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November 1999

Metals & Bench : Metalsmithing

The Innovators, Part V: What's an Innovator?

How do they differ from other designers?

With this column, master goldsmith, author and educator Alan Revere returns to the pages of Professional Jeweler, continuing his series called The Innovators (parts 1-4 ran in February, March, April and June 1998). In the interim Revere completed two new books (see a review of Ring Repair in our October 1999 issue, p. 90). He also wrote The Art of Jewelry Making, published in September 1999. Revere continues teaching at his own Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco and around the country.

Some people mistakenly believe a jewelry designer must be an innovator. Others give designers no credit for innovation. In reality, while many designers are innovators, the two hats don't always fit the same head.

An innovator introduces or makes something new. A designer arranges or coordinates the parts or details of an object. One task has to do with newness, the other with artistry. Both are legitimate and require a combination of innate talent and training.

There's a distinct difference between designers who are manipulators/arrangers and those who see the world through different eyes. Jewelers and their clients deserve to know the difference because innovators' works often are distinctive and highly collectible. They inspire the rest of the community and lead it forward by making changes or introducing something new to the language of jewelry. They go out on a limb to fulfill their urge to be different. If everything falls into place, they hit a home run. But they can strike out if their ideas aren't appealing or fail to function successfully.

Innovators will always be rarer than designers. They're closer to inventors, who create or redefine what already exists. Innovators, for example, can create a product, such as Steven Kretchmer's new platinum alloy (see Professional Jeweler, February 1998, p. 86). An innovator can develop a technique, such as John Paul Miller's cubic granulation (March 1998, p. 56). An innovator can express a new style, such as David Yurman's twist on cable jewelry. An innovator can create his or her own visual language, such as Michael Good's anticlastic jewelry. Only a few of the many talented designers working today are innovators.

Some experts and observers use other definitions to make these often difficult distinctions. Whitney Boin, one of the most talented innovators and designers today, is a founder of the new International Jewelry Design Guild. Boin's working definition of a designer is someone with an identifiable collection – a body of work in which the designer's identity would be clear to a knowledegeable person looking at a representative piece or two. But even a distinctive, well-designed collection doesn't necessarily mean a designer is also an innovator. Some are, some are not.

Innovators are those rare birds who risk the most to catch our eye, light our fire, move the industry and, if it all clicks, make their indelible mark on the culture of jewelry. They combine the genius of thinking outside the box with the artistry of fashion and ability of vision. We need designers, but even more, we need innovators. It is to these rare people this column is dedicated. This would be a pretty boring jewelry world without them.

By Alan Revere

The Innovators, Part 6: Michael Good appears next month.

Innovation can take many forms, whether it's a new product, such as Steven Kretchmer's new platinum alloy (shown above in a pendant by Michael Good); a technique, such as John Paul Miller's cubic granulation (shown in his Dung Beetle pendant); or a visual language, such as Michael Good's anticlastic jewelry.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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