San Francisco is a truly charming city where talented artists frequently show their skills to the public. As we are starting 2009, JWR takes you to the city by the bay to meet skillful designer John S. Brana, and talk about his background, ideas, and his new collection.
Late last year, new work in fine jewelry by the otherwise bridge category designer proved favorable to the crowd at the "Designers by the Bay" event held at Shreve & Co. in San Francisco. The newcomer to the list of 20 established fine jewelry exhibitors showcased textured cuffs, sculpted earrings and intricate filigree scrollwork in 18K and 14K gold and fine silver with gemstones. Now, John is with us to share his views.
Let’s start with a very basic question, John , what originally inspired you to become a jewelry designer?
My artistic background is rooted in childhood work with my father as a stained glass artist. As I helped him assemble the different pieces, I began to become more intrigued by their geometric shapes and glowing colors. In high school, I worked extensively with ceramics. Working with my hands and using tools to form shapes and to carve patterns that were of my own design is what I truly fell in love with.
I’ve only been designing handcrafted jewelry since 2006. I recently won the "2008 Bay Area’s Best Designer Jewelry Award," a voter-based award recognizing best business in all areas of fashion, lifestyle, and shopping from the San Francisco Chronicle’s online division, www.sfgate.com. I reached out to my customers to provide testimonials and before I knew it, clients who shop online, who I’ve met at various events, and who I’ve designed custom work for were responding left and right. I’m so thankful to have a dedicated client base who enjoy the work and time I put into designing each piece.
What about your work background?
As I grew older I moved away from the creative fields and climbed the corporate ranks to become a Vice President of Finance for Charles Schwab. After 9/11, I really began to rethink what I was doing with my life and I couldn’t necessarily say that I loved my job. When my father died in 2003, I decided to take the offer for voluntary layoffs and adopted by new mentality of "Do what you love and explore what you are passionate about." But I didn’t necessarily know what that was. Some months later I heard about a new Japanese product called PMC (precious metal clay). I set up a basic jewelry-making shop in my basement and went from there.
We know the path of success is never easy. You’ve come this far and sometimes your road wasn’t smooth. Did you have difficult times in your career? What was it, and how did you get through it?
My greatest challenge was to make a transition from "corporate life" to the entrepreneurial world of self marketing and promotion…both online and offline, and learning about all the different facets and segments of the jewelry industry. I was fortunate to be introduced to the San Francisco Small Business Development Center ( a branch of the US-Small Business Administration) that had business consultants specializing in the wholesale jewelry industry. I was able to use their industry expertise and apply it to my business plan. This allowed me to jump start my business by learning from their mistakes and successes and I have flourished ever since.
Currently, the entire world is being hit by an economic crisis, including the jewelry market. What do you think about the situation and what should those in the business do to survive these tough times?
I think we’re all trying to figure that out right now. I’ve been communicating with my retailers and core clients to learn what they need and want right now and I’ve been giving it to them. I’m also working on building a greater online base and have launched several targeted jewelry sites to reach specific customers, www.handmadecopperjewelry.com, www.handmade-silver-jewelry.com, and www.handcrafted-gold-jewelry.com along with a recent facelift to www.johnsbrana.com.
People can always expect an awesome collection from you. They may wonder how you can create such fine things. Can you tell us where the ideas come from?
All of my collections are named after different neighborhoods or areas in and around San Francisco, where I live. To me, this is the most beautiful city in the world. We have so much cultural diversity and contrasts in natural and urban landscapes. Anyone can drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, take a drive through wine country, or stroll through the micro-neighborhoods and be inspired.
Let’s talk about your latest collection. Which one is your most favorite piece?
My latest work focuses on various metal raising techniques within my SoMa Collection (commonly referred to as anticlastic, synclastic, and fold forming). I would have to say that my Corrugated Silver Bracelets are my favorite, since they pose the greatest challenge – that of not marring or collapsing the corrugation while forming the bracelet.
What will we be seeing from John S. Brana in 2009?
Expanded offerings across many of my collections, with the bulk of new items in the Nob Hill, SoMa, and Men’s Jewelry Collections. For the Nob Hill, look for an introduction of pendants and rings. SoMa will expand to include a wide variety of 14K and 18K Hammered and Embossed Yellow Gold set with faceted colored gemstones. The Men’s Jewelry Collection will expand to include rings set with colored gemstones and diamonds, along with a male version of the SoMa collection.
We often talk about your jewelry collections. However, we wish to know your lifestyle as well. Care to share, John?
Work, work, work… can best some it up! I’ve always been a workaholic and put in at least 75 hours a week, so it’s probably a blessing that I’m single. I’ve traveled the world during my corporate days, so when I do wind down, I like to coordinate my travels with jewelry related business. I also network quite a lot within the local San Francisco fashion scene.
Do you have any favorite precious metal or gemstone? If so, we wonder why you love it?
I have always loved the rich color of 18K yellow gold along with large faceted colored gemstones. This is why over the next year you will be seeing quite a few new pieces in 18K gold. Another favorite metal, although not considered precious, is copper. This evolved at the request of a customer. She commissioned a piece about two years ago that was made in copper, and ever since, I have favored the metal. Its rich color is easily confused with rose gold, and at a faction of the price, has proved to be one of my hottest selling lines.
Do you have a favorite quote?
"Do what you love and explore what you are passionate about."
Thank you very much for joining JWR Magazine. Before biding farewell, do you have any other thing to say to our readers and the industry worldwide?
Just a bit of advice as we start a new year…evaluate what worked for your business in 2008 and keep doing more of it, stop doing what didn’t. To quote Albert Einstein, "Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
This feature can be found staring on page 60 of the Jan/Feb 2009 edition of Jewellery World Review.
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