Thursday 19 January 2012

Studio Visit - Da Capo

The 'Studio Visits' are a monthly blog instalment. We're opening our doors to introduce you to the artists and designers in The Design Tower! Each interview will give you an insight into the individual designer or business.
This month we're chatting to Se O'Donoghue and lee Harding from Da Capo.

Who or what is Da Capo?

Da Capo is the name of our goldsmithing studio and is italian for "from the beginning".

We felt it neatly encapsulated our idea for our workshop when we were first starting out, in that we wanted to specialize in bespoke work and commissions.

So each customer is a fresh start on their particular piece.

 Embrace 1

And Who then is 'we' in Da Capo and how did you become Goldsmiths?

Myself Sé O'Donoghue and my colleague Lee Harding. We met on a Crafts Council jewellery skills course in the mid 90's run by the legendary and formidable Jane Huston.

It really gave us a solid grounding in hand skills and the craft of fine metalwork. The course at that stage was in its infancy but has over the last 15 to 20 years managed to forge a very strong reputation both at home and internationally, and places there are very sought after. It is quite intensive, but gives you everything you need from the start to go on and work at the very highest levels of the trade.

After this we both went on to work in Germany and Holland respectively, and then in Dublin before opening our own studio.


How long are you in the Design Tower?

We opened our studio in October 2000, originally in studio 67 at first before later moving to 61 at the front of the building overlooking the canal basin.

The building is a very interesting design in itself, partly born out of innovative thinking for its day, and designed within the material limitations of it's day. It is so unusual to have vaulted brickwork on the upper floors of a building. We have to say that we love our studio for its aspect and nearly every visitor remarks on the view. It makes a nice added bonus and surprise for people visiting us.


Embrace 7

Why did you set up your own studio?

While we were both working for other businesses our jobs were focused purely on the making side and we missed the interaction with the customers.

For us the nuances that make a piece really stand out are the subtle details that come from making it "for" someone, so it is tailored to fit them, and detailed according to their particular taste.

What materials do you use?

We work mainly in Platinum, 18kt Yellow Gold and 18kt White Gold, with gemstones.
We also work quite a bit with Sterling Silver, and more recently Palladium and Titanium.

The gemstones we work with can be anything that the customer requests or has an interest in. Most people are looking for Diamonds, and in colours most people are looking for Sapphires and Rubies.

Recently there has been an increase in people looking at coloured diamonds. We try to work with interesting suppliers and gem-cutters, usually people who are small individual workshops on a similar scale to ourselves. This means you have a closer relationship to the raw material, where it has come from and how it has been fashioned from a rough crystal into a unique gem. These relationships also mean that we can work with some of our more unusual requests when we need something specifically cut to work to a bespoke design.

Yellow Gold Solitaire with Orange Diamond

Do people come to you already knowing what they want?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some customers come in looking for a specific gem, maybe because it is their birthstone or a colour that they like. Then we are talking to them about the shape and style of cut that can work best along with a possible design and their budget.

Others start with an idea of a colour and we can suggest types of gems that will give them that range of colour. A lot of the time it isn't until we have shown a person through our portfolio and had the initial first conversation that an idea of colour, or materials and style starts to come together.

It is always a journey of discovery, each person is just starting from different points along the beginning of that line.

So what gems have you used recently that would be more unique or unusual?

In December we made a pair of wedding bands that had Orange Diamonds set into them. They were absolutely stunning stones and gorgeous rings to work on. Previous to that, we once had a 14ct Marquise-cut Aquamarine which was a particularly stunning stone, it had been really well cut and polished. When you have good ingredients then the design work to surround, hold and show off the gem can become a labour of love.

Other than those, at the moment we have a set of 3 baguette-cut Green Tourmalines in the studio which are particularly fine. Someday they'll go towards something special when they find their owner.

Apart from gemstones, what other pieces have you done recently or stand out in your memory?

 Little Black Ring LBR2

That is actually a difficult question, it's hard to choose. And no doubt we'd both have different highlights.

I love our Little Black Ring series for the simplicity of the idea of a wardrobe staple to accompany a Little Black Dress, and the Black&White works so well.

We made a pair of rings for a couple in London based on the theme of the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth which were a definite highlight of the last few years. Another would be a Sapphire and Diamond ring we made, for the contemporary nature of the shape. (See the Embrace 7 images above.)

Often what constitutes 'modern' or 'contemporary' design could have been originated as far back as Germany in the 1930's which if you think about it is getting to be a long time ago now. This shape really struck me as being current in terms of a jewelry shape at the start of a new century.
Embrace 3

And of course the Embrace:3 never fails to get attention and "wow's". It's a true Diva ring.

So what inspires you?

Personally we are both quite interested in design in general. We follow what is happening in fashion design, graphic design, jewelry and product design, and boutique companies making small scale production of interesting ideas. It is easy to get carried away with a current style or trend, or work to a personal taste and this can be great when you are making a line that then gets to it's audience through a process of wholesale and retailer distribution. With regard to our studio we feel that it is incumbent upon us to create the best piece for our customer.

So for us, working directly with the customer, we are interested in tailoring what is a fit for them. This requires that we put our own taste and ego to one side and listen more to the persons own story. While they are looking through our portfolio with us and talking about the work, they are constantly expressing tiny hints about what catches their eye, and most importantly what doesn't.

This gives you a sense of what will suit them, and lets you know a kind of envelope of where their comfort zone is. Some people are naturally more conservative, others more modern or contemporary in their taste. Some like more ornament and detail, while others like sparse cleanliness and crisp definition of a shape. Some people wear their jewelry quite demurely and privately, while others carry off quite bold statements and can really push the boundaries. It is our place to help articulate these elements and to guide the person through what we think would be of interest to them. Invariably once you get to the sketching and design stage, you are already well down a path towards discovering their piece, and that direction may be completely different with the next person.

Over the last 11 years I think that this approach has forced us to become better designers and improve our flexibility in creating objects. This is what we really love about how we work, and I think it is something that our customers enjoy. When they get their finished piece, it already has more importance and emotional value to them as they can feel that they have been an integral part of the creation of the object, and it quickly transcends the material value of the ingredients. And it is nice knowing that these future heirlooms are out there, gathering stories as they are worn.

How long does it take from the start of a commission to a finished piece?

We usually say that we have a 3 to 4 week lead time, and beyond that each job has it's own characteristics.

The design process prior to building can take usually 2 to 3 weeks, but we have had customers decide and make decisions on the first day while others have taken a couple of months to work out nuances and arrive at a final design. Once we get to the building stage it is usually fairly straightforward and gets completed within a month.
We have had customers where we have pulled out all the stops to get something done for a short deadline, but most people are quite happy to take the time to get something special right and would rather wait to find the right, suitable gem for instance and know that the finished piece is just what they wanted, rather than rush and regret it afterwards.

Where is your work available?

We work from our studio, primarily by appointment so we can be sure to have the time set aside to spend with people. We also have pieces for sale in DesignYard on Dublin's Nassau St. such as the Little Black Ring pieces and Ready-To-Wear engagement rings.

Can you tell us about the pieces you designed for the Wunderkammer Exhibition?

We were inspired by the collection of Tankas which are portable spiritual objects, and the visual stylistic of the Tibetan illustrations such as their mythical animals and landscapes.
We have always been interested in the Chinese representation of the Flaming Pearl of Wisdom, commonly shown falling through the sky being chased by a dragon.

On further research we discovered a tradition amongst Tibetans of carrying a "G'au" with them on their travels. This would be a very ornately carved and decorated box, or portable shrine, which would be carried on the hip with a very brightly coloured sash slung across the body and over the shoulder. This box would contain a spiritual relic to keep the traveller safe and assist in their devotions.

There was a nice synergy between these elements for us and a curious cross-over between the Chinese and Tibetan elements.
Image top and bottom left shows Lee carving and making the finished box or G'au. Images on the right show a Tibetan monk carrying a G'au.

So our piece was a dark grey Pearl surrounded by a flame of white Diamonds in 18kt White Gold, and a second ring of Rubies set in 18kt Yellow Gold in stylized Tibetan Clouds which sits over and surrounding the Pearl ring. So it is a Chinese symbol of pursuit of wisdom falling through a Tibetan sky. We also built a G'au out of hardwood with Silver fittings, with a bright yellow sash. Rather than the saturation of the traditional heavy and crowded ornamentation we liked the idea of the G'au having the traditional shape, but with a more contemporary interpretation of the decoration. So we took a singe element from the original Tankas and engraved a tree and leaves crossing the whole face of the box and overlapping onto the sides.

The box is hung on the wall and can be used to store the rings when they are not being worn, so even when they aren't in use they can still be enjoyed as an artwork.

Thanks for chatting to us, Se, and telling us about how yourself and Lee design and make your jewellery. For more information visit the Da Capo Website and blog.

This interview is part of a series called The Studio Visits. Next month we'll be meeting ceramic sculptor Ayelet Lalor.