Tucked into the corner of a former carriage house turned wood-shop at the edge of Williamsburg is my studio, where I create Crusoe Jewelry. When the creative spark to launch Crusoe Jewelry hit me, I turned to my boyfriend, a woodworker and furniture designer, for guidance on everything from design to production. Not only did I seek his advice, but I also suggested that a storage space in the corner of his wood shop could become the perfect jewelry studio. Always excited by a challenging project, he swiftly turned the storage space into the Crusoe Jewelry Studio.
After roughly sketching out the concept, most designs are created first by a hand-carved wax model. Using a variety of tools, everything from files to razor blades to sandpaper, the jewelry begins to take shape. Often the original design evolves into something different, almost as if the design is emerging directly from the wax. Because wax carving can be a more mobile operation, if it’s a nice day out, I will move out of my jewelry studio and park myself right in front of the open garage door to work on the waxes.
After the wax model is complete, I take it to a local casting company in Manhattan’s famed jewelry district on 47th Street. From the wax model, a master model and rubber mold is created. That rubber mold is then used to continually cast the design based on demand. What I get back from the caster is a very rough version of the jewelry design to be. That piece needs to be sanded, polished, and textured, as well as finished by adding earring backs, chains or a thin band to become a ring. As you can see, sometimes I sketch directly on the bench itself when I’m trying to work out a design like how to carve out the monkey fist knot that provided the inspiration for the Newport collection.
To create a finished, wearable piece of jewelry, often I will have to adhere earring backs, ring shanks or necklace chains to the design through a process called soldering. Soldering connects two pieces of metal by melting a metal alloy under intense heat at the connect point. It is an extremely meticulous process that requires dedicated concentration. It is my least favorite part of the process, but is a very necessary evil.
After soldering, several more rounds of polishing and finishing are required to create the finished piece. Often I will set up multiples of the same piece, devising an almost factory like process for myself to cut down on the excess time of multiple steps.
When a new design is complete, I have to try it on myself and take a picture for future reference. The fit and look of a design is essential for a successful creation. While a design may seem ideal in my head or on paper, it can be completely changed when wrought in metal. The heft and weight of jewelry needs to be taken into considering for comfort and wearability.
After a piece of jewelry is complete and is ready to be sold, the arduous task of creating spec sheets and pricing has to be done. Pricing your own creations is one of the most challenging aspects of a small business. The pricing has to be competitive with similar products and in line with the perceived value of each design, while covering your production costs and not undervalue your creative pursuits. It’s a delicate balance that I am constantly aiming to achieve.
What I love most about my studio is having a space where I find inspiration, design, and create that is entirely my own. At the studio, I have the benefit of working close to the love of my life, yet each within our own space. It is a constantly changing workspace. One day the jewelry bench will be covered with wax models, while the next it is covered with finished samples ready to be shipped to one of my wholesale accounts. Sometimes I am there all day, sometimes I will just pop in for a couple of hours in the evening. It is a sanctuary of ingenuity that I can escape to whenever I desire and it is entirely my own.
Maya Ahluwalia – Crusoe Jewelry
Maya Ahluwalia is the designer behind Crusoe Jewelry, a fashion jewelry line inspired by nautical motifs, but interpreted into stylish designs. Crusoe Jewelry is created for the fashion-forward consumer with an appreciation for quality with an artisanal approach. Each design is hand-crafted in her Brooklyn-based studio.
In addition to creating Crusoe Jewelry, Maya is a marketing consultant with expertise in jewelry, fashion and luxury. Clients include Michael Aram Jewelry, Shawn Ames Fine Jewelry, Wells House Bed & Breakfast, and the LOU Lookbook App.