The American jewellery maker Alex Streeter is featured in issue #27 of Apartamento magazine, out now! Click here to get your copy.
Tucson: I learnt my trade from a French goldsmith who lived around the corner from me in New York in the ’70s. I visited continuously for years and picked up his expensive habit of casting great huge gold pieces and immense stones. He had a beautiful store, and his particular way of working was very unique. I picked up a very delicate approach to making jewellery and wax that wasn’t so much about carving and hard wax, but hand-forming, repoussé, or pushing from behind low reliefs and trims of specialised wax wire and combining everything into settings.
All of this, I really learnt up on 47th Street—the Diamond District—and all the old-timers would take a moment to give me a little bit of guidance, so I learnt what was involved with pearl-stringing and diamond-setting and plating and casting and all of the rest. I acquired a great casting friend ‘uncle’, who had started out in Istanbul in the gold bazaar and then moved to New York, where he stayed with me for years and years and years and years and years. I cast with him and he would let me smile with the money a little bit and was very generous and became my kind of golden uncle.
II would pick up tool catalogues and try to work backwards from them, trying to figure out what this tool is for, or what that machinery is for. What are these buffing machines and specialty components for making everything shine beautifully? And I of course learnt other parts of the jewellery trade—packaging, branding, treating customers with the best care that I could bring to it—and I was able to do custom work for people that walked through my door. I would immediately say, ‘Certainly, I do custom work, what would you like?’ And I would do a drawing on the spot that would entrance people and bring them in, and then I would carefully guide them to tell me exactly what they wanted.
And from that I learnt what people wanted and how to guide my abilities towards the public. All in all, it was about picking it up slowly and making mistakes and really creating my own way of making things that, many times, was not the correct way to do things, but it was my own way of doing things and eventually it worked out. So I’ve developed a style that’s pretty unique; the way I make things is unheard of in the jewellery industry. I’ve been able to carry that method around the world, as I travelled in the summertime, and I’ve been able to do new collections each year in foreign countries. They may have been influenced by native carvings in India and Morocco; I worked in Germany and Sweden and travelling by train in Italy and on beautiful little islands in the Mediterranean. I spent summers carving and would come home to New York, cast them, and work to have them finished by Christmas week. And so each collection is filled with the memories of being in foreign, wonderful places and high adventure. Below are a few of those pieces and the stories behind them.
I got my start selling hand-painted wooden jewellery featuring a winged heart motif during the 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco. The Flying Heart was the first of my designs to be translated into silver a few years later, and then put into production. For over 50 years it has served as flight wings for young flyers and as rebellious badges for punk queens, later to be adopted by their wilful daughters. At that time, in 1971, it was entirely new, an offshoot of Rick Griffin’s flying eyeballs, the Egyptian winged solar disc, and the founding symbol of the American Sufi movement!
The heart of the NYC jewellery manufacturing district was known simply as ‘The Street’ to its stone-setters, dealers, casters, and tool-supply houses. On The Street, armoured trucks delivered gold bars and shipped out glittering goods while paper packets that were worth millions were exchanged on ‘memo’ with a smile and a handshake. The scene became my university, and sometimes it seemed that I was the first Christian boy to penetrate its secrets! ‘Uncle’ Joe Iptek became my life-long silver caster. Findings came from ‘Uncle’ Myron, who had a permanent tan from his proximity to so much gold! I learnt the protocol of buzz-through security locks and bluffed a workable knowledge of semi-precious stones. My questions were met with patient smiles as I slowly gained traction!