Like the great Russian danseur Rudolf Nureyev, Manhattan jeweler Alex Soldier was born straddling two worlds – Europe and Asia – in the city of Perm in the Ural Mountains. It’s a region rich in gold, adamants and folk tales of craftsmen who can give souls to stone.
That’s what Alex aspired to. But first he earned a master’s degree in computer engineering before turning in 1981 to his real love – art. In just six months he went from intern to chief designer at the largest jewelry manufacturer in the Urals. In 1990, he came to the United States and immediately set out to develop new methods of fashioning pieces out of 18k gold, platinum and gemstones.
He conquers jewelry lovers with rings that seem lit by the sun, whimsical earrings in organic forms and cuff bracelets in various sizes that are stunning inside and out.
“His jewelry is an art,” says Hannie Sio-Stellakis of Neiman Marcus in White Plains, where his pieces are featured in the precious jewels department. “Not only are they attractive to the eye, but they’re attractive to the touch.”
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with this alchemist of two worlds, who can turn stones into poetry:
Alex, our theme this month is “Heating Up.” So which of your pieces would you recommend to heat up our spring/summer looks? And conversely, which of your pieces would help us look cool and sophisticated in the coming wilting temps?
“I would say that the entire color palette is stimulating, for it speaks in so many ways. I like to work with all the stones and metals, since each one is unique and presents an endless spectrum of possibilities. Spring and summer naturally add more color to our lives. I love seeing bright colors, as they lift our spirits and fill our lives with joy. The vibrant color combinations of my Astra and Coronaria collections will make your heart beat a little faster, while the timelessly elegant and bold Sunflower, Snail and Lava pieces will make one stand out from the rest in any weather conditions.”
It’s evident that craftsmanship is a big part of your success. Even the inside of the cuff bracelets contains marvelous scrollwork. Tell me about your design philosophy.
“I see artistry and craftsmanship as two parts of one whole. One cannot exist without the other. Detail is an imperative part of my vision. Ever since I made my first sculpture at 14, detail has been embedded into my DNA. In order to increase the amount of detail, I invented a special structure where each creation consists of several components, each bearing its unique metalwork for which I invented my own tools.
“These techniques are really groundbreaking, as no one before had paid so much attention to detail, structure and texture in the world of jewelry or precious miniatures. Historically, you had a casted piece that was made of a single piece of polished metal. My jewelry and sculptures, on the other hand, are made of so many intricate components that you often need a magnifying glass to be able to see all of them. Same goes for my decorative finishes.
“I still remember my avant-garde collection debut in 1996 at the Jewelers of America Show in New York, where buyers looked at me as if I had two heads when I was showing my collection with all the versatile metal finishes. Because all they were used to seeing back then was highly polished trinkets and such. Seeing texture and unusual shapes everywhere nowadays, I feel blessed and proud that I was able to change the way people think about jewelry – not just as another accessory, but as a work of art that offers endless possibilities to its wearer. I feel inspired when my clients tell me how their jewelry or sculptures that they own continue to fascinate them after years, as they keep discovering new details in them.”
How are your pieces made? Do you have a team crafting them or do you do all the work yourself?
“All of my pieces are made by hand under microscope in our gallery in New York City. I have a team of talented people who work for me. They didn’t have any formal jewelry training before, that’s one of my requirements, since my designs are very detailed and crafted with the outmost care and precision that require one to step outside the boundaries of traditional craftsmanship, of what they may already know or have been taught before. So in my case, any previous jewelry training is a disadvantage. I train from scratch so that my team may have an expanded vision instead of set structure in their mind. Of course, I still make a lot of pieces myself, especially the ones that are more complex. Bench work is an imperative part of my art. Just like a painter cannot exist without canvas and brushes, I cannot exist without creative process.”
Why did you want to be a jewelry designer and how did you get started?
“I was computer engineer before jewelry, fascinated with computers and artificial intelligence, since it was fairly new and mysterious world, like space and cosmos. I dreamed of building my own robot, but it all changed when I met my wife (Galina). She saw my drawings and attention to detail and inspired me to try my talents at jewelry. I didn’t know anything about jewelry nor did I have any previous training in it. So I went to the jewelry plant and asked for whatever position they had available. They assigned me that of an electrician and in less than a year I became its chief designer.”
What’s next for the Alex Soldier line?
“Creative process is always a mystery that can’t be predicted. I constantly work at my bench and the present moment in which the thought materializes through creative process never ceases to surprise me.”
For more on Alex Soldier’s jewelry, visit alexsoldier.com and neimanmarcus.com.