Olivia Shih is a contemporary jeweler, artist and writer based in Oakland, California. Born in the US and raised in Taiwan, she is interested in the cultural nuances that can be explored through wearable sculpture. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and a BFA in Jewelry and Metal Arts from the California College of the Arts.
JB Jones and Bella Neyman co-founded NYCJW, the first US-based week to celebrate all forms of jewelry through exhibitions, talks, workshops, and other innovative programs. Jones worked in Los Angeles as a design director and fashion editor before launching The Site Unscene and helping establish street art in the LA gallery scene. Neyman, previously the curator at the Gallery at Reinstein|Ross, is now an independent curator, a journalist working in the contemporary jewelry field, and a board member of Art Jewelry Forum. In this interview, they both lend insight into the making of NYCJW.
Olivia Shih: Hello, JB and Bella! Can you give us a bit of background on each of you and how you crossed paths?
Bella Neyman: I’m a curator, and for the last three years (November 2014–February 2018) I was the director of the now defunct Gallery at Reinstein|Ross. This was the only gallery that specialized in contemporary jewelry in New York. One of my main goals has been to grow the market for contemporary jewelry in NY and to find ways to connect this jewelry to other art forms. I had the pleasure of mounting some great exhibitions over the years there, but one year I decided to bring in my other interest, street art, and do a show that would allow street artists to collaborate with jewelers. I also wanted to collaborate with a curator who was more knowledgeable than I about street art. Enter JB Jones. We had a lot of fun working together on that exhibition, which was very well received, and always knew that we wanted to work together again in a bigger way.
JB Jones: Bella approached me about her street art x art jewelry concept because I had a street art gallery in Los Angeles called The Site Unscene. I had recently moved to NYC, so I was looking for projects to get involved in. Without Bella’s interest in street art, I wouldn’t be in jewelry; she opened my eyes to a whole new world. Her initial idea for the collab show was centered around the concept that both street art and jewelry are the two most public art forms, which is so true, and with that she had me hooked—onto both jewelry and onto us creating projects together.
What was the inspiration and motivation behind co-founding New York City Jewelry Week? Did Munich Jewellery Week play a role in your thought process?
Bella Neyman: I’m always very inspired by MJW and get a lot of energy from it, but NYCJW was not specifically inspired by Munich but rather the idea of a jewelry week in a broader sense. I got the idea for it while visiting Paris for the Parcours Bijoux. I was having a conversation with a friend who lives in Paris and started to question why a jewelry week didn’t exist in NYC. New York City’s a leader in art, fashion, design, and jewelry. And while everyone knows about Fashion Week, there has never been spotlight cast on jewelry in this way in New York. Our goal is to bring contemporary jewelry into dialogue with other jewelry. This is what sets NYCJW apart from other jewelry weeks. It’s a very inclusive week that features not only contemporary jewelry but also fine jewelry.
NYC Jewelry Week was filled to the brim with exhibitions, educational lectures, workshops, exclusive tours, and more. How did you corral all of these events together?
Bella Neyman: By begging and pleading…
No, actually we had numerous conversations with curators, artists, and other key players in the jewelry industry. Everyone was generally eager to participate. Most of the programming was part of conversations we initiated or invitations we extended to curators or artists whose work we have been following. There was also certain programming that we wanted to see happen because it talked to issues that we felt were pertinent to the jewelry industry—like diversity, mentorship, sustainability. We worked very hard to find venues for all of the independent shows. That was probably the most nerve-wracking part, because I had to “shop” proposals to various galleries and sell an idea to them that didn’t exist in the city. We always said that we could make this week as big or as small as we wanted to because it was our first year, but luckily there was so much interest that it grew close to 100 events.
Why the emphasis on educational and innovative-focused programming? Who is NYC Jewelry Week for?
JB Jones: Initially NYC Jewelry Week was created as a platform for the industry to engage and educate the general public. We saw a need for a deeper connection with the public in regards to jewelry across all platforms and in all genres. While the end goal of most of those platforms and genres is consumerism, we wanted to create a foundation for that consumer to really understand the history, making, materials—the full scope of jewelry and how it connects with the city of New York, from museums to shops, to classes to galleries and more. While there are many jewelry events in NYC, they are, for the most part, not designed for the public. Jewelry most certainly deserves a week dedicated to sharing its story with a broader audience, and NYC has a very rich story to tell.
But, as we discovered during the run of NYCJW, the industry was seeking deeper engagement as well. And that is amazing! Of all the feedback we’ve received, the number one thing I hear is that a sense of community was developed in a very meaningful and larger way than existed before. As we prepare for Year Two, we’re excited to have this in mind.
How long was NYC Jewelry Week in the works? What kind of challenges did you have to overcome to pull it off?
JB Jones: We conceptualized the project in November of 2017, after Bella returned from visiting various jewelry weeks around the world. At that time I remember us thinking: “Do we have enough time? Probably not! But let’s do it anyway.” Ha! And we did it anyway. But time was a challenge for sure. Bella and I are very different in our approach to things and in our interests within the jewelry world, but that’s what makes this project so successful. We had a very broad vision of what this week could encompass. I have to say, we were very lucky that the industry was very much in need of a jewelry week, and I say “in need” because the project was so well received from the inception. With all of this combined, our biggest challenge ended up being to not let it become too big. And it still was a much bigger project than we initially envisioned, but happily so!
What was the most thought-provoking event you attended? Why was it memorable?
Bella Neyman: I wasn’t able to attend all the events or even stay for the entire duration of the event when I got there. Most of the time I had to move on to the next thing. But I loved the symposium at the Museum of Arts and Design. It was such a great afternoon, filled with so many interesting people taking the stage—from emerging artists to Eleanor Moty. I also loved the conversation between Stellene Volandes and David Yurman and James de Givenchy at the 92nd St Y, which kicked off the week. Those two men are giants of the jewelry industry, and to have all of these people share their stories and experiences throughout the week was very memorable. This is the type of access that we wanted people to experience.
JB Jones: Like Bella, I wish I could have seen more! My most memorable moment, however, was after the panel hosted by Michele Varian at her shop in Soho. A young jeweler came up to me with tears in her eyes, thanking me for creating a sense of community for her as an emerging jeweler into what can be a very daunting industry. Before that moment, I hadn’t really grasped the potential reach of NYCJW, or why it could be important on an individual level. It was a really beautiful and eye-opening moment, and I’m so grateful she approached me. It has stuck with me now as we start planning for next year, musing on how we can connect with and support those entering the industry.
Was there a specific piece of jewelry that caught your attention? A jewelry artist or designer you think we should keep an eye out for?
Bella Neyman: This is a very difficult question to answer. There were many shows that I really enjoyed. I know that I was very excited to see the work of Spanish jewelry artist Agustina Ros, who works in glass. Her work is sold at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn, but Ilaria Ruggiero curated a beautiful exhibition at R&Co. called Cutting Edge, which featured both emerging artists like Agustina as well as glass veterans like Linda MacNeil and Biba Schutz. I love Agustina’s large biomorphic forms, but her new pieces show that she’s pushing her medium and her practice by forming voluptuous glass over smaller geometric pieces of glass.
JB Jones: Yes, there are so many jewelers I have my eye on! The emerging artist I’m most intrigued with at the moment is Ashley Khirea Wahba. I wasn’t familiar with her work before NYCJW. Kellie Riggs, who curated the fotocopy exhibition, brought Ashley in as a co-curator, and she really infused a unique NYC vibe into that project. She also contributed an incredible piece about NYC to our paper with Current Obsession. Ashley is currently finishing her graduate degree in London, and I cannot wait to see what she does next.
Are there any plans to grow NYC Jewelry Week and promote it internationally?
Bella Neyman: I’m always thinking about what’s next, but right now we’re focused on making the next NYCJW the best one yet. We have ideas about other cities, but it’s too soon to discuss it.
Do you have any new surprises in store for next year’s NYC Jewelry Week? Should I book my plane ticket now?
JB Jones: Book it now! The scope of next year is already so exciting! We’ve been approached with some amazing exhibition ideas, we have some personal goals that we’re excited to build out, we’ll expand into new avenues that have opened for us because of Year One’s success, and we of course have some new things up our sleeve that we’re excited to grow and share.
The thing we’ve been asked the most since the close of the week is, “Are you going to make it bigger? Because it’s already so big!” And the answer is, we’re going to make it better, not bigger. It’s really about making it a unique experience, so that every year cannot be missed.
Have you read or seen anything interesting lately? Could you share your findings with our readers?
Bella Neyman: For the last nine months my focus has been strictly on NYCJW, so I’m looking forward to actually catching up with my stacks of Metalsmith. I’ve just returned from Miami and visiting all the art fairs, so that was great. My background is in decorative arts and design, so that’s my first love and I really enjoy going to Design Miami. I’m also very excited to catch up on my favorite shows. One of the panels during NYCJW featured costume designers from the stage and screen, including Younger, and there’s supposed to be some great jewelry on that show, so I want to tune in.
JB Jones: I have so many articles bookmarked on my computer that I haven’t been able to read until now—so ask me again in a month! NYCJW really sparked my interest in lab-grown diamonds, so I’m currently obsessively seeking out info on that topic. I was also introduced to so many new brands, makers, and shops during NYCJW, and I’m excited to get some research in. But if you want to see what I’m into on the daily, follow me on instagram because I like to overshare: @jeveuxjustemonter.
It was fascinating to hear about all the thought and work that went into this event, and thank you for bringing NYCJW into existence!