Chris Ploof: Damascus Dreams
With designs that last a lifetime, jewelry designer Chris Ploof creates distinguished pieces and wedding bands for tastemakers. Well-traveled, Ploof merges his love of jewelry and craftsmanship, manifesting unique jewels from extraordinary materials, such as Damascus steel and Mokume Gane. Read more to learn about his design journey.
Discuss your personal connection to New England and its reflection on your brand.
New England is home! I’ve traveled and lived in many other places, but this is where I always find myself. We have beautiful hardwood forests, granite cliffs, beautiful sandy beaches, as well as rocky coastlines. I’m drawn to this part of the country and love the proximity to the ocean and mountains, as well as the great and rich manufacturing history that began with the start of the industrial revolution.
You have chosen Damascus steel for many of your pieces. Can you tell us about your draw to this material?
Damascus stainless steel is difficult to make, especially when it involves 304 and 316 stainless steels. I love the challenge of bonding the billets in ways to help create the patterns we make. And, for what it costs, it has a tremendous amount of beauty that a plain sheet of silver or gold can never have. I love the fact that the pattern is through the material and not on the surface – this isn’t an engraving or surface treatment. And, the durability of this material is legendary!
When did you first learn about Mokume Gane, and what about it inspired you to create modern translations of it? Have you spent time in Japan to pick up any of these influences?
Many years ago, I was shopping for my first wedding band, and there were a bunch of boring choices for men – I didn’t want to be my grandfather or dad with a thin Milgrain 14k ring. I was shopping at the jewelry store that I would then go on to apprentice and a few years later, saw a mokume-gane ring made by George Sawyer. I fell in love with the technique, and you might even say that it’s what led me to become a crazy metals mad scientist specializing in jewelry. What inspired me to work with mokume is this beauty, and also the fact that no one seemed to want to teach it. I love challenges, so I taught myself how to make mokume gane. In Japan, the art of mokume-gane was very nearly lost – there’s more US makers of this material than Japanese by a long shot. I have not studied abroad, as I feel the technique that has developed in the US is some of the best, thanks to the many practitioners.
Your engagement rings are very popular, especially amongst men looking for a unique design. When men shop for your rings, what do you find they are mostly looking for, and how does your brand specifically cater to this market?
We get ourselves into trouble with these designs sometimes – people see them, and start to get these crazy ideas, these complex and funky rings. I believe they think we can (and will) make anything…we turn away some since we won’t make a ring that compromises strength and wearability. But people who look at our rings really want to have something different to celebrate their important events – whether for engagement/commitment or other special occasions, and they tend to want to be involved in the design process for even simple tweaks, or full-blown custom design.
You mentioned in your About section that you value the people who love the work, and specifically noted “geek chic nerds”, and individuals who “value more than the status quo.” What are your marketing objectives, and why do you think these audiences look to Chris Ploof Designs for their individual style needs?
We have never had a huge budget to market, that’s why we really want to value and take care of our customers. I’m a science geek, a board-gaming nerd, and love all the funky nerdy things out there. It’s not about how much the gold weighs in a ring, it’s about creating a treasure that people who love unique things will enjoy and value. I love it when someone is really into the process and wants to learn more about what we do.
You mention that you don’t strive to be different, you just are. What are some things that you wish to highlight, to an audience that is newly getting to know you, that make you stand out from the crowd?
I think the biggest thing that separates us is we are taking these materials (Damascus steel, mokume-gane), and always trying to elevate them. Our industry has a huge habit of undercutting and trying to make things cheaper. I don’t align with that habit. I want to make things good, or BETTER than good. Making a cheap product doesn’t interest me – I want to make a fairly priced, artisan quality product, handmade in the USA, that showcases the beauty of Damascus stainless steel for jewelry and mokume- gane, with precious metal and precious stone accents. I also want to make these pieces so that they will last for generations.
Glasses, combs, cardholders, and razor handles are among the unique products you also make. What made you decide to include those as a part of your collections?
There are a couple lines from Jeff Goldblum in the first Jurassic Park movie – “Yeah but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should” and “God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.” This kind of sums it up. Those things aren’t jewelry, so maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did it because I could…..and I’m grateful that they have been well met and people have invested in these items.
The House Pendant with Anthony Lent Gold Heart is a beautiful piece. Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with Tony and his work?
I think Tony is one of the best, if not the best, practicing goldsmiths in the country. I love him and his family, and it’s a real pleasure to work with him on these projects.
When it comes to gemstone use, do you have a process for choosing which designs have them incorporated?
Not anything that really stands out. I’ll spend a bunch of time staring at jewelry and stones, and kind of just get a hunch – a “hey, let’s try this” sort of moment. Or, if we have a particular stone we like, we may design a piece around it. We have failures and successes.
What are your favorite gemstones to work with, and why?
Oh boy, I love high-quality melee diamonds – so much sparkle at a reasonable price. I’ve also been geeking out about the lab-created carbon-negative diamonds from Aether. And I happen to love irradiated (colored diamond) melee. I love sapphires of all varieties and have been really enjoying working with synthetic ruby and sapphire spheres for a while now.
Tell us your personal mantra.
I’ll give you two – Work hard and stay humble, and execution is everything. These hang over my work area. It’s probably worth noting the execution is everything also shows a photo of a Guillotine – I have a pretty good sense of humor.
What is the legacy you hope to leave behind with your work? How do you envision the future of the brand?
I’ll keep creating as long as we have customers. I’d like to be remembered as a person that shared knowledge to make our industry a better place, and also as a person that didn’t race to the bottom and try and make cheap jewelry that is short-lived or a fad. I want jewelry we’ve made to be around for generations.