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Remnants of Byzantium in New York

For their latest collection, the designers behind unisex jewellery label Gamin have put a modern twist on the past

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Arcata earring. Photos: Gamin

01 December 2016

When it comes to the creative process, one never knows when and from where inspiration will strike. For the designers of Brooklyn-based jewellery label Gamin, Lauren Richards and Mark Ignaczak, this time around it has sprung from antiquity – the Byzantine Empire to be exact − a period synonymous with wealth, where jewellery played an important role in expressing social status and as a diplomatic tool. While social status and diplomacy may not be their objective, creating pieces that allow the wearer to express themselves and their individuality is, and their S/S 2017 collection achieves just that.
Drawing from the period's metalwork, the designers have reinterpreted the geometric frameworks, using raw brass, white bronze and sterling silver to create faceted rings, metal cuffs and engraved pendants.

Lamartine ear cuff.

Designed and made in New York, Gamin first came onto the scene in 2014, offering unique designs that can be worn by both men and women.
While neither Richards nor Ignaczak have a formal background in jewellery design (she has a background in architecture, while he studied economics and went on to become a sommelier) the pair managed to combine their interests in art, history, literature, and philosophy with their aesthetics to bring something new to the table.

Working out of their Greenpoint studio and with a small team of artisan manufacturers based throughout the city, they have merged modern 3D-printing technology, while also staying true to their craft by doing everything from casting and polishing to leather wrapping by hand.

Though Ignaczak is no longer a part of the label full-time, Richards says the pair have "a great creative process together and so we get together to bat around ideas whenever we can", which has continued to result in fresh and exciting collections, and made a name for the label both in New York and abroad.

Neos Kosmos reached out to Richards to talk more about Gamin and to find out about their recent collection and her fascination with the Byzantine Empire.

What was your inspiration for starting Gamin?
While I was working for another men's jewellery line, I brought a lot of work home with me. Mark (Ignaczak) would often request certain pieces, but with several modifications. After going back and forth on what we would do differently if it were up to us, we ended up coming up with completely fresh ideas. We found we had completely different mental processes, but both loved exploring art history and literature as a jumping-off point for our designs and ended up being drawn to a similar aesthetic.

Billancourt ring.

What kind of techniques do you use to create your pieces?
Our pieces begin on the sketch pad, but then are almost all created using 3D modelling and 3D printing for the initial wax model, which is then cast, polished, and assembled by hand. I find this combination of processes fascinating because it allows for beautiful attention to measurements and detail that wouldn't otherwise be possible, but the hand-made aspect is still there, leaving each piece with the slight variations that give them a soul.

For Gamin's S/S 2017 collection you took your inspiration from the Byzantine Empire. How did this come about, and what did you take from the period exactly?
I found the Byzantine Empire to be a fascinating intersection between the cultural aesthetic of western European design and the Middle Eastern design that had influenced our previous collections. Because the Roman Empire had previously extended as far as England and later shifted its centre eastward to Constantinople, a lot of the jewellery that came from that time seemed to show signs of spanning that territory between what we think of as 'east' and 'west'. There was a fascinating blend of meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail with bolder, larger geometry and a very visible human hand.

I also wanted to focus more on the jewellery's settings – while the jewellery may have originally emphasised the precious stones, after the stones were lost to time, the empty spaces they left behind made unexpectedly modern and sculptural forms.

Do you have a favourite piece from this collection?
I would say my favourite piece at the moment is the Latoue lariat necklace. It's fairly simple, but unique in that the focal point is actually the loop and pin closure. I also love that you can wear it so many ways, wrapping it twice or tying it so the ends are at different levels – I keep playing around with new ways to style it each day.

Lourmarin bracelet and Choisy-Le-Roi ring.

All your pieces are unisex. While this is an emerging trend with clothing, it is a refreshing take on jewellery. Why did you decide to go in this direction? Has it been well received?
Yes, I think it's funny that unisex clothing is now becoming so popular, because the decision wasn't strategic at all – Mark and I simply liked wearing the same things! I am now expanding into more earring and necklace designs, which people would say are traditionally more feminine, but why tell a guy they can't wear an earring? If you're into it, you're into it.

Exactly right. Your jewellery is designed and made in New York; is that important to you generally, that industry is kept local?
Staying local allows us to do a lot of things we wouldn't be able to do so easily if we manufactured abroad. I like to be able to meet with our manufacturers face-to-face; it just feels better to have a personal relationship, and it also makes working out new designs a lot easier. If there are some issues with how a certain design might be made, our jewellers can simply point out what they think is a problem area and we can work together to find a way to fix it.

Making everything locally also allows us to explore more designs − each round of sampling moves quickly, we can manufacture in very small batches, and I feel much more confident that things will be executed exactly the way I want them to be. While manufacturing locally is important to me in that it does help sustain the local job market, I like the fact that it also makes sense for Gamin as a business.

The Pirou ring and Epinac earrings.

Gamin's S/S 2017 was only recently released, but are you working on any projects at the moment?
I'm working on the next collection! I've recently been very interested in the connecting philosophies between Bauhaus and the Arts and Crafts movement − so many things to explore there, so we'll see what comes out in the final designs. I'm also working on the idea of expanding into homewares, so even though I know I should be reasonable and not get ahead of myself, I've always seemed to enjoy biting off more than I can chew.

To find out more about Gamin and view their S/S 2017 collection, visit gaminyc.com

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