Part of the journey of Gem Hunt is we are learning along with you about new designers, options, and the jewelry industry. Recently, in our travels and talks we came across the term “bench jeweler”. We were lucky enough to have a great one in our backyard: (San Francisco) Tura Sugden. We took a visit to her studio; where she hand crafts all her pieces with love and the over site of an extremely charming and demanding golden retriever named Flossy. We were able to interview her to get more insight into her craft but also really understand what it means to be a bench jeweler and why you should consider working with one.
Tell us about your background and how you got started with your company Tura Sugden Fine Jewelry?
I love to chase information and technique; it’s like building a library. Acknowledging that a career is long and that an authentic education is cumulative is crucial. I’m always learning. In San Francisco, I earned a BFA in fine art, and continued my education after graduating by apprenticing for goldsmiths in the Bay Area for seven years. I have traveled to study specialties in Belgium, Maine, Tennessee, Kansas, and California. Currently I am living in San Francisco and working in my Noe Valley studio, building my own collection and studying advanced techniques.
Why do you love the work that you do?
Working in gold and diamonds is endlessly enjoyable and rewarding. I love the deeply traditional aspects of this craft, and I’m proud of the important strides that our industry has made in ethical and social responsibility. Making jewelry is creative but it’s also practical, and it’s an emotional production. My favorite part of this work is connecting with the customer who will wear what I made.
You call yourself a bench jeweler, what is that exactly?
A bench jeweler is an artisan who is classically trained in jewelry-making, and who hand crafts and fabricates jewelry in metal. There are several types of bench jewelers and they often have their own specialty, such as goldsmithing, silversmithing, fabrication, casting, stone setting, hollow ware, and engraving. I specialize in hand-fabrication in solid gold and stone setting, which I learned from master goldsmiths and jewelers throughout my career.
Where does the term “bench jeweler” come from?
The term “bench jeweler” comes directly from the bench that we work in front of. It’s a term that describes someone that is sitting and working at their specialty bench. Over the years, a jeweler’s bench becomes imprinted with their specialized craft; the bench evolves with customizations and becomes marked and scarred with daily use. Every jeweler’s bench is unique, and can be read as a timeline and a story of the artisan’s career.
Why should a consumer choose to work with a bench jeweler?
An artisan evolves with time, honing their craft and expanding their knowledge. I believe in sharing the narrative of a piece with my clients, and part of that is showing them how their jewelry is made. I allow them to sit at the bench, to look at their stone under the microscope, to hold my favorite tools. This is a service and an experience that gets lost in an interaction with a big brand store, where jewelry is likely created on a computer rather than by hand.
Is there anything noticeably different in jewelry from a bench jeweler?
A bench jeweler takes pride in their work because they are an artisan and because they love what they do. You’ll see a noticeable difference in craftsmanship and a respect for tradition when you work with a bench jeweler. The process is authentic and transparent, and it’s a beautiful thing to see a future heirloom crafted by hand.
Why are you committed to this craft?
This industry will always grow and shift to produce pieces faster and cheaper, and we can all benefit from these advances made in technologies and processes. But the way I make my collection pushes back against this idea; it places importance on the final product and on the quality of the work, not on a price tag. I’m committed to traditional methods of production not only because that’s what feels right to me, but because it’s important to preserve tradition. Customers understand that and they respect it, and I love teaching about process as much as showing the final product.
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