SUSTAINABLE AND SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS JEWELRY: AN INTERVIEW WITH DANA BRONFMAN
Interview by Mikhal Weiner
Dana Bronfman makes jewelry that tells many stories - of the maker, the wearer, and an evolving, increasingly tech-influenced industry. “When I started [designing jewelry] I didn’t know anyone who had done this,” she says, “That’s part of the reason I didn’t go into it right away, I didn’t feel it was a realistic possibility.”
Coming from a socially conscious family, Bronfman travelled, working for various non-profits, but always found herself drawn to the jewelry of places she was visiting. “There are so many people, making these things that tell a story about culture. It’s a form of self expression.” This is more than adornment - the human connections that these artefacts represent fascinate her.
Bronfman’s creates from a place of environmental and social awareness. She is adamant about using sustainable materials and minimizing waste. “I work with casters that use recycled gold and silver,” she explains, “and when I’m sourcing stones I’m careful where I’m sourcing from. It’s hard to trace the exact origin, but I pretty much always know the country of origin for my materials. I’m not the only one who does sustainable jewelry, there’s a lot of us.”
She also maintains sustainability by using 3-D printing as a design and production tool.
When Bronfman first came to New York City, she wanted to be part of the innovative jewelry design industry, to learn from artists here. “If I hadn’t come to New York I don’t know if I would be utilizing technology in the same way. Everything happens faster here.” While her business expanded, a particular challenge surfaced. “As a small business or artist, you cannot be making every piece from scratch, start to finish. If you don’t have a process for replicating something it’s never going to be exactly the same.“
Dana’s development process for taking jewelry from design to ready for sale is mapping the piece with CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software, printing it into wax, lost wax casting a prototype in silver, and then creating the final, polished piece for sale.
After the piece is 3D printed, it is cast in metal, "cleaned," meaning a mini-polish, a "sprue" (the tail-looking part) is added, and from there, you can make a mold of the piece, so it can be reproduced. Below is the metal models after cleaned and a sprue is added, before the mold.
“Working this way wasn’t my idea […] I took a [handmade] piece to a jeweler and asked if he could replicate it. He said he could do it by hand but it would take a lot longer and wouldn’t be as precise as it would be if I made a model on a computer. I wasn’t convinced, but decided to try […] and it came out better. So I said, ok, let’s keep doing it.”
Bronfman is deeply involved in every aspect of her pieces. Although she knows that others are critical of labelling tech-assisted pieces as handmade, she disagrees. “Just because something has a piece of technology in it, or certain pieces of it are cast doesn’t mean that it’s not handmade. There are many steps that are done by hand. Technology is a tool to push the creative process as far as it can go.” Working with others also necessitates a shared creativity. “I have to surrender some control. You can’t do everything yourself so it’s important to work with people that you trust.”
For Bronfman connections - artist to caster, maker to wearer - are of paramount importance. “I think [technology] has done a great job at allowing artists and designers to connect directly with their audience. Whereas it used to be that I would have to rely on a store to bring my product to the world, now that there’s so much accessibility on the internet and social media I can connect to those people directly.”
These are diamonds in gold settings, called bezels. The bezels are designed in CAD, and go through the whole process of being printed in wax, cast in metal, and once polished, the diamonds are set by hand, and then the bezels are hand-soldered onto metal and accent pieces like the image below this one.
Her investment in humanity also manifests in altruism. Recently, she donated the proceeds from online sales to “Time’s Up Now” - an organization raising legal funds for those seeking justice for sexual offenses. “I do this with different non-profits I feel strongly about… I always think it’s important to walk your walk in addition to talking the talk.”
Below is what the finished product of the piece on the left looks like once completed!
An innovator, an artist, and a conscious citizen of the world, Dana Bronfman is redefining what it means to be forward thinking. Her message is crystal clear. “We don’t need more stuff in the world, but if you’re creating [something] that can inspire people to think about something bigger than themselves, I think that’s important.” Clever Tech Digest thinks so, too.