Sometimes I get so annoyed with myself, when I find out that there has been this amazing studio and gallery under an hour from where I live (since 1993!), and I didn’t visit until now. (Doh!) Thank goodness I finally had the good sense to visit Shibumi Studio & Gallery in Berkeley. What finally got my butt in gear was I saw that they were having a Ruth Tomlinson show. If you’ve been following me, then you know I’m a big fan of hers. In fact, when Ruth posted a particular white gold and diamond ring on her Instagram feed about 4 weeks ago, it was love at first sight. It was with mixed emotions that I got to actually try on said ring at the gallery (even better on my finger!) but then found out it had already sold (drat!). Doesn’t it look quite fetching paired with two of Ruth’s stacking bands? Oh, so “Amy!”
Wendy Brandes is a force to be reckoned with, in the most positive of ways. I’ve followed her on social media for quite some time, and I’m inspired by both her unique jewelry and her strength of character. When I found out she would be showing at JCK in Las Vegas, I definitely made meeting her a “must do.” I’m so glad I did, as she and her collection were as impressive in person as I had envisioned. I now must share with you some of the most fantastical rings I’ve ever seen before, rife with detail and a story. Without further ado, enjoy this interview with Wendy about her Maneater collection.
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by biographies of women, especially those of long-ago queens and other powerful female figures. In my first career as a journalist (at the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and People.com) I was, of course, dealing with current events. When I switched to jewelry design in 2006, I realized I had a way to keep telling stories, only now I could tell them about the historical women who had always intrigued me. I started my line with designs inspired by real people, ranging from the queens everyone knows about — Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Anne Boleyn, and Elizabeth I — to women Americans might not be familiar with, including Empress Matilda of England, Queen Min of Korea, and Empress Wu of China.
It was Empress Wu, the 7th-century ruler of China, who led to the Maneater collection. I always liked the fact that during her lifetime, Wu was known as “emperor” — the only female ruler of China to use the male title. Historians have treated her differently from her male peers, the same way they did with other powerful women. You can find supposedly serious history books that refer to Wu (and other women) as a “dragon lady” or “maneater.” (Equally murderous male rulers have no equivalent pejoratives.) I like to take the words used against us and turn them into symbols of power. Besides, who doesn’t love dragons? So I created an 18K yellow gold Empress Wu dragon ring that holds the whole world — represented by a spinning lapis lazuli globe — in its fangs.
I believe there are 8 in the series, and I tried on 3 of them at the show: the bull and bullfighter, the pink elephant and Jonah and the whale. Can you give us a little description of each of these?
I originally planned to do a series of eight one-of-a-kind rings — eight being a “power” number if you are into numerology — but then I found a very interesting and large labradorite carving, so now the series is seven rings and a showstopping necklace that uses the carving. The necklace is still in the works.
All of the Maneater rings have a triumphant figure on top of the ring and a small man inside the shank. The Bull and Bullfighter Maneater ring shows a winning bull standing tall over a stadium. If you peek inside the shank, you see the bullfighter standing with his back to us, his cape swirling around him. The rose-gold bull is paved with 350 black diamonds totaling 1.48 carats. I also used 79 white diamonds totaling 0.37 carats. All together, the ring uses 25 grams of 18K rose, yellow, and white gold.
I don’t like to have to choose a favorite from among my children, but I admit that I always favor the most recently completed design. In the Maneater series, that would be the Dragon and the Knight Maneater ring. (I really do love dragons!) In addition to being the newest Maneater, it’s the most complex Maneater design. In addition to 18K yellow, rose, and white gold, I added platinum to the mix, in the form of a sword clenched in the dragon’s jaws and a skull at her feet. The rose-gold treasure chest opens to reveal the dragon’s hoard of gems, and the wings and the skull also have a little movement to them.
Can you believe this work? Jaw-dropping, to be sure. Wendy has a wide array in her collection, and you can see more at her online shop. I have no doubt that there’s a story behind each and every piece.
Wendy, thank you so much for your time and talent! I truly appreciate you.
I’m pretty voracious when it comes to devouring my Instagram and Pinterest feeds — they’re a constant source of beauty and new ideas. This is exactly how I first came across one of Disa Allsopp’s “spaghetti rings.” So it was with great joy that I had the opportunity to meet her and see her collection at the NY Now show. Here I am trying on three of her spaghetti rings, with bezel-set garnet, peridot and aquamarine. She has perfectly captured that fine line between luxe and organic, don’t you think?