Maker Stories

Somewhere Over the Rainbow with Catherine Weitzman

November 20, 2015

Catherine Weitzman | UncommonGoods
In her Honolulu studio, Catherine Weitzman has found her somewhere-over-the-rainbow: “We have a large open space with views of a valley, which is a great spot for rainbow sightings,” the jewelry designer tells us. And in the late afternoons, the magic deepens thanks to the two “very old hula schools” in the complex, says Catherine: “We can often hear ukulele music coming through the windows.”

It’s a fitting place to create the nature-inspired jewelry for which she’s known—even if it’s far from where she started. Growing up, her love of wearable art was cemented in her cousin’s New York City jewelry store. “The ritual around pulling a piece from the case, polishing it to make sure it was in perfect order, then putting it on the velvet mat to look at was mesmerizing,” she recalls. By high school, she’d already learned the basics of the art and began taking adult ed classes “where I had freedom to start playing.”

And play she did. Catherine studied in Florence, apprenticed for “a bunch of really talented designers,” and, after a five-year worldwide trip with husband and co-creator, Scott Diamond, started Catherine Weitzman Jewelry in San Francisco in 2000. Four years later, they packed up and moved to Hawaii, where Catherine finds peace in creating. “I love to work with my hands, with fire, watching the elements as they change form in extreme heat,” she tells us. “And I love the repetition of production work. For me, it’s very meditative.” She puts a spell on us with her beautiful organic jewelry—and her inspiring story.

What’s your favorite part of being an artist?
Being able to have an idea and create something material from it, then having other people enjoy it and make it their own—that is a real honor.

What does a typical day in your studio look like?
There is no such thing as a typical day! I travel a lot and have had to become very flexible in how I make time for all of the activities necessary to keep our studio flowing. Everything we do is online so that our production, imagery, inventory, and schedules can all be accessed from anywhere. We have a great group of women who take care of the day-to-day things in the studio. We are constantly communicating with our suppliers, our customers, working on new prototypes, keeping up with production to make sure the orders go out on time, and thinking up new ways to make the studio flow more efficiently.
Catherine Weitzman tools | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
We have so many different kinds of tools we have used over the years — everything from glass cutters and a kiln to super heavy-duty sprue cutters (we cut a lot of sprues!) to different grinding wheels, our soldering gear, the computer equipment, you name it! But for sure the most important things that can’t be replaced are what we were born with: our hands and our eyes. We use them for everything. The jewelry is truly handmade.

Where do you draw inspiration for your pieces?
We travel a lot and are constantly being influenced by our surroundings—that can be anything from the essentialized design aesthetic of Japanese temples (we were recently in Kyoto) to maximalist visuals of the Great Barrier Reef and the underwater environment of Hawaii. We often end up tying things back to nature and the organic aesthetic.
Catherine Weitzman coral | UncommonGoods

Is there an inspirational object you keep around you when you work?
We have a bouquet of fan coral in the studio, which is kind of where it all began. Many years ago, before we started the business, we were living on a small island off the coast of Honduras. There was a big storm, and all of this fan coral washed onto the shore. It was so beautiful. We collected a bunch of it and that was where the design inspiration and raw material came from to design the coral collection, which we have been selling for more than 15 years. The coral always reminds me that things can be beautiful, organic, and delicate—but also strong and durable.

Catherine Weitzman materials | UncommonGoods

Can you tell us a bit about how you source your materials?
Sourcing materials and choosing vendors to work with is really important to us, and it sometimes takes a really long time to find a good fit. For example we have an amazing network of casters and platers that we have been working with (one of the casters since I was in high school). What this means is that we really know the people we are working with. We know their values and their integrity, and we all look out for each other. So if we need an extra fast turnaround or a special project, we know we are covered. If someone is sick and things are taking a little longer than planned, we understand.

Our suppliers are the same—although as we design new pieces that have new materials, we need to bring more people into the fold. We tend to do a lot of research into the companies we get our supplies from to ensure as best we can that they share our values, and that their production practices are in line with ours.
My Lucky Stars Earrings

My Lucky Starts Earrings

Do you wear the pieces you make?
I’m often testing our jewelry to make sure the pieces are comfortable, durable, and don’t get caught on things. I try to be much rougher with the jewelry than I think our customers will be, so I can be sure that it won’t get damaged easily.

What’s the most meaningful piece you’ve ever created?
There is a bracelet that was one of the first pieces Scott and I ever designed together where we were both like, “That’s it! That’s what we’ve been going for.” It’s made from shells, but they have been manipulated and taken out of context, so you need to look carefully to notice what the design is based on. It’s simultaneously organic, geometric, beautiful, and comfortable to wear.

See the Collection | UncommonGoods

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