December 13, 2016
Jules Sontag is a new jeweler to the MC, and she creates all of her pieces by hand. Every new piece starts out as metal sheet or wire. Once the design is finalized, it is brought to life using traditional metalsmithing techniques such as sawing, filing, sanding, hammering and soldering. Her one-of-a-kind pieces take days to carefully hand craft, and are full of intention. We absolutely love her entire collection, and are especially drawn to her brass and silver earrings featuring rare King's Manassa turquoise. With so much time and care invested, there is a sense of personal connection and emotion with each piece.
We wanted to learn more about how Jules first started out and how she manages to keep creating such lovely works of art.
My first encounter with metalsmithing was 15 years ago in an introductory jewelry & metals class at ACAD. After foundation year I went on to pursue other career goals, so coming back around to working with metal in 2015 was such a satisfying, full-circle transition. I was that kid sitting on the dirt with a friendship bracelet pinned to my pants every recess, spending my allowance on beads, dreaming up what to make next. Even then, I realized that people really connected to handmade things. Some of my friends still have the bracelets and earrings I sold them on the playground as a kid - the entrepreneurial spirit started early too :) Making jewelry has always been a good intuitive fit, but it took a long time to understand why this is what I want to do in life.
Making jewelry has always been exciting, no matter what material I’m working with. But metalsmithing gives me a chance to create objects with gemstones and metal, and I find that so magical. Materials that come from the earth have a sense of permanence and history about them.
It’s hard to overstate the connection we have to the jewelry we choose to wear - it represents special relationships in our lives. It helps us to remember places, times and events that hold personal significance. Knowing that someone may be wearing one of my creations when they’re celebrating a commitment, hugging their kids, making art, living their daily lives - it’s mind-blowing, honestly.
Beyond that, I’m just in love with the process. It’s primitive, it’s physical, and it’s so satisfying to take on the technical challenges that come up along the way. As a jeweler, I have a lot of opportunity for quiet reflection, which I really enjoy. I’m happiest when my mind is calm and my hands are busy, and I hope that peaceful, meditative state of mind comes through in my work.
My process comes from many directions all at once - it’s not a linear thing. When I’m working on something new, I spend a lot of time staring at stones and sketching shapes, waiting for inspiration to strike. I usually have ten or twenty things in various stages going at the same time, and that gives me a chance to keep the creativity flowing. If I get stuck on something, there’s always a lot of work to do on pieces that are further along. That way I can keep working, even if I’m not coming up with any new ideas for a while.
The details that evolve as I work are the best part of the process. That’s where I get to leave some evidence that my jewelry was made by hand. Unique details that can never be replicated in exactly the same way take time, and it’s a huge investment that I have to re-commit to over and over. Often I struggle with that, because I know I could alter the design a little, to make it easier and faster to put together. Some days it’s so tempting! But in the end it’s just not the way I work. When I put something out there knowing that I managed to preserve all the details that mattered to me, it’s an amazing feeling. Quality over quantity, always.
I take a lot from my surroundings. I feel most at home in nature - looking out over the ocean or walking through the trees. But I live in inner-city Edmonton, at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’ve had to spend a lot of time learning to find beauty here. I look out my window while I’m working to see a lot of dirt and concrete and power lines and brick walls. When I go for a walk, I pick up rusted metal bits, broken glass, and feathers that have been run over by cars. I take photos of things growing up from cracks in the cement. For the most part, it’s a gritty, stark, monochromatic environment. But I see a lot of resilience and simplicity in it and I think that’s showing up in my work right now.
I love the idea that jewelry can be made with intention. When I’m working on a one-of-a-kind piece or a small batch of related pieces, I’m in contact with it for a long, long time, holding it in my hands and making decisions about how I want it to look and to feel when it’s worn. That’s a very intentional process - to be fully present in the act of making, and to hold really positive energy while doing it. In a society that often favors mass-produced, machine-made, disposable things... handmade is really, truly special.
My website is www.julessontag.com and although the online shop isn’t scheduled to open until the new year, it’s a good way to contact me. To stay connected, you can sign up for my newsletter through my website or find me on Instagram: @jules_sontag. When I’m at the bench, I love to share bits and pieces of the process of metalsmithing in my Instagram stories.