By Ashley Davis
In her latest “3 Pieces” column, Associate Editor Ashley Davis takes us into the studio of one of jewelry design’s most creative talents, Judy Geib, pictured left.
In her latest “3 Pieces” column, Associate Editor Ashley Davis takes us into the studio of one of jewelry design’s most creative talents, Judy Geib, pictured left. Photo courtesy of ©Dirk Vandenberk
During a chat with Paul Schneider, owner of leading fine jewelry boutique Twist in Portland, Oregon, we chanced upon the subject of designer Judy Geib.

In detailing his love for Geib’s work, Paul explained to me that her oeuvre couldn’t be summed up with her imaginative, handmade jewelry; her art was also her joy for her craft, the way she lived, even the way she rode her bike to work.

When I visited Geib’s Brooklyn studio late last year, I understood exactly what Paul meant.

Geib’s workspace is in a magnificent converted factory along the border of Williamsburg and Bushwick; the kind of space that is becoming harder to find as the surrounding area is annihilated piece-by-piece to make way for pricey condos.

Every surface of Geib’s studio is covered in a medley of metals and gemstones. Sheets of gold are strewn haphazardly over bags of loose stones that monopolize the work tables. Tools of the trade mingle with emeralds, aquamarines, sapphires and random mementos like a broken kaleidoscope (more on that later).

A massive amethyst necklace begins to take shape atop slabs of marble next to a jotted-down recipe for Geib’s mother’s apple crisp. A fine gold dust seems to coat even the floor.

The studio is the ultimate work in progress, a perfect physical distillation of something rarely, if ever, captured--a designer’s mental processes and constructions.

The more I spoke with Geib about her work, the more I developed a sense that when she needed something specific cloaked in the apparent chaos of her studio, she knew exactly where to find it.   

As I ask all subjects for this column to do, Geib chose three defining pieces of work that she has created since her start as a designer in 1996.

Below are her thoughts on what makes each one significant.  

20170207 JudyGeibJudy Geib’s 18-karat yellow gold bracelet, 2002
Photo courtesy of ©Dirk Vandenberk

Judy Geib: In 2002 I made a filigree bracelet for a client and she said, “Will you make a pair of earrings that go with my bracelet the way you and your husband go together?”

When you melt gold it goes into a ball and I hammer it flat. It takes a lot of hammering.

I melted all the scraps from that filigree bracelet and pounded them into “squashes” to make those earrings for my client. I recycle all my gold that way. You can see a lot of my jewelry has squashes incorporated.

This bracelet is 18-karat gold but I also work with 22- or 24-karat; it depends.

My husband is a crazy guy. We’re opposites in a lot of ways, opposites who go together very well. He’s a writer, an activist, a philosopher, a reader. I’m a maker. But he’s playful, silly and serious. He’s also a great critic; he’s an honest critic of my work.

I think this piece is a touchstone for my method of working. I’m an improviser, and I try and explore things and figure out new ways to use things for myself in a way that excites me. I’m not saying I’m the first person who ever made a squash, but it works for me.
“Whenever I don’t know what to do, I make flowers.”
It’s part of, I don’t know if I can say “philosophy of working,” but I try to use things for their own integrity and this is using the quality of the metal in a way that makes sense.

I remember there’s an artist named James Welling--he’s a photographer--and around 1980 I saw very graphic black-and-white images he made that were all big circles. It just made sense to me to put my squashes together that way.

I like different sizes of things; I like things to be random.

Mostly I liked that it was part of the process of using gold. It’s a comfort to know I can turn the scraps into something else.

20170207 JudyGeib2Judy Geib’s 18-karat yellow gold and silver brooch with peridot, pink and orange sapphire, amethyst, rose quartz, emerald, moonstone and tanzanite, 2012
Photo courtesy of ©Dirk Vandenberk

JG: The Kaleidoscope series came about because I happened to have a broken kaleidoscope sitting around in the studio, and I just happened to look at a desk filled with stones and then had the idea that I could make it.

Lots of my pieces are sort of medallions but to me the unfolding aspect, the way the kaleidoscope divides things up into pieces that run into each other, there’s something exciting about that. It implies movement.

I’d love to have 100 of these, all different. I love doing them but it takes a long time to fix on the combination of colors. You want to make something you’re going to love, and I’ve loved what I’ve made. There are false starts but at certain points it feels right and then you go ahead.

I go from idea to idea in my work. It doesn’t mean I abandon an idea when I go to something else, but I like it to have an idea behind it.
“It’s a comfort to know I can turn the scraps into something else.”

20170207 JudyGeib3Judy Geib’s 18-karat yellow gold necklace with aquamarine, 2014
Photo courtesy of ©Dirk Vandenberk

JG: I chose this necklace because the flowers and the filigree have been a thread that’s gone through my work the whole time.

I like to try new things but new things take a lot of thought to make them work. Whenever I don’t know what to do, I make flowers.

I just love making these. They’re flattened wire and putting them together is almost, I don’t want to say, meditative. They’re strong, playful and I can make a million different variations. They’re always evolving.

This necklace is from 2014 but I think the first ring I ever made when I was 5 was a flower.

I like the endless possibility.

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