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Image: Lucia Hierro - El Costo de la Vida -Independent Art Fair - LatchKey Gallery

Natalie: This is Natalie Kates and I’m here in the...what would you call this? Atelier or a jewelry studio?

Mark Davis: It’s a workshop.

Natalie: I am here in the workshop of jeweler Mark Davis and what I see before me is beautiful vintage, Bakelite bangles and wood bangles. Are the wood bangles vintage as well?

Mark: No, the wood bangles are new but we get them from a guy in Costa Rica who manufactures them from fallen trees, so nothing is actually cut down, it is just trees that are naturally fallen, by lightning, or whatever, just fallen over.

Natalie: And as we can see in the photographs, the vintage Bakelite from cuffs to bangles is all color coordinated and the first thing that comes to mind are all of these vintage appliance colors. Or colors that seem to have been during this era when Bakelite was hot, and I think Bakelite was a predecessor to plastics.

Mark: It was the first completely synthetic manmade plastic, and it was a predecessor to petroleum based plastic which came after WWII.

Natalie: Now, when you decided to do jewelry, why vintage Bakelite, why was that your medium or your voice to express your designs?

Mark: The use of vintage Bakelite was a complete accident, it was not what I intended to do. I went to school and studied and initially worked with silver, and then golden platinum. My designs were very contemporary, but purely with gold and platinum, and then, after 9/11, sales had slummed and was selling at Barney’s and then Barney’s man asked me to come up with something with more volume and a lower price point. And I fooled around with some wood, but a lot of people do that, and just by chance, completely by accident, I stumbled onto Bakelite and I started experimenting with it. And unfortunately, people who used to work with it are all dead, because it’s an old material. And so, there was no one that I could ask and when you have questions about working with gold or silver you can ask a goldsmith or a silversmith, but when it comes to working with Bakelite, there is no one to go to. So, I researched as much as I could and then through trial and error developed processes to work with it, to make it beautiful and in fact we work with it in a way it was never worked with it before. I mean, when we were done with it, it was so brilliant and so shiny. It never looked like that even in the 20’s and 30’s. But it was partly because of 9/11 and, you know, just the need to come up with something different and new, and as it gained traction, I abandoned working with just gold and silver and moved to just Bakelite. We still work with gold and platinum, but Bakelite is the main material now.

Natalie: Now, this is a vintage product from the 20’s and the 30’s, is that correct?

Mark: That’s right. 

Natalie: Are you ever afraid that you are going to run out of material because it is not being produced anymore?

Mark: No, I don’t really worry about running out of material because I try to be as creative as possible in resourcing, so I don’t necessarily use things that were initially made for jewelry. I mean we do, at times, yes, but I also use lots of other things, you know, jukeboxes and lamps, all kinds of things, kitchen utensils, things that most people wouldn’t even think of using for jewelry.

Natalie: You are a trained jeweler. Where did you go to school?

Mark: I went to Parsons, FIT and YIU.

Natalie: And for somebody who is also pursuing a career in jewelry, how important do you think school is?

Mark: I think school is important for developing foundations for honing your techniques, or learning techniques, and I think it is a great time to be able to experiment and do whatever you want without any sort of financial consequences – it’s a time to be free and experiment, but also just really just learn the basics. But I have to say that I had an internship at Christie’s in the jewelry department when I was in school, and that internship was invaluable: I learned so much during my internship, I wanna say more that I did in school, but I am not sure. School gave me the opportunity to have a really good productive internship, but the real learning also comes afterwards on how to grow your business, or develop it, how to launch it, and today I am constantly learning. Every day.

Natalie: And how did you get your first big break?

Mark: My fist big break came when Barney said no, and then through a friend. A friend was friends with Narcisso Rodriguez and set me up to have a meeting with Narcisso which I did, and then Narcisso did me a favor by graciously calling Julie Galehart, who was the fashion director at Barney’s then and telling Julie that she had to see me, and I went to see Julie and the rest is history.

Natalie: And so, where can we find your pieces? Obviously we can find them at Barney’s, but where else in the world can we find your pieces?

Mark: You can find my pieces at Barney’s, New York stores across the country, there are some jewelry stores, stores that sell just jewelry. One of them is called Batterage. It is a very serious jewelry store in Greenwich, Palm Beach and Vale, those three locations, I sell there. There is also a store with a very strong online presence called Twist, they are out of Seattle and Portland, but they have an amazing selection of stuff online. And Stanley Korschack in Dallas, ???, and I think that Browns in London have a small amount of stuff.

Natalie: So your collection consists of bracelets, bangles… I just saw a beautiful ring with gold inlay, necklaces, earrings… You also said that you might be venturing the home goods. Can you tell us anything about that?

Mark: The home stuff is primarily tabletop items, and sterling silver and Bakelite. The vintage element will be the Bakelite, the sterling is all new and in contemporary shapes. And it’s just pretty little tabletop items, little boxes, picture frames, candlesticks, balls, that sort of thing. Again, something that is modern yet references vintage, but in a completely fresh way that has never been seen before. And we are doing cufflinks, for men.

Natalie: Oh, so, we are not leaving the men out.

Mark: No, we are not leaving the men out, I love the men.

Natalie: Is there any one thing in particular that would be your favorite in the jewelry design, whether it be a cuff, a bracelet, earring or necklace or ring? Is there one that, I guess, would not only be your favorite, but would be quintessential to your aesthetic?

Mark: The one that sells. The one that sells is always my favorite. I’d say that I’m best known for bangles, but I’d say, for me personally, I love cuff, open back or sort of C shaped cuff. I love those, we carve them by hand, there is something about them that I feel is just really elegant on a woman’s wrist, so that’s my favorite and they sell, but not every woman is comfortable wearing them. So my business is primarily bangles, and after bangles, earrings and necklaces.

Natalie: And during your creative process, how do you pull, or what inspires you? I mean, while looking at your wall I am already inspired by the colors, by the shapes. You know, you have a beautiful workshop, you have a staff of six employees, is that correct? But what are you referencing? Because the finished product is completely different from what you start with.

Mark: You know, there isn’t really anything that I reference. I’m inspired by the technique, by the process of doing it, I like to come in on weekends and just work by myself to experiment, but there is this kind of bottomless source of ideas that I just have, and almost every week we are on to something new or making something new. One of the reasons the line is so successful is because it’s constantly fresh, it doesn’t stagnate, there’s always something new. There is nothing tired about it.

Natalie: Thank you for seeing me today, this is fantastic, thank you so much!

Mark: Thank you!