Shiny objects. Whether it’s Cuban links, intricate feminine bracelets or the ring he put on it cause he liked it, everybody loves jewelry. Personal adornment is a cultural universal that spans the ages, and it means something different to every individual. For some, it’s a symbol of wealth, for others, a means of expression, and for others still, a sentimental reminder of a loved one.
The jeweler’s studio, unlike the carefully constructed pieces it produces, is a place of chaos. Filled with raw materials strewn about—hand tools, power tools, scraps of metal—it’s a beautiful mess. Susan Rabinovitz, owner of Midtown’s Little Relics Art and Jewelry Gallery, finds peace and fulfillment in the disorder of her workshop.
“I was self-taught up until a few years ago, and then I went and trained with masters at the Revere Academy in San Francisco, and got a master graduate certification,” says Rabinovitz. “That means I put in 700 hours with masters that taught me 14th Century goldsmithing techniques, stone setting, diamond grating and all that good stuff. I’m a pretty legit jeweler. I solder, I build things from raw materials … one of the things that sustains my business is the jewelry repair aspect of it. People may not be buying as much jewelry, but they’re definitely repairing their sentimental pieces.” Rabinovitz discloses that repair is probably about 75 percent of her shop’s income.
When she’s not busily repairing her patron’s jewelry, she’s always creating something new. Says Rabinovitz, “I have a huge sketchbook, and in between repairs I’m constantly building something.”
Jewelry making is simply in Rabinovitz’s DNA. “I’ve always made jewelry. Back when I was getting a B.A. in journalism, in order to pay for books, I actually made earrings for Nordstrom, way back in the day when they used to do Artists in Jewelry. When I moved up here, I worked in the corporate world, still making jewelry, and then my job moved to another state. So I went back to tending bar at Streets of London. I took some time to figure things out, and I kept going back to jewelry. Jewelry’s always been a love of mine and I finally just pursued formal training,” declares Rabinovitz.
Her kids hang out at the shop with her, and the love of making jewelry seems to run in the family. “When they bicker, I give them sheets of copper or sterling, and they get to go and literally hammer out their aggression, and you can see this look of euphoria come over their faces. Most of the textured metals here, my kids have done.”
“I was researching art projects for my kids to do over the summer and came across Miro and Kandinsky. I got really inspired by their use of shapes and lines, so you’ll start seeing some of my newer pendants have been heavily influenced by those two abstract artists.”
She’s also inspired by the architecture of Midtown. “There was this house over on Capitol, and it looked like a ship with a perfectly round porthole. They were remodeling it, and I was walking my dog. I looked up, and there was this screen across the round window, and so I made a round pendant with a screen in it and put floating gemstones in it.”
I asked Rabinovitz about her jewelry making process and what tools of the trade she employs to create new work. “Some of the layering projects I do, I hand cut with a saw, and if I’m making things rounded, I use a hammer and a doming block, which is like a dimpled cube. I use the divots of that to help create the roundness. I might use a power tool to create holes, or pierce it to put in a bale. I do a lot of fire. Torch work, solder and all that good stuff. The hammers I use primarily are a chasing hammer and the planishing hammer.”
She continues, “Right now I’m using a lot of 14 karat gold and sterling silver, and I also use a lot of copper in my projects, depending on what style or collection I’m doing. Because I’m a graduate of Revere Academy, I’m able to have a lot of connections to ethical sources for stones and for metals. So I know that most of my stones come from the United States or U.S. traders, and a lot of the suppliers are either green, ethical or both. Ethical meaning there’s no child labor, blood or trading for weapons. A lot of my semi-precious stones like jasper are American-mined and cut.”
This isn’t something that she really markets, but she does share it with people who are eyeballing or purchasing her pieces in the gallery. She explains, “It’s really hard nowadays to get any gemstones that are considered the blood or military-traded stones. Once industry miners pull the rocks from the soil, they have a serial number added to them, and they’re tracked from the dirt to the cutters.” Some of her favorite stones to work with include jasper (her dog is named Jasper), blue zircon and blue topaz.
Only local artists have pieces in the gallery, with the exception of one that Rabinowitz used to serve a lot of Guinness to at Streets of London. “My mission as a Midtown business owner is to keep it local.”
Although there are some pricier pieces in the gallery, it’s also Rabinovitz’s goal to curate gifts under $50, so that people on their lunch break can walk over and purchase something that’s handmade locally by a local artist. Some of the artists live just a few blocks away from the shop.
“One of my prerequisites to show work in my shop is you have to be nice,” she laughs. “I live in the neighborhood where my shop is, and it’s kind of embarrassing if someone showing work in my shop is less than approachable or rude to my neighbors.”
Rabinovitz’s upcoming July art show will feature herself, and she wanted to explain why. “I’ve always had featured artists, and have helped a lot of artist get murals, and helped to catapult their careers, which I love. I want to see my fellow neighbors succeed. So, it’s also my birthday month, and I said, screw it! I’m going to feature myself! This has pushed me to create a lot of work, and I’m super stoked about it.
“My favorite show every year is the holiday show, which is a group show. The artists come up with these amazingly giftable pieces that are under $50. It’s always very amazing to see their creativity and scaling down from mediums they’re normally working with,” she smiles.
“What I love about owning a business in Midtown is that people want to see you succeed. They’ll come in and buy a $10 item to be supportive, especially other local small business owners. The word of mouth is amazing.” She loves supporting other local businesses in turn—The Federalist, Dad’s Kitchen, Old Ironsides and Tres Hermanas are some of her favorites.
“I love how diverse this community is, how amazingly eclectic it is,” concludes Rabinovitz. “It makes my heart happy to see people expressing themselves and being loving toward each other. That freedom of expression is one of the top reasons we’ve stayed in Midtown and decided to raise our kids here.”
Show some love and go see Susan Rabinovitz’s solo show at Little Relics Art and Jewelry Gallery (908 21st Street in Sacramento) July 9, 2016 for Second Saturday. Find more info at Littlerelics.com. Please note that Little Relics will be closed for a holiday break through July 7.