Shooting for the Stars, with Martha Seely
Martha Seely’s fine jewelry is known for its ethereal, other worldly motifs. Space, stars, and the celestial are signature to her designs. The costume turned jewelry designer has always had an eye for line and color, and found her calling in creating fine jewelry. We asked her a few questions about her inspiration, and have shared part of her story.
Martha, you started off as a costume designer and you said you wanted to move into something more intimate than clothes. What is it about jewelry that is much more intimate when it comes to art and design?
It isn’t the lack of intimacy of clothes since you get quite intimate when dressing someone – but it is that the jewelry itself is smaller and more personal. Clothes and costumes are bigger and broader and show the larger picture of who the person is and what they want to tell the world about themselves. Though jewelry certainly makes a statement – often, the jewelry is more for the wearer. By the fact that it is so small and some of the special details can only be seen by the person wearing it. It reflects a personal story. It reflects an emotion. Sometimes the jewelry contains stones or metals from a loved one…. I love that jewelry is so personal.
You are a firm believer in combining technology with traditional methods of jewelry design. What areas of jewelry design has technology made easier for you?
Technology has definitely been my friend. CAD works so well for me, when it comes to design… in that it allows me to take my pencil sketches and actually SEE what they look like in 3D, before I create the pieces in metal. Once I see the jewelry in exact sizes, I can look at stone sizes or the design itself, and modify and adjust everything until it looks like what I want. This is especially important when the cost of materials is so high. Technology also allows me to manufacture pieces that I simply would be unable to create myself. (Yes – I hate to confess it, but my bench skills are not as good as my design skills.)
After releasing nine collections of jewelry, which one has been your favorite? If you can’t choose only one, which is the most memorable one you created, and why?
The very first collection, Orbit (which was originally called Inspiro) is most memorable, because it is the foundation of all the other collections. The movement and the interlocking spirals of those original pieces have been used in every other collection. The interlocking spirals is what we see everywhere in nature and in the universe. It has been fun push the evolution of those pieces and watch where my brain (and my hand) takes the designs. Sometimes my hand knows before my brain knows where the design “wants” to go.
But honestly – my favorite collection is Shooting Stars because I really pushed the notion of starts, comets, constellations, and I started to add color. Yes, of course I love diamonds, but I adore color.
Your shooting stars collection shows “the brightness of the night skies in constellations, comets, and individual stars” in jewelry. How did you come up with the concept behind this collection, and what about stars and gems made you passionate about this particular motif?
As I look at my sketch books – I see that I started adding stones to the spirals, to represent the stars, starting with the Nebula pearl ring, the diamond on Cirrus pendants and earrings and the Ceres earrings in Orbit. It wasn’t much of a jump to make the tiny stones larger and add color. Yet, I think the biggest jump was with the Comet Earrings. I found the amethyst stones from a cutter in Tucson, and fell in love with their shape. It was the first time I designed around a stone, instead of finding stones to fit my design. I worked a long time to make that design happen. I drove my CAD designer more than crazy, but it pushed me in a big way. It showed me more about my aesthetic than I knew before. I was able to create a beautiful, elegant, unique earring. I still love these earrings.
As to the Constellation collection I am working on these days – I don’t know exactly where that came from… except that clusters of stars are part of the nebulae and the more I look at the photos of the universe, the more I get intrigued by what I see there. But really, who doesn’t love clusters of stars? Clusters of sparkling diamonds in the sky? Even as a child we wish upon stars, and are completely enamored by where it takes our imaginations.
Since you make limited production of your jewelry, what would you hope that the people who wear your jewelry feel when they wear your pieces?
My pieces can almost always be customized for the person wearing it – especially when it comes to metals and stone choice, yet it varies so much whether the customer is an individual or a store. The stores understand their customers and as such, request what they think the customer will want. The individual buyer who comes to me, and tells me directly. It is important to me for the woman wearing my jewelry to feel powerful, beautiful and special. It is not that her earrings or necklace must contain the most expensive gemstones in the world or cost the most money, but that the jewelry makes her feel good and that it means something to her.
I want my customer to feel she can wear my jewelry for many occasions. That for whatever occasion, she is also on a trip to the magical part of the universe where everything is possible for her. I know…. sounds kinda dorky, doesn’t it?
Most of my jewelry was designed for the working woman, because she is the woman who I know best. (Most all my friends, whether with kids or without, are career women, like me.) With that in mind, I design a lot of daily wear jewelry. Versatility is important to me. With some of the interchangeable designs I am doing, I feel that a woman can really take a single pair of earrings and mix and match them to work with everything (almost). The LYRA earring ensemble is the first time it all came together – but the Constellation earrings are following suit with mix and match elements. I love the idea that a person can create what she wants to wear from the pieces I have provided for her. It gives her freedom. One pair of earrings can go out to dinner, be funky and fun or be completely dressed up. The customer gets to “create” her personal look.
How would you describe your journey in jewelry design and its impact on your life?
Jewelry design has allowed me to see that I actually have something to say that people want to “hear.” It turns out my jewelry has a story to tell, and that it appeals to people. It also turns out that I am a good designer. I feel like I found my calling. How important is that in one’s life?
As a stylist and designer in film and TV, one doesn’t have a chance to tell one’s own story because it is all about the project and what the project needs. You are given a box to design within. That’s great, for sure. But after designing for specific projects, you begin to wonder if you really have a personal voice. What I have found with jewelry, is I found my voice and my vision. That is what is true of each real designer. Creative thought goes beyond trends and fashion. In fashion, one is always trying to be on trend. As a designer, one actually creates designs that can become trends, and maybe even become fashion.
Since it is all about following my own vision and voice, it is an incredible journey, that has far to go. I am still learning what stories I have to tell. I sure had no idea that my story was going to be about the universe. That happened on its own, with other people telling me how cosmic it was. Rather than rebel, I went with it, and kept pushing my own boundaries. There is a lot more I want to create, and hope that women will love to wear.
I spend almost 7 days a week working on my business. If I am not designing, I am thinking about how to market and sell, or trying to fix my website or learn new social media trends. I have never worked so hard in my life. I hope that financially it starts to make as much sense as it does personally.
I wish I had started this particular journey when I was much younger. I love this business of jewelry design. The more I learn, the more there is to learn. Oh, to see where I will end up. If I had 50 more years to live, I would take more classes to learn more techniques, more about stones and diamond, learn more technology, beef up my illustration skills, learn better wax carving techniques…. and and and…..
As it is, I simply have to focus on getting more people to recognize my work and want to collect it.
To wrap up – my life is completely about jewelry right now. There is no “part time” for me. This is who I am now… and it is what gets me up in the morning. I do have other parts of my life – but jewelry is my life now. I am committed to it, all the way. Thankfully, my husband is so incredibly supportive.