You might remember my visit to L’ÉCOLE Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery school in Paris a few years ago, where I took a trip into the world of Art History and jewellery. This time I was invited by Van Cleef & Arpels to meet the self-taught artist and jeweller, Daniel Brush during his exhibition, CUFFS AND NECKS at L’ÉCOLE V&A. What a thrill it was to meet the man, or should I say, ‘legend’ and get the chance to interview this NYC-based artist. Daniel Brush has a flair for creating a timeless aesthetic in his work, a collection of astonishing and intricate sculptures, wearable jewels and large scale drawings that break through the boundaries of traditional art. You can find my interview with Daniel Brush below.

The exhibition is devoted to CUFFS AND NECKS – both provocative, quintessential feminine jewels that make you think about strength and garrulity, ownership and independence, power and protection. At the exhibit, you will find 78 steel chokers, each one hand-carved and etched by Brush himself. Why so many? These masterpieces were crafted as models to appear in a book of poetry by the jeweller that you can also find at the exhibition. Brush completed a total of 117 chokers each with its own intricate story to tell. Alongside these collars, you’ll find 70 cuffs showcasing the artist’s love for art history and metalwork used in suits of armour of the Middle Ages. Brush labours over each masterpiece himself, and is recognized as a master of the ancient art of granulation, a gold beading technique and the mark of perfection for a goldsmith.

NECKS is the visual poetry book for an artist’s jewelry dream. It records a passage of time, a young woman’s drama with decision and an artist’s engagement with materials. One hundred seventeen “colliers de chines” were purposefully made for the book. A neckpiece was constructed, a photograph was taken, a page was organised, until the momentum stopped. The work lasted for years. The young woman became older, the film expired and a knowledge of steel increased. The concept was not to create a collection of jewels for many “necks”, but rather to create a collection of jewels for the unrequited neck ~ Daniel Brush

How and why did you become a jewellery artist?

I was a professor at Georgetown University, Washington, for ten years, so I had an income. I was 23, my students were 17, but after 10 years, I couldn’t think anymore. So I left. I said, “Give me my ten years back!” We were living in NYC and my mother sent me a little money, not a lot, just enough to get by, and this is how it went. I showed something I made to someone, who showed it to a second person, who then supported us for ten years, no questions asked. When that stopped, we made an exhibition, and people all over the world heard about it. But it’s still very difficult to approach us!

How did the exposition “Cuffs and Necks” at L’ÉCOLE came to life?

This whole thing happened because Nicolas (Nicolas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels) looked into my eyes and I looked into his, and he said, “Hey, let’s do the show in Paris!” This thought had been developing between us for some time. I liked it because it was about the school and it wasn’t commercial.

For me your exposition at L’ÉCOLE is about celebrating craftsmanship, isn’t ?

It was about exposing works that maybe had a public outreach. Exposing crafts. Look, nobody knows anything about you, let’s show them the work.

What is a typical day in your life?

I live a very private life; I am not out there. I’m practically working all the time. Even yesterday there was a group of people that was so afraid to ask me a question. And I was like, “I want to learn from you much more than you’re gonna get from me!”

How did you and your wife grow together? 

We share a studio together and live in the same space, read the same things, and we learn together by travelling all around the world. We constantly think about each other, even when we are apart. This is her exhibit more than mine! I never wanted to sign any of my pieces. But you get to the point where people are like: Sign! Sign! Sign! The credit goes to Olivia! We both do everything. We have never had agents, dealers….To be honest, I don’t really know how to make a living! I don’t know how to do anything! I get up in the morning and I still don’t know what I’m doing! How did it all happen?

Do you think the Millennials have a different attitude to jewellery?

That’s right. It’s an interesting thing. The past 40 years things have changed. If someone comes to the studio, what’s the value? Value is the determination of marketplace competition. I’m not in a marketplace, so there is no value, but I have a price. It’s very intimidating for someone to say, “How much is this?” Is it upside, downside? There are some people participating in this journey. It’s a different mentality, but I haven’t met many of them. There is a group of people who is so extraordinary, they want to possess nothing. They just want to participate in the process.


Why is the necklace and all the chokers available in a set only, while the bracelets can be bought separately?

All the chokers, there’s 117, were researched to take the photographs individually to make a book. So the book was the base for all of the pieces. One artwork, five years of thinking, 117 pieces of research combined into a book. The cuffs were made at different times, they were an outcome of my interest in painting and sculpture. As it turned out, there were so many of them, they looked like a collection. But they were all individual.

Why this particular number of chokers?

The momentum stopped. There wasn’t another one million to be made. It was over. I didn’t plan it. It happened suddenly. That’s it! Done!

What is the story behind your “Bitch” cuff?

I just got inspired. This is how it is! We were taken to probably most fashionable restaurant in NYC. If you are the right person, you are sitting at the best table. That evening we were at the exact right table and this fantastic, elderly man walks in with his companion – a woman, a gorgeous 20-year-old – and she gives me and my wife, Olivia, that unwelcoming look. I came home that night and made that bracelet. Decided that the next time we go there, that’s what Olivia will have on and hopefully this girl will walk in again!


Why are the pieces made of steel?

I like to work with anything. Whether it’s plastic, steel, anything. But steel and aluminum are known as being industrial. It just becomes soft, captures the light, it’s mercurial and I love it. Nevertheless, I am only beginning to understand it after 20 years of working with it. It takes a long time.

I love the diamonds in your cuffs and chokers. What is the story behind that?

Diamonds have a history. The tiniest ones are 0.5 to 0.7 mm from the Mogul period. I was very fortunate to get them. I’m an artist, so I couldn’t simply go to gem dealers. I called one of the only people I knew. My friend, Francois Curiel, Christie’s Chairman of Europe and Asia, and told him what I needed. He called me back within 10 minutes and asked to come to his office. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I needed, but he got it.

What do you think about L’ÉCOLE?

There’s no place like it in the world! The world of jewellery is really secretive. There is no transparency! This school is a new beginning. It opens up. There’s nothing like it! The more people understand history, the more they open up to this fascinating world! In the past you couldn’t hear about jewelry and stones; the courses just didn’t exist! Now you can do this if you wish, without any problems. Amazing!



Thanks for stopping by. Are you inspired by Daniel Brush’s story? Leave me a message in the comments below!

I am extremely happy to announce that my new jewelry book – GEMOLOGUE: Street Jewellery Styles & Styling Tips – is now on Amazon. I’m so excited. It’s the first book of its kind solely dedicated to jewellery. 

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GEMOLOGUE jewelry blog by Liza Urla is a celebration of fine, fashion and vintage jewellery featuring talented jewellery designers, trendy urban street style, exclusive interviews and rare jewellery reviews. This jewellery blog’s goal is to encourage and educate about jewellery online in a fresh and original fashion to inspire women and men across the globe in a fashion and travelling context.

Jewellery blogger, writer Liza Urla, the founder of GEMOLOGUE, is a London-based and NYC-educated gemologist, who has travelled to and lived in many countries. She is now one of the most influential digital jewellery tastemakers. Her jewellery influence has been acknowledged by Financial Times, The New York Times, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

*Styling and Art Direction by Liza Urla. All photos belong to GEM Kreatives for GEMOLOGUE.

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