Eco-jewelry. I suppose we think we know what that means–conjuring images of hemp bracelets donned by global-relations students. Or maybe that’s just me. But regardless of what we infer from the terminology, affixing environmentalism to our favorite adornments is, for the most part, an unnatural proposition.
Andy Lifschutz makes eco-jewelry. But you probably wouldn’t guess it from looking at his work and he certainly won’t be the first to tell you. “When i think of ‘eco-jewelry,’ I think of people using vintage watch pieces or old chains they got from estate sales. You know, people rummaging around and finding junk to string onto a necklace. I don’t think of it as people creating new designs that are every bit as ethical or recycled. What I do is eco-jewelry, but I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as modern, relevant art.”
Working primarily with reclaimed metals and stones found close to the earth’s surface (think: quartz), Andy’s work finds itself teetering between contemporary abstraction and enduring naturalism. And this aesthetic is not easily won. With every style and every collection, the designer challenges himself as he endeavors to share his perspective, never relying on an established skill set. “I incorporate both old and new methods, that’s unorthodox. You’ll find that most designers design in a certain way and have that certain aesthetic that carries over between collections. That is a part of their brand from the first collection to the last. For my line, everything has an earthbound feel to it but my techniques constantly evolve to help me tell my story with each and every collection.”
While his techniques may vary, one thing Andy never deviates from is his process of sourcing materials. It is here that we find ourselves at the unexpected nexus of environmentalism and ornamentation. “When I was growing up on Oregon, I had a big rock collection. We would drive out to Eastern Oregon to look for thundereggs in particular–they look all gnarly on the outside, but when you split them open, the landscape inside them is beautiful, like an impressionist painting once polished…Then there were these rock shops in Portland–Ed’s House of Gems and Handley’s–that I’d visit all the time, and still do when I go back home.”
It is safe to assume that this childhood pastime influenced Andy’s lasting love for all things rock. It also, however, encouraged a consciousness that has carried over from a childhood hobby into a business. “The impact of mining, generally, is not a positive one on our earth and its core. And that is by and large why I choose to use either stones that are not that far below the surface, or stones that are pulled from vintage pieces.”
Of course, living and working in Brooklyn, keeping up with orders and working with clients means that Andy doesn’t have loads of time to hunt down rocks himself like he did when he was a kid. But, luckily enough, that has not meant sacrificing thoughtful sourcing. “I was surfing the internet and found a stone supplier in Arkansas and he turned out to be an amazing guy with a great story. He was in the Navy for a long time and reformed himself into a crystal healer. He feels like he has a purpose in putting these stones out into the world and we’ve built this great relationship where I can call him up, talk about stones and minerals and he knows exactly what I’m looking for. When I order, he hand picks the stones for me. In that sense, I know whose mining the stones, exactly what part of the earth they’re coming from and I have an intimate relationship with how they arrive at my mailbox.”
It’s not just where the stones are coming from that is under consideration. The metals play an equal role in representing the jeweler’s conscientious methodology in that no metal used is coming from the ground. “I chose my casting company based on the fact that they work solely with United Metals as their supplier. A lot of companies might use United for some of their metals, but with my casting company, whatever it is, United supplies them. And it’s a big deal. United is at the forefront of really high quality alloys, derived completely from reclaimed, scrap metals.”
One wonders why all all designers don’t consider such an option for their manufacturing. It seems that if there are large companies focused on providing reclaimed metals, the demand is there. “It is marginally more expensive,” Andy clarifies. “But ultimately I think a lot of people don’t know the option exists or they don’t care. I think those are probably the two biggest factors.”
It might sound a bit cynical, but the fact is, designers have so many things to consider when it comes to fabrication, environmental impact would, regrettably, be one of the items to fall towards the bottom of the priority list. Andy’s case is a rare one in that his consciousness was inherited not only from his childhood experiences, but also as a student at the Sterling Quest School of Jewelry Design and Creation in San Miguel de Allende. “I was living in Mexico when I really started making fine jewelry, and I was buying stones from these families that were actually mining and cutting them. It was truly direct-sourcing.”
Don’t mistake Andy’s awareness as immodesty. One of the most compelling qualities the designer possesses is his ability to acknowledge his successes while acceding the limitations of producing luxury items. “My work has its place in representing a consciousness but regardless of how conscious a jewelry line aims to be, you’re still creating something that nobody actually needs. I feel like I can be seen as someone with environmentalist viewpoints, but I don’t view myself as an environmentalist because ultimately, I’m producing something new.”
For his current collection “Le Havre,” the designer is moving into new territory. Inspired by a vintage leather travel bag, the latest line explores the metamorphosis of a worn out bag into a wearable collection of art. “I started taking the bag apart little by little, and I made some necklaces from it for some private clients. Then I decided to see if I could make silicone molds out of the actual leather–where the texture of the material would come through into the pieces. I cut out the hardware and shapes from the leather and eventually it grew into a line.”
“Le Havre” is marked by bold pieces, intended for the empowered and dauntless. Collars and cuffs wear like armor while pendants and rings are rendered as distinctive emblems. With such a commanding presence, the collection seems right for the times. “Releasing the line in 2012 is somewhat symbolic of all the calendars that say this is an important year, and of all the people who believe it to be important. It was intentional to release such a big line at this very moment.”
Even with its valiant, somewhat masculine look, Andy’s jewelry has found a loyal consumer base in the female population. And for next fall, he hopes to find a following in the male market. In discussing his plans for the line, Andy would only relay the following: “My intention with any line I create is that each piece be special and is created to be loved and treasured. For men, I feel that there is a need to be extremely specific if you want to appeal to a broad audience of male consumers. They have a very discerning eye and are only going to buy a very particular piece that is extremely well thought out and well made.”
With an extraordinary women’s line already established and an undoubtedly impressive men’s line in the works, Andy Lifschutz has made his presence known in the industry. Yet what is truly remarkable about the designer is not what he has accomplished, but rather, what he plans to. “I used to travel to gain the inspiration to make my jewelry. Now that I’ve been doing that full on for awhile, I am ready to travel again so I can explore new facets of the world and improve upon what I do. Community has always been very important to me and I want to work towards helping communities in whatever capacity makes the most sense for me. Helping to develop communities and have it incorporate with what I’m doing would be ideal. And that doesn’t mean just going somewhere and buying something. I want to make a tangible impact. I’m encouraged by the work of the Obakki Foundation in particular. They use the brand to fundraise and bring wells to communities in Africa–like the one in the Sudan responsible for making their textiles. I’ve not always done the best job at promoting my interest in philanthropy, but its something I continue to strive towards.”
He’s not all talk either. For an upcoming collaboration with Cri de Coeur, Andy will be contributing a special holiday collection of necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings to the brand of ethically produced footwear and accessories. As for what we can expect the collection to look like? He’s not giving away any details just yet, but we can be certain they will be pieces we can feel good about wearing.
For more information on Andy Lifschutz, visit the designer’s website.