Germany. O’Connor—who would go on to a career as an educator, author, and jeweler known for his virtuosity in techniques such as granulation and reticulation—showed Revere a portfolio of work he had done in Germany. Revere was blown away.
“It was the precision and exactness that drew me in,” he recalls. “The style was ’60s German, and what he showed me was a combination of very traditional settings, movements, and mechanisms combined with a contemporary application to creative artistic jewelry work.”
Eager to learn more and gain a higher level of expertise, he set off for the famed, hundred-year-old Fachhochschule für Gestaltung in Pforzheim, Germany.
“At that time, Pforzheim was the jewelry capital of Europe,” Revere says. “Students came from all over the world to study there.” Revere spent two years at the school building a solid foundation of the German Old World style of jewelry making and stone setting. “The school taught technical proficiency in traditional commercial jewelry making—the kind of pieces that would be handcrafted for high-end stores and galleries. There were lots of settings and mechanical movements that really intrigued me.”
He points out that at that time, nothing like that type of training was available in the U.S. “There were craft schools, academic art-jewelry programs, and little more,” he recalls. “For someone as serious as I was, the European draw was overwhelming.”
It was also during this time that Revere had the first inkling of what would one day become the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts.
“I made a sketch of my fantasy jewelry school,” he says. “I showed it to a fellow student and said, ‘Let’s start a school!’” Although nothing initially became of this idea, it planted a seed and made Revere aware of his strong desire to educate. “I had always liked teaching,” he explains. “I had taught diving and swimming when I was a youngster and had always found it rewarding.”
Revere returned to the U.S. in 1974, settling in the San Francisco Bay area and getting a job as a bench jeweler. “It was an opportunity to round out my training,” Revere says. “I had the training as an artist, as a goldsmith, and now was learning the repair side, which is a really critical aspect of goldsmithing. There are certain skills you learn that are different when you repair something and you’re working on a piece that means a lot to someone else.”
He stayed in that job for a year before moving on to a teaching job at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. At the same time, he opened a studio at the Phelan Building on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, at the time a hub of the Northern California jewelry industry. There he made his own jewelry, entering craft fairs and jewelry shows in his spare time.
He continued teaching at the college until 1979, when he decided to offer classes in his studio. He emphasized the precise skills and exacting technical craftsmanship he had learned in Germany. “I knew people in the U.S. wanted this information as soon as I returned,” he explains. “People came to me when they heard about my training and they wanted me to show them what I had learned. I realized there was a need.”
At the time, his studio consisted of an office and a 200-square-foot workroom. Manufacturing was done during the day, and Revere Academy classes—which initially consisted of three students per class—were held at night and on the weekends. “Between manufacturing and teaching, we were getting double use of the same facility, which could get a little complicated sometimes,” he says.
As word of mouth grew about the school, so did demand for classes, and Revere started hiring other teachers and developing a staff. “It started with George McLean, who was well known in the Bay Area and was one of my mentors,” says Revere. “I asked him to teach rendering and casting, and then it grew and grew, and before I knew it, we were offering a variety of classes taught by a faculty of twelve qualified master craftspeople.”
At the same time as he was developing the Academy, Revere continued manufacturing jewelry, eventually hiring 10 jewelers to help create his lines. Although his early ring designs were cast, the majority of his work consisted of hand-fabricated earrings and bracelets. “I liked working directly with metal, creating my designs out of sheet and wire,” he says. In addition, hand-fabricating his pieces made them “more difficult to copy.”
Somehow between managing his manufacturing business and growing a burgeoning jewelry school, he found the time to be an active and contributing member of the industry. In the early 1980s, Revere had his first technical article on goldsmithing published in JCK magazine. Recognizing that he could share his technical knowledge with a wider swath of the industry through the written word, Revere became an author; his first book, Professional Goldsmithing: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Jewelry Techniques, came out in 1991. (In 2011 it was revised and re-published by Brynmorgen Press as Professional Jewelry Making.)
Five more books followed, including 101 Bench Tips for Jewelers (2004, MJSA Press), which was inspired by the periodic column he started for MJSA Journal in 2002. His seventh and latest book, Professional Stonesetting: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Setting Techniques, was published earlier this year by Brynmorgen Press.
In addition to writing, Revere documented his teaching in the Revere on Goldsmithing DVD series that featured an “over-the-master’s-shoulder” look as he demonstrated dozens of tools, hundreds of different skills, and countless personal tips on a range of topics, including hollow bands, forged rings with tube settings, and cabochon pendants.
But his commitment to the jewelry industry extended well beyond just teaching bench skills. He also wanted to find a way to help his fellow designers promote and market their work to consumers. In the mid ’80s, Revere chaired the Society of North American Goldsmiths/Jewelers of America liaison committee, which introduced craft jewelers to the larger commercial jewelry market. He later joined the American Jewelry Design Council (AJDC), which works to “recognize and promote the appreciation of original jewelry design as art.” In addition to being a past president of the council, Revere frequently chaired the AJDC’s New Talent contest, which introduced many up-and-coming designers to the JA Show. Around 1990, after a discussion with some of his fellow designers about the difficulty of getting exposure when you’re not a big name, he organized and chaired the first meeting of what would become the Contemporary Jewelry Design Group. A non-profit organization, the group is dedicated to promoting American jewelry designers directly to consumers.
And he continued to design and manufacture jewelry. Revere says that, of all his accomplishments, he remains most proud of his work as a designer—he estimates that he’s created about 10,000 pieces, many of them sold in jewelry stores and galleries nationwide. And that work helped to cement his stature in the early years. It was also through his direct connection with makers at fairs and shows that helped him develop an international faculty of high-profile experts for the Academy.
“My career was sailing,” he recalls. “I won national and international awards, my jewelry appeared in magazines, and my work was selling faster than we could make it. I was in the flow, and it was fun.”
But by 1994, he was feeling a bit burnt out. “I had set a personal goal to be recognized as a jewelry designer,” he explains. “I set out to meet the marketplace, and I did.” And with that accomplished, the realities of running a manufacturing operation began to wear on him.
“Managing 15 people took all my energy, and I wanted to do other things. I made the decision to shut down a very successful business,” he says. “I wanted to focus on the school and my writing.”
By then, the Revere Academy had grown considerably and taken over a corner of the ninth floor of the Phelan Building. “What started as me teaching three people at a time grew into a bustling school with two classrooms,” says Revere. “We found a niche from the get-go, with students ranging from professionals to wannabes.” That success was due to not only Revere’s dedication to precise technical instruction, but also the caliber of instructors he engaged, starting with George McLean. Revere notes that the Academy has been the only place in which both renowned gem cutter Bernd Munsteiner and famed jewelry designer David Yurman have ever taught.
He estimates that the school (now in the Humboldt Bank Building, a two-minute walk from the Phelan) has trained about 20,000 students since its inception, and that he himself has taught well over 10,000 students. He attributes its success to the focus of the curriculum he’s maintained over the years. As the school grew, so did its scope, branching out beyond just bench work and the technical aspects of goldsmithing to include more business-oriented topics such as classes on marketing designer jewelry and business essentials.
“The Academy is different from other schools,” he explains. “We train people in the foundation and then offer a wide range of applications, both commercial and artistic. We’ve been able to draw very motivated students. Meeting people from all over the world, sharing the same passion, and then helping them on their paths…that’s been hugely rewarding.”
After nearly 50 years in the jewelry industry, Revere announced earlier this year his intention to retire, and he placed the Revere Academy up for sale. For Revere, it’s a day he never thought would come.
“I thought I would work until I died,” he explains. “I never thought there would be an ending.” But after turning 70 earlier this year and experiencing some of the aches and pains that come along with it, he admits that everything has started to look different.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do,” he says. “I really wanted to carry the goldsmith’s art across the millennium, in a manner that was faithful to my own teachers. I made art, I made jewelry, I wrote books, I helped a lot of people, and I did it with integrity. I’ve left my mark. I don’t feel like I need to do anything else. I’m very satisfied.”
December 16 is Revere’s first official day of retirement, but he still has a few jewelry projects lined up on the horizon. He will be teaching a weekend class at the Mendocino Art Center in Mendocino, California, for Valentine’s Day. “The workshop is called Lovers’ Rings, and in it I teach couples to cast and forge 18k gold rings for each other,” he explains.
He’ll also be serving as a judge in the 2018 Saul Bell Design Awards competition sponsored by Rio Grande. In addition, he expects to continue to participate in the AJDC’s annual design project, which challenges its designer members to create a piece around a central theme. The theme for the next project has not been announced publicly, although Revere already has some ideas percolating. “My affiliation with AJDC and the annual projects has been very fulfilling,” he says. “I believe my best work lies in the 20 annual projects I created for it.”
Beyond that, Revere is uncertain as to what his future might hold. And that suits him just fine.
“For my whole life, I’ve known what I had to do every day,” he says. “Now I’m ready to wake up and not have that burden anymore and see what the day looks like. It’s a whole new experience waiting to be discovered.”
But before he packs up his vintage Volkswagen camper and calls it a day, he wants to share the same advice and philosophy that he himself has followed throughout his lifetime: “Follow your bliss as far as you can. Then push it further. That’s all there is to it.”
Click here to read jewelers’ tributes to Revere.