c o n t e m p l a t i o n s a n d i n s p i r a t i o n s o f a n a r t i s a n j e w e l r y d e s i g n e r

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thank you!

Yesterday I heard someone on the radio say that the appropriate greeting this new year is "Happy Better New Year". The very fact that this has been a tough year all around makes me keenly aware of what I have and hold dear.

So, as 2009 comes to a close and I "take inventory", I feel grateful for many things. I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for all of my wonderful customers. Your business is deeply appreciated. My relationship with you gives me reason to celebrate and to look forward to a fresh new year.

May 2010 bring all the promise and potential that you hope for.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lady Apples

Rita Satz Kaplan soon after arriving in America

I saw lady apples today in the market. You know, those miniature yellow and red apples, about the size of a ping-pong ball. Every time I see them I am reminded of my grandmother. She loved those lady apples. I never buy them, but I always linger for a moment and remember her. My grandmother had a great influence on my life and I like to think that I resemble her - if not physically then in terms of certain traits and characteristics. I named my first daughter for her and I cherish the times when I daydream about her presence in my life.

My grandmother had one of those amazing life stories. Born in Russia (now it is Moldova) she was poor, persecuted and suffered a great deal of loss early in her life. When she was young her father owned a bookstore where famous philosophers and writers were known to hang out. But at an early age her mother died. When she was not yet a teenager her father and older brother came to America to make money and later send for them leaving his three daughters with their elderly grandmother. And as so many stories like this go, the grandmother died, World War I broke out and for many years my grandmother never heard from her father and brother. She and her younger sisters survived purely by their resourcefulness and will.

My grandmother had a striking sense of style and was a talented dressmaker. When she came to the US, she never worked in a sweat shop like many of her generation of immigrants to NYC. She worked on fine dresses, deftly able to hand roll a silk hem, or hand bead a dress bodice. She had amazing talent and an incredible sense of style. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up from my tween years until I left for college. I spent many hours sitting with her and watching her work, talking, answering her inquiries about my day, my friends, my adventures.

Later in her life she started making exquisite life-like beaded flowers from tiny seed beads. She made orange and black poppies and fresh white daisies. Her hands were never idle - even when she sat and talked with you she was always folding her skirt fabric or apron or purse handle into different fan patterns. She could make something out of nothing. A gown from a piece of cloth. Fabulous embroidered table clothes from ordinary fabric and thread. And flowers from beads and wire.

My grandmother lived to be 96 years old. She was vibrant and with-it until her very last year. Even in her early 90s she had a great wardrobe - pant suits, dresses, blouses that she always “tweaked” in some way to express herself “just so”. Some days when I am working at my workbench, especially beading, I think of her. I think that maybe, just maybe, my work creating jewelry, stringing beads and working in patterns ties me back to her. I only hope that I possess some degree of her talent and style. I am grateful for her influence on my life and for the warm, well-worn memories that I have of her.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ian Grant in The Relic Hunter

Just had to post about my friend Ian Grant who's show premieres tonight on the Travel Channel (Saturdays at 10pm EST). Ian is a principal with Bjorling and Grant in Minnesota. He collects and sells the most amazing artifacts from around the world (and produces some fabulous reclaimed wood furniture). He is curious, adventurous and a really cool guy. Put all that together and you have a great concept for a show. Follow Ian as he travels the globe to understand cultures and their art and artifacts. Way to go, Ian!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Layer it on thick...

Layering necklaces is a technique that has been around for years and is still going strong. It is understandable as it allows you to vary your look, be creative and create custom looks. So next time you are trying to decide which necklace to wear, consider wearing them all. OK, not really, that would be overdoing it. But with some editing and experimentation you can accomplish some interesting looks.

On this Fall’s runways designers showcased layered and stacked jewelry, really piling it on. Nested bib-necklaces closely circling the neck and stacked bangles from wrist to elbow were most dominant.

Here are a few pointers to consider when layering up:

  • Start with a long necklace and then add a shorter pendant.
  • Layers of stones work best if you stick to one color story. Definitely mix stone necklaces with metal chains for a textural look.
  • It is safest to stick with one metal - silver with silver, gold with gold. If you mix, which can be a very sophisticated look but harder to pull off, combine similar finishes, ideally antiqued gold and antiqued silver.
  • If you want to be more subtle, try layering delicate chains of various lengths but similar widths or thicknesses.
  • Wear all of this over solid basics to highlight the jewelry and not overdo it.
  • Remember, long necklaces create long vertical lines which offer a flattering look.

If you are uncertain, then look for necklaces that are already layered for you. And then, go ahead and pile it on!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pearls... they have been called God’s Tears

Large coin and round cultured pearls with gold vermeil

Pearls, the gem of Queens and the queen of gems. These little spherical gems, grown in oysters (or mussels in freshwater), are amazing accidents of nature. Pearls are the natural reaction of the oyster to an irritant. A genuine pearl (whether occurring naturally or cultured) starts with a grain of sand or a small foreign object that becomes lodged within the oyster. As a reaction, the oyster secretes a substance to cover the irritant and soften its edges, making it less irritating. This substance is called nacre. Over time, layer upon layer of nacre is applied to the irritant and thus a pearl is born. The more layers of nacre, the larger the pearl, the deeper the shine and lustre on the surface - the more beautiful the pearl!

Both naturally occurring and cultured pearls are genuine pearls (vs. imitation pearls which are man made beads of glass or other materials which are made to look like pearls). Natural pearls happen by accident in the oyster and are found by accident as well, making them rare and valuable. On the other hand cultured pearls are “farmed”. Oysters are suspended on racks in ponds, irritants are inserted, time passes while the oyster covers the irritant with layers of nacre, and then after a number of years the pearls are harvested. As a result of this human intervention cultured pearls are more plentiful. And that means that what used to be the exclusive purview of royalty and aristocrats is now more abundant and affordable.

The quality, size and shape of freshwater cultured pearls vary widely with the depth and quality of the nacre being the greatest determinant of quality. Some pearl farmers pull their crop too early (trying to cash in) before the nacre layers have gotten deep enough and hard enough. This impatience creates an inferior pearl. Oysters require two or more years to create a beautiful pearl.

Once pearls leave the belly of the oyster, they need people in order to remain beautiful. If they are left unworn in a vault or a drawer, they can turn yellow and brittle. But worn on the skin they become more luminescent. Stories abound through history of palace servants warming their mistress’s pearls by wearing them while doing chores during the day so that when the mistress donned them in the evening they would be warm and luminous.

Here are a few of the dimensions to consider when assessing pearls:

Size - ranges dramatically from small seed pearls to 20mm or larger.

Luster - is the depth and glow on the surface of a pearl. It is an indication of the amount of time the pearl spent in the oyster and the number of layers of nacre that the oyster applied to the pearl. Pearls should have a luminous glow and depth.

Shape - can vary greatly, especially with many of the newer cultured pearl processes. As for round pearls, one rarely finds a perfectly round pearl. In fact today many interesting shapes add value and interest, such as baroque, stick or coin shapes.

Surface - the surface of a pearl, while never without a blemish, should be smooth and without cracks or peeling. Again, some pearls have unique and interesting surface bumps and textures that can make them more valuable and interesting.

Color - natural pearls are white, cream or black. Otherwise, there is a huge industry of dyed and color treated pearls. Today a cultured pearl can be had in almost any shade of any color!

multiple shapes of gold colored freshwater pearls

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Figure 5

The Figure 5 by Robert Indiana

SEPTEMBER - This month we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Judith Altman Designs! As I reflect back over these years, I think mostly of the people that I have had the honor of getting to know. From my "virtual" company cohort of independent sales reps, marketing peeps, graphic designers and suppliers; to fabulous customers, both the retailers and the wearers of my creations.

And while these years have presented me with many new and daunting challenges, I have grown from them. I have also derived great joy from my successes and have learned to appreciate the fullness and richness that life has to offer. I embarked on this journey, leaving corporate life, seeking more authentic work, where I could feel more closely and creatively connected to the products of my efforts. And that is what I celebrate this month.

I am ever grateful for my creative studio time that is like a meditation for me. And for the wonderful and caring friends and colleagues who have supported, encouraged, nudged and mentored me. And most of all to my muses - the fabulous women who wear my creations. Thank you!

The Figure 5 by Robert Indiana (above) holds special meaning for me. A piece that he did in this series hung outside my boss's office at my last corporate job. It was never appreciated by many in that office. It's value as art escaped them. But to me it was like a siren, calling me to change. It was one of many signs that I took to show me the way back to a life filled with art, creative people and artistic sensibilities. The story is that the series was inspired by a poem by William Carlos Williams, which I also take as a call for waking up and paying attention to what is important.

The Great Figure
by William Carlos Williams

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Size Matters

There are few things that I love more than watching women shop and try on jewelry. What we select often has to do with a specific outfit, a particular piece of clothing or material like a birthstone. What strikes me is that some women know so well what works for them, and others have preconceived ideas that are not always right. Size of jewelry is one of them. "I'm too small to wear this" or "I'm too big to wear this" is so often uttered and so often incorrect. Significant, statement making pieces can really be worn by everyone with the guidance of a few basic concepts.

The size of the materials in a necklace and its construction should correspond to the features of your face not to the frame of your body. In other words, someone with fine, detailed features, no matter their body size, can wear significant pieces of jewelry made up of smaller beads and components - such as multiple strands of smaller beads. A woman with larger features - large eyes or a big smile - can wear large stones or pendants, no matter how petite her frame. Either woman can wear something substantial and statement-making by donning either multi-strands of smaller stones or pearls, or singular larger stones and pendants. Body size really doesn't matter - which is why jewelry shopping is so much more rewarding than clothing shopping. Something always fits!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Eight Auspicious Symbols

As many of you know, I adore collecting and using ethnographic components in my jewelry, often from Asia and especially with roots in Buddhism. Many of you ask about the symbols used on these pieces. Called the Eight Auspicious Symbols, they each represent something desirable and meaningful. I don't know for sure if wearing them brings us any of these desired conditions, but I figure it can't hurt.

Parasol - Protection from suffering, obstacles, illness and harmful forces.

Treasure Vase - Symbolizes long life, wealth, prosperity and liberation.

Conch Shell - Awakening from ignorance. Reminds one to work for the benefit of others and oneself.

Victory Banner - Symbolizes the victory over body, speech and the mind of negative energy.

Golden Fishes - Represents happiness, spontaneity, abundance of joy and good fortune.

Lotus - Symbolizes the purity of body, speech and mind.

Endless Knot - To perform endless practice of wisdom and compassion.

Dharma Wheel - To experience the joy of wholesome deeds and liberation.

* Special thanks to my wonderful friend Chhiring Sherpa who has shared this and so much more and who has taught me to make my singing bowl sing!

Silver repousse pendant from Tibet with
(clockwise from top) dharma wheel, conch shell, golden fish and parasol

Monday, July 13, 2009

Amazing Short Film

This is a beautiful short film done in CHALK ANIMATION. The artist has an amazing talent and I could just watch this over and over again. So, I decided I should share it. Enjoy!

Firekites - AUTUMN STORY - chalk animation from Lucinda Schreiber on Vimeo.

When an accessory makes all the difference

If you haven't yet heard about The Uniform Project, then you must check it out. The adorable Sheena Matheiken has committed to wearing the same dress for an entire year (don't worry, she actually has seven identical dresses, one for each day of the week), making it interesting and different each day with accessories and creative ensembles. She is using primarily vintage, hand-made and hand-me-down accessories to vary her look each day as an exercise in sustainable fashion.

The Uniform Project is also a year-long fund raiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing education in India. At the end of a year of daily creative accessorizing, all contributions to The Uniform Project will go toward Akanksha's School Project to fund uniforms and other educational expenses for slum children in India.

A few interesting thoughts here. First, in this economic climate, if you want to update your look but can't afford a new season of clothes, then follow Sheena's lead and keep wearing what you have but add a few new accessories - like jewelry! This is the time when our itch for something new can be scratched without breaking the bank. I am sure that you can create a new look with last year's clothing and a new piece of jewelry if Sheena can do it every day for a year! This is one way that an accessory can make a huge difference.

But most importantly Sheena demonstrates that her various daily accessories can grab our attention (I am hooked, obsessively checking out the daily photos on her website) and can fuel fundraising for an important cause.

I have contact Sheena about donating some jewelry (keep watching her daily photos to spot some Judith Altman Designs), and I will be donating a percentage of my July through September sales to her cause.

So check out The Uniform Project and make a donation if you can!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

HOT Dallas

Boy, it sure was hot last week in Dallas.  Exhibiting at the Dallas Home and Gift Market was one thing, but the outside temps were over 100-degrees each day I was there.  Had a great time, opened some new accounts and met some great folks.  Oh yeah, and ate some really good food!

A big thanks to Kim Pettigrew and Georgina Weddell, the fabulous women who own in-detail, who hosted me in their show room.  As a result I was surrounded by beautiful things and lots of very nice showroom staff.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Interviewed in my Studio

I was fortunate to have Stewart Pittman of FOX8 News interview and film me working in my studio.  They posted it on their website... to watch it, click here.

Thanks Stewart for doing such a nice job, and to my friend Kevin Daniels for recommending it.

Here is the text of what they published with this:

GREENSBORO, N.C. - For the last five years, Judith Altman has spent her days in her studio on Friendly Ave., crafting one-of-a-kind jewelry that others will soon cherish. But it wasn't always like that for Altman, who spent time in senior management before following her dreams of designing jewelry.

"I like to think of them as something a woman buys and wears to express herself and her style," says Altman, who fashions large, distinctive pieces from gemstones and artifacts collected from around the world.

"It's just a personal passion that I've always had and wanted to do myself and found that it worked for me," she says.

And has it. Since launching her own line, Altman has sold her jewelry as far away as Saudi Arabia.

"In many ways, it has exceeded what I thought it would be and, in many ways, it's been enormously more challenging than I thought it would be," she says.

With her signature collection retailing for between $300 and $600, Altman sells most of her work in galleries, art museum stores and high-end boutiques across the country. But for Altman, the sale isn't savored as much as the connection to her clients.

"The most rewarding thing is to see someone putting a piece of my jewelry on. It's not just about me and my creative process, but now I've connected with another person and it makes them feel good, so that's the reward right there," she says.

Another reward for Altman is traveling the globe to find the many components her imagination calls for. Otherwise, you'll find her in her Greensboro studio, creating world-class jewelry made right here in North Carolina.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Waiting out the economic recovery, I notice that there are some behaviors and concerns on the part of the consumer that have shifted, and may live beyond the (hopefully) inevitable recovery. The fast paced, fast food, mass produced, high volume world just seems to have less appeal and there seems to be a growing and welcomed interest in local, crafted, individualized products and service providers.  I, of course, couldn't be happier!  There is clearly a greater interest in value and quality.  Cheap, mass produced products are less satisfying and seem almost cartoon-like now.  The process of finding locally made/grown/provided products is gratifying in and of itself. The exclusivity of a hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind product appeals to something deeper in us.  An interaction and relationship with a person who actually makes something - boutique winemaker, jewelry designer, artisan baker - draws us.  As a designer and creator of products that each hold a little bit of me in each of them, I am gratified by this shift.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

JuJu Video

A few posts down I wrote about this new company and product called JuJu, jewelry for your furniture.  This is the brain child of Patricia Chrisley and Sheryl Bryan, who were kind enough to ask me to be their designer.  It was an incredibly fun project and I am excited about the next season of designs that we are starting work on.  Meanwhile they produced a short video of the launch at highpointMARKET....

Monday, May 04, 2009

Peace through Music

Artistic collaborations are wonderfully rewarding and they result in something so unique and inspiring.  Playing for Change is an extraordinary and inspiring musical collaboration.  Mark Johnson and a crew traveled the world recording fabulous street artists performing the same songs.  By letting each artist hear the other artist's recording and perform "with" the other artists they created virtual performances of these artists playing together.  These musicians never met... they were never even in the same place.  Recorded on five continents, these soundtracks are amazing in and of themselves. What makes it all the more amazing is the wonderfully produced video of the artists performing and the environments in which they sing (these guys are filmmakers so the video is fabulous). 

This is from their website:

Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. The idea for this project arose from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. No matter whether people come from different geographic, political, economic, spiritual or ideological backgrounds, music has the universal power to transcend and unite us as one human race. And with this truth firmly fixed in our minds, we set out to share it with the world.

Click on their logo below and you will be linked to their website...watch them all and be inspired and entertained!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

jewelry for you AND your home!

In a few days the Spring highpointMARKET starts. As always I will be at Suites at Market Square (M-320) with a large collection of new necklaces, earrings, bracelets, cufflinks and (new!) brooches. Stop by and shop - all wholesale prices and no minimum!

For the past year-plus I have had the pleasure of working with two very innovative women, Sheryl Bryan and Patricia Chrisley, on the launch of their new company, JuJu. They are offering a fabulous new product - jewelry for your home! Beautiful gem encrusted ornaments that you can drape over a headboard (or on an armoire, or mantel, or...anywhere) to add a gorgeous detail and focal point to a room. These pieces are encrusted with pearls, amethyst, garnets, turquoise...and are punctuated with carved pieces of jade and cinnebar. They are covered in hammered metals and lucious metallic printed leather.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working on these designs and with the fabulous team that Patricia and Sheryl have pulled together. Hopefully you will see my signature on these pieces. I am certain that if you enjoy my jewelry you will enjoy these JuJus! These pieces are all individually produced and hand- made in the USA.

Their website is www.myjujustyle.com and they have a facebook page (become a fan!). They will be at highpointMARKET at Villas at Showplace, space 1101. So definitely stop by and see this exciting new product.

Meanwhile, here are a few photos.

This last photo is of a pair of curtain tie-backs with a hammered copper center (don't they look like cufflinks?). These are the result of an exciting design collaboration with Lyn Hurst of Lyn Hurst Designs. In addition to the JuJu furniture jewelry pieces, JuJu is offering a coordinated collection of headboards, cornices and tie-backs -- all jewelry-inspired and gemstone encrusted!

Really folks, these things are beautiful so if you are in High Point stop by Villas at Showplace, or just keep track of this on the web, on my blog, and in the inevitable media coverage.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Journey to a Million Buddhas

I have just returned from a wonderful trip through southeast Asia and thought I would share some of my experiences. In some ways it is a foreign and far-away place, and in other ways travel there reminds us how small a world it really is!

I was particularly focused on spending some time with some of the ethnic minorities in northern Vietnam. Many of these hill tribes are famous for their silver work, and I have incorporated some of their jewelry components into my jewelry. So, we took a night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai on the Chinese border, and then rode for an hour up the mountains to Sapa (switch backs, dense fog, single lane with on-coming traffic - I really wondered if we would survive this!). From Sapa we trekked to Lao Chai, a Black Hmong ethnic minority village. From Lao Chai we trekked to Tavan, where the Giay ethnic minority hill tribe lives. Along the way we were joined by some of the ethnic minority women (wanting to sell their needlework and silverwork to us). Here you see us with our Northface backpacks next to some of the Hmong women carrying their basket "backpacks" and babies strapped on with blankets.

We spent most of the trip in Vietnam. First let me dispell any notions that you may have about the Vietnamese having bad feelings toward Americans. While the older Vietnamese don't want to talk about the war (they call it the American war), the Vietnamese in general have a particular affinity for Americans. They love Americans. In his wonderful book titled "Vietnam Now", author David Lamb says about the relationship between Vietnam and America: "...Americans and Vietnamese share an almost inexplicable bond. It is not the bond of natural friendship that Americans might feel for, say, Australians...rather it is something deeper and more mysterious. It is a liaison woven in tragedy and common suffering...perhaps as much as anything, the bond is rooted in the realization that the war changed the United States as much as it did Vietnam"

Now Vietnam is a country on a rising arc of development, with juxtapostions of old and new. Old women wearing their conical hats squat on the street and sell fruit and food. At the same time, whirling around them are millions of motor bikes and young Vietnamese on cell phones. More than two thirds of this country was born after 1975 and they are full of energy and drive.

By comparison our time in Laos was calm and quiet. Vietnam has a population of 85 million, Laos on the other hand, 5.5 million. Overall I called this trip "The Journey to a Million Buddhas", because I think I may have seen that many while visiting the multitude of Buddhist temples.

In Luang Prabang, Laos we had a guide who had spent over a decade as a monk, and is now a guide and teacher of meditation. As he brought us through the National Museum I commented on the spectacular silver pieces on exhibit from the last Royal reign which ended in 1975. He told me that this silversmith was still alive and had a studio in Luang Prabang. I asked if he could take me to see him, and in no time we were at the elder Thitpheng Maniphone's studio and shop. Thitpheng Maniphone had been the royal silversmith, reputed to have made many of the beautiful items in the National Museum, including the King's crown. The master, along with a number of assistants, were busy making silver vessels for Buddhist offerings. The entire vessel is decorated using the techniques of repoussé and chasing. This is a technique where the metal is decorated by hammering from the inside (repoussé) and outside (chasing). While repoussé is used to work on the reverse of the metal to form a raised design, chasing is used to refine the design on the front of the work by sinking the metal. It was truly awe inspiring to stand and watch him work. Here are a few photos:

This trip was enormously rewarding, challenging and curious. I enjoyed time with my family, and met interesting people along the way.

We trekked among the rice paddies...

and climbed to beautiful waterfalls...

We ate street food...

We traveled on planes, trains and boats...here on beautiful Halong Bay...

Vietnam is a country full of promise, filled with people who are hard working and industrious. Unfortunately there is still grinding poverty, disease and many undeveloped ways. But since the Doi Moi (the government's free market reforms) everyone is an entrepreneur of sorts and with this the standard of living is rising, albeit slowly. I was happy to see that so many artisans are relying on their skills to make a living. While there are factories going up, and most Vietnamese are farmers, there is still a great pride among these artisans that they are able to use their craft to support themselves and their families. I will close with pictures of various artisans - weavers, potters, silversmith, wood carver. They were truly inspiring.