Karin Jacobson Design, Minneapolis
First Place, Responsible Practices Distinction
By Shawna Kulpa
At first glance, being responsible and having fun don’t always seem to go hand-in-hand. But designer Karin Jacobson is living proof that jewelers can do both. And sometimes they may even win an award for it.
A member of Ethical Metalsmiths, Jacobson is dedicated to producing her jewelry in the most responsible way possible. She uses recycled metals and diamonds as well as ethically sourced gemstones, and she properly disposes of the few chemicals, such as liver of sulfur, kept in her studio. Living just a mile from her studio allows her to frequently walk or bike to work, and when she gets to work, she makes it a point to actively reuse and recycle as much as she can. She uses recycled paper products and packaging and reuses shipping boxes, bubble wrap and other packing filler, and plastic bags that she gets from suppliers. “Everything that can’t be re-used but can be recycled does get recycled,” she says.
That dedication to the environment can also be seen in the materials chosen for the earrings that earned this year’s Responsible Practices Distinction in the MJSA Vision Awards. Jacobson had purchased a parcel of rough sapphires sourced from Montana, which she was excited about because they hadn’t been cut, eliminating “any issues that might be problematic in a cutting house,” such as poor working conditions or underage labor.
She particularly wanted to use the stones in the collection that’s she’s currently having fun making—one inspired by origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. She had developed her own metal-folding technique “to create pieces that have a graceful fluidity and big visual impact.”
She started playing with some of the stones from the parcel. “I took some origami shapes that I had and used Plexiglas and double-stick tape to play with stone layout,” she explains. “I like to move things around while I’m working on the design.”
The silver cut-out origami pieces she was working with were based on an initial prototype she had originally hand fabricated and then had cast in multiples. (Although she does all of her production work in-house in her studio, she contracts with a casting house in New York City that uses recycled shot for its castings.)
She immediately fell in love with the contrast between the origami shapes, with their refined and symmetrical look, and the organic and freeform sapphires. “It’s a fun contrast,” she says. “They go well together.”
Once she had an arrangement of the earrings she liked, she began bringing them to life by first building the bezels for the sapphires. Because she wanted the metal to follow the stones’ natural curves, she used flat 22k yellow gold wire to wrap around them. Because of the wire’s softness, “it was easy to push [the wire] around the uneven surface of the sapphires,” she says.
Jacobson created eight bezels total (four for each earring), all of which she soldered to a sterling silver sheet to create backs for the settings. “I wanted to have a brighter color behind the sapphires,” she explains. “I liked the [sapphires’] blue and I didn’t want to make them too yellowish [by using 22k yellow gold].”
After creating the bezels, she test-fit the stones, making sure she could pull the stones in and out of the settings without them getting stuck. She also filed down some of the tops of the bezels to correspond with the varying heights of the stones.
To both link the sapphire components and create accents, Jacobson tube-set six recycled diamonds (0.15 ctw) that she obtained from Hoover & Strong’s Harmony Recycled Melee Collection.
“I use almost entirely post-consumer diamond melee in my collection,” she says. The only exceptions are “1 mm (0.005 carat) melee because they rarely have the tiny ones available in recycled materials. So in that case, I opt for Canadian-sourced instead.” She set the diamonds in recycled 18k yellow gold tubing.
She created each dangle by soldering together three sapphire bezels and three diamond components, along with an 18k yellow gold jump ring Jacobson created from recycled wire. She also made a corresponding jump ring from recycled silver wire, to connect the dangle to the top bezel. Before attaching them, though, she oxidized the silver jump rings as well as the origami forms using liver of sulfur. (Rather then pouring the leftover solution down the drain, she adds, “I let the liver of sulfur degrade until it’s clear and then pour it into kitty litter and throw it away.”)
After joining the jump rings and soldering the origami “fans” to the backs of the top bezels, she hand fabricated French wires from recycled 18k gold wire and soldered them to the back of the origami. For her final step, she set the sapphires. She gently folded the 22k wires over the tops of the stones, carefully using a cylinder bur in any spot where the bezel remained a little too high. “I want [the stone] secure but don’t want to cover up more than I need to,” she says.
Since winning a Vision Award for the earrings, Jacobson has set aside the pair so they’ll be available for display alongside the rest of the winning pieces at the 2021 MJSA Expo. When the earrings are eventually sold, Jacobson will pack them in a recycled jewelry box and send them off in a recycled shipping box to their new owner. In the meantime, she says, “I’m still working with that parcel of sapphires and finding fun ways to use them.”