ALLIE MASS: CUSTOM JEWELRY DESIGNER
Allie Mass, custom jewelry designer, talks with Indie Arts Montclair Featured Artist writer, Laura Hoffman.
I AM: Thanks for joining us Allison! We’re very excited to hear about your new venture as a jewelry designer. When did you first realize that you wanted to design jewelry? Allie: When I was a little kid, sitting in temple with my mother and my grandmother, I would spend the Hebrew portion of the service mesmerized by their rings and necklaces and beg them to try them on. While the rabbi was talking, I was fancying being as glamorous as my nanna and my mom. I was fascinated. Also, my grandfather was a jeweler, and I remember him talking about craftsmanship from a very young age. My mother was a real anti-70’s woman…very glamorous. Since I was a kid, I’ve been taking her stuff apart and putting it back together. I AM: Your work is so beautiful. Allie: Thank you. She had three kids in two years. Me and my identical twin Jennifer, and then Wendy. To keep us quiet she used to throw her costume jewelry down onto the floor for us to play with. I AM: Was your twin playing with the jewelry too? Allie: No! We’re real opposites. I would be playing with the baubles and Jennifer would sit with a book for hours. People ask me about my twin all the time: “Do you hear each other’s thoughts?” No. But I’ll buy something and I’ll go to Jennifer’s apartment and she’s bought the exact same thing at the same time. There is no explaining it. Walking through the world with a partner…you know they say you’re born alone and you die alone…I don’t feel that way. She’s been supporting me my entire career. I AM: That must be a great feeling. What did you do before launching this current venture? Allie: I used to sell estate jewelry. I AM: What is estate jewelry?
Allie: When you go to an antique show or a museum and you see those really old pieces, say, from the 1800’s? Those are Victorian pieces. People collect those. You find out the history of the jewelry, and why certain people wore a particular style. I AM: How did you transition from a dealer to an artist? Allie: I started learning about people using wire jewelry. They found wire jewelry in the ancient pyramids. It’s the oldest form of jewelry making that they know. And they even found wire jewelry as far back as 2,000 BC. You didn’t need fire. I started studying and looking around to see what other people were doing with wire and I just developed my own style. I love seeing wire work coming back. I don’t want to be in the studio with a torch. I’m really happy working with wire and stones. I love the raw essence of the materials and learning all about the gemstones.
I AM: Tell us about your process. Allie: I want the jewelry to work in every way. I want it to be sturdy but cost effective. I want to make things where I can say: “Here’s your bracelet. Even though you just paid $20 for it, I can guarantee you this will last you for years and it’s going to always look fabulous.” I never want to disappoint my customers. It’s so upsetting when you go to the mall and see a pair of earrings and the next thing you know, they fall apart. I AM: That kind of craftsmanship would be very appealing to a lot of people. Allie: Gold-filling is the key. It lasts for years. I won’t use gold because I don’t want my jewelry to be cost prohibitive. I want every woman to be able to experience it, not just women of means. Gold-filled is the new gold. There is no standard for gold plated. But when something is marked gold-filled, it is “12 out of 20 parts” 14 karat gold. That’s enough gold to make sure the piece won’t ‘turn’ for half a century! Definitely a bang for your buck. This is the new wave of fine jewelry. I AM: The stones are beautiful. Where do you get them? Allie: All over. I have a connection in India or if I get really impatient I’ll go into the city. I AM: How do you want people to feel when they wear your jewelry? Allie: I would like the person to feel good that they are wearing artwork that they have chosen. I want them to feel a spirit of individuality and uniqueness. I AM: I think some women shy away from wearing jewelry that’s too bold. Have you found that to be true? Allie: My paternal grandmother was 350 pounds. She was 350 pounds of confidence. She was a high school English teacher and never once did I hear her complain about her weight, nor talk about dieting. She simply put on her best dress. And my favorite part was when she put on her jewelry. She had a magnificent collection. And when she put them on, her pearls, her Topaz earrings, her big cocktail rings, she looked just like a queen. I AM: She sounds awesome. Allie: She was. There is so much going on with women and teens feeling that they have to fit into a certain mold to have confidence. It’s simply not true. No matter how much you weigh, your jewelry still fits, and jewelry, “the wearable art”, is a way to express and celebrate your inner beauty. Your exterior, what you present to the world, always reflects your interior. And colorful creative jewelry is a way of showing the world your joy and your freedom of expression. I see so many girls wearing Tiffany, or Tiffany copies...the same jewelry you see over and over again. It’s a simple sterling chain with an open heart dangling from it. I feel like these girls have been misguided. The last thing you want to do is look like everybody else. Why would you want to miss an opportunity to express yourself? Every woman deserves her own voice.
I AM: Your jewelry is so joyous.
Allie: Oh! Thank you. That is what this whole project is about. It’s about me being joyous. To be honest, I was doing fairly well as an estate jeweler but I couldn’t really do it anymore. I was worried about pulling my weight financially, so I asked my fiancé what else I could do that would still allow me to contribute to the relationship. He said, “You can contribute by being yourself.” I AM: OK, then! I think I’m going to cry!
Allie: I’m going to cry! Yeah, he’s something else. So, that’s how this all happened. I AM: I can see it in your art. Allie: The happiness? I AM: Yes. The pieces are giving me lots of feelings, but overall, I feel a sense of optimism and positivity. Allie: I hope it comes across that I care. I AM: Yes. It absolutely does. It sounds like you’re really doing what you love. Allie: And I would encourage others to do the same. You can buy 30 yards of craft wire at Michael’s or at AC Moore and get started yourself. It’s so easy. In the beginning, it seems daunting because it’s tiny and it’s repetitive and sometimes you have to walk away. Stick with it. It’s worth it because it opens a whole world of creative opportunities for you. And it’s dirt cheap. You don’t have to start with semi-precious stones. Start with using glass. Who’s to say that one is better than the other? Find your own voice with it. You don’t need a propane torch. You don’t have to light the house on fire. It’s cheap and it’s easy and it’s fun.
I AM: Where do you get inspiration from?
Allie: It’s funny. It’s like when you pick out an outfit in the morning. You pick the pants and the shirt separately and you don’t know if they’ll go together until you hold them close to one another. Then you say, “Oh, that’s an outfit!” It’s the same thing with the pieces I make.
I AM: It seems so meditative. Is it?
Allie: It’s so calming. The hours go by so quickly.
I AM: Can you tell us about your online presence?
Allie: I just opened a Shopify website. Shopify gives you more freedom and then once you sell on all of these different outlets, it’s like an octopus branching out to the rest of the internet. Selling and marketing is challenging. I spend a lot of time dropping my link around but you see the results immediately.
I AM: What other outlets do you use?
Allie: Instagram has been a big part of me going public with this. There is so much encouragement out there that we did not have 10 years ago. Now, everyone is encouraged to go out, find their thing and put their name on it. When I talk to my son about it, it’s not even a question for him. He’s going to do what he wants to do and break new ground and do something exciting.
I AM: Is there a type of jewelry making that you haven’t tried yet that you want to try?
Allie: Anything that I haven’t tried yet, I want to try. I like the organic method of using a wire but there are certain pieces that are cast that are really nifty. While you’re alive, you should always be learning something. It keeps you young.