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Article: Interview with Colleen Russell of Russell Concept House

Interview with Colleen Russell of Russell Concept House

Interview with Colleen Russell of Russell Concept House

Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing, and whether or not that’s been an influence in your particular esthetic choices?

I would say my upbringing has been pretty diverse. I was born in Chile, and lived there until I was 7, before my family moved back to the US. Being from two very different cultures has opened me up to a wider perspective of life and generated an intrigue in learning about them. This directly affects my work as I am constantly investigating techniques and styles of jewelry pertaining to civilizations which are quite foreign to me.


I've also always felt like a bit of a hybrid—I've never been able to fully identify with American culture or Chilean culture. I can see this duality in my work as well. My love for ancient and traditional craft as well as for contemporary jewelry, seem to be contradictions that I bring to life through my designs, and maybe it's what gives me a signature style.

How do you conceptualize a new collection and what’s your creative process?

My creative process usually begins with an idea, this can be anything from being inspired by a certain culture, a technique, or a type of jewelry. I then work mostly intuitively and experimentally. Having said that, I always learn a technique well before attempting to use it. But after that I allow my idea to be loose enough to change once I start working at my bench. I have found that the best improvisations happen this way and the piece sort of creates itself. It is also a bit more time consuming and can be less efficient, but It adds an element of surprise and satisfaction that keeps my creativity alive.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

As a solo show, I run all aspects of my brand. A typical day starts in the morning around 8am with a giant cup of coffee while I check emails. I usually like to make a to-do list the night before or at the start of a new week with the small details that I may easily overlook. Anything from quoting someone for a custom piece, to checking the price of gold that day, to making sure I ship out orders on time. I have yet to develop a good social media strategy, but this is my next goal. During this time, I also send out invoices and take note of any orders that have come in and need to be made.

Around 10-11am I put on my running clothes and take our dog, Olivia, for her morning run. This is also a good transition to my day, and builds up energy for the rest of it. After I get home and shower, I focus on the other half of running my business, working at the jeweler’s bench. All of my pieces are made by hand with some components being cast, therefore this part of my day is pretty time consuming, and at the same time really satisfying. Usually around 7 or 8 I stop, and if I’ve created anything new that needs to be added to my website, I set it aside to photograph in the morning. I've found the morning light to be great when taking pictures.

What has been the most important jewelry-making skill that you’ve learned and why?

It's hard to say as I see them all as being invaluable as each skill builds on the other. But, I think if I had to choose I would say soldering is invaluable to my work. Soldering is the process of fusing two pieces of metal together. I use it immensely when making my line of chains. Each link in the chain is formed, cut, and then fused together, one by one. It requires soldering for hours on end which can be tedious, but I love the process. It becomes a sort of meditation for me.
Your jewelry making style mentions the utilization of ancient techniques. Could you go into more detail on what some of those techniques are and why you're fond of using them?
Yea, currently I’ve been intrigued by the style and techniques used in Byzantine and Etruscan jewelry. I love the boldness of the pieces that come from the Byzantine era, I find their use of pearls to be a great inspiration in my work. I'm also obsessed with the Filigree technique (use of finely twisted gold wires) from the Etruscan culture. I learned this technique while studying jewelry in Florence, and I’ve been using it ever since. It’s become a sort of trademark look in some of my designs.

I know sustainability is a very important part of Mon Pilar. Does that present any challenges in your work?

The challenges I have come across so far involve sourcing colored gemstones and making my packaging sustainable. I have found a few sources that are ethical and more sustainable for buying gemstones but these come with a higher price point, so for now I mostly order them for custom pieces when a client wants a particular stone and is willing to invest in it. As for my packaging I am still in search of a company that makes beautiful packaging that is recycled and still affordable. I think there's always going to be challenges, but I'm fully invested in growing my brand ethically and responsibly.

I saw on your website that you do custom jewelry. What’s your favorite part about the collaborative process of making a custom piece?

Collaborating on a custom piece always comes with challenges, but I welcome them as they help me to grow and become a better designer. It's great when clients that know and like my work come to me with an idea. I then have the freedom and trust to do my best work while at the same time making their vision come to life.

If we ran into you on the street, what jewelry would you be wearing? (casual vs night out)

I would have to say the Roma Necklace with the Orbis Hoops. These two have been my go to’s for a while now. I love the weight and look of the Roma. I love how unique it is, and that it looks great with a pair of jeans or a black dress. As for the hoops, they are sooo comfy! The charms are made from diamond slices with small diamonds embedded rustically into the metal to add some sparkle. They're removable so I sometimes wear the hoops solo for a more minimal look. Both pieces I wear day and night!

What do you hope the future looks like for Mon Pilar?

In the future I would love for Mon Pilar to be able to grow and to hire a few amazing people. I would like to hire someone to help with my social media and branding. This would give me more time to create and test out new designs. I would also eventually like to hire another goldsmith to work along side with.
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