Jewelry’s allure is so vast that one should not assume two people will appreciate any piece in the same way.
For some, jewels are symbolic of relationships and promises, while to others, their value is no greater than the intrinsic weight and quality of precious stones and metal. Still others respond not to materials, but to the artistry of their creation. And imaginative types might see such objects as tangible evidence of adventures and stories of the distant past.
Jason Dow started creating jewelry in high school in Colorado, when 2-D art didn’t present enough of a challenge, but it was the centuries-old allure of Greek, Roman and Egyptian treasures and pirate’s booty that continued to fuel his interest. That, and the more mundane.
While most students were using copper or nickel due to the cost of materials, he insisted on using silver, due in part to his ulterior motive.
"I was trying to make stuff for girls," he said. "I think they liked it, so that encouraged me to make more."
|A piece from Dow’s
Diamond Bead Collection.
Potential girlfriends weren’t the only ones who appreciated his work. He was nominated and made it into the finals for a national Scholastic Art Award Gold Key for an elaborate elephant pendant at the end of a necklace of silver wire, beads and tusks. He said his work was disqualified because the judges believed it was too good to be the work of a student.
"They said, ‘You’re not supposed to be helped by your teacher,’ but I wasn’t!"
Vindication has come with Dow’s win last month in the 10th annual Saul Bell Design Award international competition. The competition recognizes innovation in six categories: gold/platinum, silver/Argentium silver, beads, precious metal clay, Hollowware and enamel. The competition is administered by Rio Grande Jewelry, one of the industry’s major sources of jewelry-making supplies, and named after the company’s founder.
Dow is the first jeweler residing in Hawaii to take top honors in the gold/platinum division, although second-place honors in the precious metal clay category went to local artists Candice Wakumoto in 2002 and 2003, and to Gordon Uyehara in 2005.
Dow’s award came for his Mandala Keepsake Ring from the artist’s Mandala Collection. Based on the ancient mandala drawings of Buddhist monks, the 18-karat gold ring bears an intricate pattern of loops and spirals, channel-set with 150 round diamonds, that radiate outward.
A version of the ring with a single diamond at its center is $2,500, and his pieces range from $300 to $10,000.
His aim was to embrace a traditional Eastern art form while giving a modern, Western feel, reflecting his half-Chinese, half-Caucasian heritage. Beyond design, the ring possesses a secret compartment beneath its face, held in place with a screw mechanism, for storing small keepsakes.
"I wanted to create something that held something precious. People’s ideas of what’s precious is different. Like, I know of one woman who puts in shells she finds on the beach. Someone else might store little gemstones."
He’s currently working on a Moonstone Lotus Collection that incorporates the overlooked moonstone.
"Most people see cheap, milky stones associated with hippie beads. They’ve never seen high-quality moonstones that have a blue or rainbow sheen," he said.
Another Diamond Bead Collection comprises beads set with diamonds that can be worn casually on stackable bangles or chains.
DOW EMPLOYS CAD/CAM technology to create his designs on a computer linked to a device that generates precise wax models ready for casting, which saves the time of carving out his initial designs by hand.
His use of computers reflects a passion for science and mathematics that almost led him to become a dentist. He had moved to Hawaii to surf and at the University of Hawaii took up studio art and biology for his undergraduate degree.
"Art and science, they’re pretty connected. You ask Leonardo Da Vinci," he said. "I’m kind of infatuated with mathematics and nature. When you look at nature, the ocean, art, plants, even music, you find a lot of things are composed of ratios and numbers."
When dentistry didn’t work out ("It wasn’t creative enough for me, and I realized I needed a creative outlet"), Dow turned to his old hobby of jewelry making for a living, initially finding employment with Maui Divers and venturing out on his own two years ago, with news of his work spreading through word of mouth.
"I did it right when the economy was sinking and gold prices keep going up," he said. "It’s definitely been challenging, but it’s also been rewarding."
Although most people are drawn to the romantic side of jewelry, Dow also finds poetry in its dark side, from poison rings of past centuries to precious objects buried with the deceased.
"That’s what I find precious, that people held onto it," he said. "These days, people have so much we forget that jewelry was rare in ancient times. People then believed (jewels) had special powers, and a lot of that is lost in today’s world.
"The usefulness and practicality of jewelry is also part of its allure and mystique," said Dow, who continues to be impressed that a piece of jewelry buried for millennia retains its beauty and splendor. "Maybe someone will find one of my pieces in the ground one day," he said, enjoying the thought.