Feature Friday Q&A with Martha Seely Design

Today's Feature Friday designer is one that I first discovered on Instagram.  I then  had the pleasure of meeting Martha, of Martha Seely Designs, in person at the AGTA Tucson Gem Show this past February.  What I had originally loved in Martha's work on Instagram was the movement that it had both in the kinetic sense as well as in how it could easily flow from office to black tie appropriate in the most seamless fashion.  Martha studied Costume Design at Carnegie Mellon University where she launched her design career and spent many years as a costume designer and wardrobe stylist for theater, film and television.  So it makes perfect sense why her designs have the sense of movement and flow that I so gravitate towards.

Keep reading to learn more about Martha; what inspires her and her incredible jewelry!


Martha Seely of Martha Seely Designs

1.  What prompted your passion for jewelry and jewelry design?
Jewelry making came into my life briefly while I was in college.  One winter session, I took a month long intensive class in silversmithing.  I was completely enamored with the process and the satisfaction it gave me to create finished pieces of jewelry (even as a complete beginner).  But being a liberal arts college, there were no more jewelry-making classes within the art department (my major).  Instead, I found theater design, which satisfied many of my art history and design needs.  I earned my graduate degree in costume design and spent decades as a costume designer and wardrobe stylist, for film, TV and theater.  I was quite obsessed with costume history - clothing and accessories throughout history; fabrics; fashions; undergarments (corsets, petticoats etc) and adornments.  I fell in love with wearable art throughout the ages and how our view of beauty, fashion and clothing changed over the years. 

But years pass – and though each project was different, it was still the same – and I was always designing (or shopping) to satisfy the needs of a project, not something I created that came from my heart.  For a long time, I loved it.  After all – how fun is it to shop with someone else’s money?!!!  But after so many years creating for someone else’s project, and with the soul of an artist, I began to wonder if I had anything unique to say.  This is when I started to take art classes again. 

From her Constellation Collection, these multi-colored gemstone earrings in yellow gold are one of my Bucket List pieces!

There is a local museum that offered classes – and I started taking drawing and painting classes.  But one of the programs they offered was silver jewelry making, and I decided that I HAD to try my hand at it again, because I had so loved my class during college.  After one session, I was hooked - again. And this time, there were more classes to take. 

Another fabulous school called Metalwerx (in Waltham, MA) offered more amazing classes than I could imagine.  Class after class, teaching techniques and precision from amazing masters.  After discovering how much fun it was to hammer, form, melt metal, solder, polish, and wear or sell; we were introduced to gemstones.  Talk about a game changer!  One thing led to another, and somewhere along the way, it stopped just being about technique, but became more about using techniques to create something wearable and beautiful. 

My sketchbooks were filled with jewelry doodling – more and more ideas that I was simply not able to create.  But I wanted (needed?) to see my pencil sketches brought to life.  A WJA (Women in Jewelry Association) mentor suggested that CAD might be the way to do it.  Suddenly I discovered the technology that brought my designs to life.  It was a dream come true!!!  And my jewelry business was born from that point.  The technology allows me to create my dreams - and create multiples!  And every day I still feel that same excitement in the design process as I did at the beginning. 
 
I plan to take more classes again, as soon as I can, because they are fabulous.  They create community with other designers and each class stirs new excitement.

2.  What is your favorite piece or collection?
The truth is, my favorite piece is always the one I am working on “now."  So, it is hard to pick a favorite piece because at one time, they were each my favorite.  But my current favorite collection is Shooting Stars because it is where I have really explored new ideas and added lots of color to the designs. It is in this collection that I pay tribute to the stars, with emphasis constellations and comets. 

The Ceres Spiral Earring from Martha's Orbit Collection is available in a variety of metals & gemstones.
It is truly one of my personal favorites from the collection as each band of gold moves in "orbit" around the gemstone epicenter.

3.  What would your perfect “jewelry day” involve / be like?
My perfect jewelry day?  Well, first is has to be where a lot of jewelry friends come together, in person.  It has to start with coffee or cappuccino.  Later we would add chocolate and finally sip champagne.  This would be a day to share ideas, knowledge and laughter.  If we could be in an amazing brick and mortar store looking at gorgeous jewelry and gem stones, that would be heaven.  Or if we could be at a museum with a jewelry or fashion exhibit… or a gemstone and mineral exhibit – even better.  I may have had my “perfect” jewelry day – where I spent hours in the mineral exhibit and in the vaults at the Harvard Mineralogical museum with the curator, and current president of the Boston WJA, Raquel Alanso Perez.  She showed me some of the most amazing treasures I have even seen. (I don’t think that coffee, chocolate or champagne were involved, but the minerals, gemstones and rocks!!)

4.  Thus far, what would you say is your proudest jewelry moment or memory?
Each time I see my work show up in a magazine, or if it wins an award… I am always so incredibly excited and proud.  But, what continues to drive me and makes me really happy, is that I finally believe that I am good at something I love – designing jewelry.  (Not so much as a bench jeweler, but as a designer.) The first time I won an award, I was thrilled but I wondered if the piece that took the award was an anomaly.  But after more awards, I started to believe in myself.  And, more stores were interested in carrying my work.  And finally, most importantly (and where I AM the most proud) women seem to want to own and wear my jewelry!!!  When customers buy and wear my jewelry, I feel like I am doing what I came to this earth to do – create wearable art/beauty.

The Transition 2-Tone Bracelet with Rivet-set Pearl from the Windswept Collection is the epitome of Martha's design philosophy of creating wearable art.  The bracelet embraces the wearer's wrist like windswept hair appears to frame the face.

5.  Where do you find your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspirations come from nature.  But it really started with my fascination with the golden spiral or Fibonacci Sequence.  In some spiritual communities the spiral is considered sacred and believed to represent our journey from the Center to Ascension.  It is actually a shape that is everywhere in nature, art, architecture, music and the universe - as seen in the arms of the spiral galaxies.  My personal style and taste, is distinctly contemporary, and I think, Scandinavian, due to my mother’s origins and her passion (I grew up in a house filled with mid-century modern furniture from Denmark).  It was my jewelry that showed me that it belonged in the universe.  My first design was the start of the Orbit collection with 2 interlocking spirals… and it feels a little like Saturn’s rings– and actually, the spiral galaxies.  That was an ah-hah moment for me.  And I decided my hands knew more than my conscious brain.  From that moment, I started looking at more and more images of the universe as taken from the Hubble Telescope and the Chandra Observatory. And each time I do - the images continue to blow me away.  I have always loved the photos of our solar system, but the images from these “cameras” feels like magic.  And, I love magic. 

Just like the view from the Chandra Observatory, the Triple Spiral Necklace from the Orbit Collection allows you to wear a bit of the universe itself.

6.  In your personal wardrobe, do you find that you gravitate to one particular jewelry accessory (rings vs. necklace vs. bracelets vs. watches, etc.) more often than others?
In my everyday life, I wear the same Antares necklace, set with salt and pepper diamonds (from the Shooting Stars collection) daily.  It has become my signature necklace. I feel like I am wearing a “wishing star."  It makes me feel like I can conquer my life.  I love the idea of wearing shooting stars, wishing stars and comets.  They are my latest obsession. (Stay tuned, I am working on new comet designs!)  I also always wear earrings, most often taking new designs for “test drives” to see whether the engineering works, and whether I like them as much as I think I do.  I am not as much of a bracelet girl, instead I wear a simple, sleek Movado watch.  Bracelets get in my way when I am working (which is most of the time).  I love them for going out, but when I am at my bench, drawing board (my initial sketches are always in pencil) or my computer, I take them off.  

7.  When putting together an outfit, how do you feel about mixing metals, designs and even new with vintage pieces?
I LOVE mixing.  All the things you asked… starting with metals.  Mixing silver and yellow gold can add different dimensions to a design.  And, it also can bring down the cost of a piece.  Or, make a piece more valuable.  But mostly it looks great.  I also love mixing high polish with satin. And adding a little black rhodium (or oxidized silver) plating is another way to add interest to a piece. 

I also love mixing designs, as long as they “play well together” – from stacks of rings and various style bracelets to necklaces.  They all look fabulous to me.  Skinny and wide cuffs, mixed with beaded or chain bracelets – fabulous and a little fun.  I like necklaces to be slightly varied in lengths, with different charms, pendants or just chains…and I like different weights of chains mixed together too.  I can see all the pendants and chains as they play together. 

The Constellation Stacking Band is another pieces of Martha's that is destined to become a future heirloom in any family!

And of course – all these layered elements so easily incorporate mixing vintage and contemporary.  The simplicity of contemporary design shapes can be augmented with some of the details of a vintage piece of jewelry.  There can be wonderful textural juxtapositions that occur between old and new.  There is no end to the unique outfit you can create by mixing and matching jewelry.  It allows each person to express who she (or he) is.  And it allows each person to wear her/his favorite pieces every day. 

There are a few styles that I think don’t play well together – some of the heavily beaded pieces from the '50s that just don’t “want” to be with some of the contemporary designs.  And some of the very exquisite, very elaborate diamond and precious gemstone pieces.  Whether vintage or contemporary, mostly, those take focus – and should stand alone 

8.  What advice would you give to budding jewelry designers? To budding fine jewelry collectors?
First thing I would tell a budding designer is to take some bench jewelry classes.  Learn as much as you can about metals, gemstones and pearls.  Learn to hammer, learn to solder.  Learn as much as you can about what you can do with metals.  The more you know about fabrication and materials, the more you are going to be able to design pieces that work. 

Then, spend lots of time looking at jewelry in books, in museums and in stores.  Take notes - draw.  Transform your sketches into something else.  Play with your ideas.  If you love leaves, draw designs with leaves.  If you like flowers or bugs or sticks or bones, follow that inspiration.  But don’t copy someone else’s designs.  Be inspired by the style, by the look or by the technique, but do NOT copy.  If there is something you love – draw it in multiple ways.  Do it as a bracelet, earrings, pendant, broach… try it large, small, with stones and without.  You will need a line if you want to sell your jewelry.  Keep drawing until you have 40 or 50 designs that start to look good together.  Create a unified “collection."   Decide what price point you want for your work.  Do you want to make plated pieces, fashion pieces, art pieces, fine jewelry with diamonds and 18kt?  Who do you WANT to be your customer?  What does he or she like to wear?  What do they usually spend on jewelry items?  If you are going to have a business, you need to start thinking about practical matters.
  
Another of Martha's pieces that is on my personal Bucket List are these Elongated Drop Earrings from the Constellation Collection.
I adore them!  Just like the stars in the sky, the possibilities for the wearer of these beauties are endless!

To become a really good designer, find your personal voice by following your heart - or you will be a copy of someone else. (And that other person might be flattered… but won’t be happy!)  And, unless you want to create fashion jewelry, do not follow the trends.  Pay attention to what is happening out there, but don’t get sucked into following fashion. 

As a designer, I believe it is my duty to start trends, not follow them.  (There are a few exceptions to this rule, of course.)  But if you follow fashion, that is all you will be doing, following, not leading.  Stay true to your personal vision – and express your uniqueness. 

And finally, if you are serious about making this passion into a business, you have to start thinking about marketing and sales.  You will need photos, line sheets and a way to sell your jewelry.  Talk to as many experts and you can.  Listen, watch, learn.  Make friends with people who can advise you.  Find a mentor.  And remember that everything always changes.  It is the one thing we can count on.  We all used to try to sell our work through stores, but that business model has changed.  After this pandemic – everything is going to be different and we don’t know how.  Don’t panic – just keep trying options.  You will find what works best for you.  We all will.

From the Cirrus Collection, the Pearl Post Earrings are not your Grandmother's pearls!  Martha's fresh take on the classic pearl earring
was inspired by the wispiness of their namesake, the Cirrus cloud formation.  

Advice to a budding fine jewelry collector?  This is harder for me.  So much is dependent on your interest, your passion and your pocketbook.  Do you need instant gratification?  If you are going to invest in expensive jewelry, do some research.  What do you love?  What metals do you love?  What gemstones do you love?  Do you love vintage designs?  Or contemporary?  Start looking at designers who are out there.  Don’t just look at the “named” designers.  Scratch the surface a little deeper than that – find designers who might be less well known but who are making jewelry you love.  Buy from them.  You are more likely going to pay a lower price (because the well-known names often charge higher prices).  Every designer begins somewhere and if you invest in one of those lesser known designers, you will likely find something as unique as you are.  And, you will have a hand in building the reputation of the designer you love.  And in helping them grow and thrive. 

If you love fine,  vintage jewelry – you need to do your research. But the same thing goes – find what you LOVE.  Learn about styles.  Learn about the older designers and companies.  Learn about stones and cuts.  Ultimately it is about what you love – but you also don’t want to get taken advantage of by some shopkeeper who knows more than you do.

Flash Question - Dream trip destination?
I bet you were thinking I might say Bora Bora, Thailand or even the moon - but my current dream destination right now is Romania.  Specifically, I want to go to Iasi, Romania – which is considered the university, art and political hub of the country.  I want to go for a personal reason.  This is where my grandmother was born.  I have been to Sweden where my mother’s family was from.  And now, I would like to visit where my father’s family came from.  I yearn to soak in the culture, the arts, the lifestyle - the country.  It might inspire some changes to my work, or it might not.  But either way – I want to go there and sip on some Romanian wine. 


One of Martha's most prized pieces of jewelry - a brooch from her Mother.


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