Jewelry artist Andrea Gutierrez is known for her intricate beaded cuffs, but she hopes people will appreciate them as more than just pretty objects. Over 100 hours of work go into each piece, and Andrea sees them as mini works of art than can be worn. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about her inspirations, her design process, and her hopes for the future of jewelry. Read the episode transcript below.

Sharon:   Welcome to the Jewelry Journey. Today, my guest is jewelry artist Andrea Gutierrez, who specializes in making one-of-a-kind, intricate beaded cuffs as well as creating pieces in gold and silver. Today, she’ll tell us all about her jewelry journey. Andrea, welcome to the program.

Andrea:   Thank you, Sharon. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Sharon:   So glad to have you. Can you tell us about your jewelry journey? Did you like jewelry when you were young? How did you come to it?

Andrea:   I’ve always loved jewelry, and I had a mother who loved jewelry. Growing up overseas, we would often—well, almost every other weekend—go to some kind of wonderful, marvelous flea market and my mother would find the treasures and teach me about them. Mostly when I was smaller, it was the history and the stories behind the jewelry that were so intriguing, and eventually as I got older, it was also the design and the textures and all of that.

Sharon:   What a fabulous way to grow up. Where were you living overseas?

Andrea:   We lived in many places. I mostly grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, but we lived in Spain and Greece and in Europe and in the Mediterranean, I guess those countries. We also lived in South Africa and ended up in Switzerland, and that’s where I spent most of my growing up.

Sharon:   Wow! They must have been some fabulous markets.

Andrea:   Yes.

Sharon:   I envy you just hearing about it. So, you were interested in the history; it wasn’t so much that you were putting it on and trying it on. Is that how it was?

Andrea:   We tried it on. Of course, when you’re talking to vendors at flea markets, there’s always some story that goes with everything. In those years—this was quite a long time ago—a lot of the vendors knew the provenance of the pieces. They weren’t diamonds and rubies and fabulous pieces or fine jewelry in that sense. They were really interesting, intricate, handmade pieces, and I loved the history of where they came from, the people who had owned them. That, to me, was very intriguing as a child because I love history.

Sharon:   It probably also taught you the importance of being able to tell a story about something in order to sell it.

Andrea:   Absolutely. It took the value of the piece and made it more human.

Sharon:   And that’s so attractive. How do you describe yourself and your work? Your cuffs are just amazing.

Andrea:   Thank you. I call myself these days a jewelry artist, as opposed to a jewelry designer, even though I do design pieces. I feel that my true love is in creating the cuffs, the embroidery, the designing of those. I also work in so many different mediums, which has been a detriment in terms of my commercial viability. So, I thought, “O.K., I’m not a commercial jewelry designer; I’m actually a jewelry artist.”

Sharon:   By the way, to everybody listening, we’ll have pictures of the fabulous work that Andrea has done when we post the podcast, and you can see her work on Instagram. I’m sure it’s on social media. Instagram is what I’m usually on. How did you get into making those cuffs?

Andrea:   I was taught as a child how to embroider, and that’s been my passion. Textiles and embroidery and beads have always been a passion of mine for many years. I started my adult career making handmade and hand-painted gift enclosures. From that, it went into textiles, and then I started beading huge pieces of fabric for clients, and we would make them into throat collars, home-decorative-type things. I had a client in Malibu. One day I was showing her her pieces, and she grabbed it and said, “I want this on my wrist,” and I said, “What a brilliant idea.” From there, I started making the cuffs. It was just serendipitous.

Sharon:   Do you process in ink? Do you draw it all out first, or does a design come to you as you do it?

Andrea:   The initial cuffs that are abstract, I would be inspired by color and texture, and I never did anything. I would just lay out all the colors and beads and they would tell me what to do. That sounds kind of crazy, but that’s what happened. As I’ve gotten back into embroidery in the last 18 months, I do draw out the sections I embroider with thread, but the beading is always freehand. It just tells me.

Sharon:   And the beads are antique beads?

Andrea:   The beads are antique and vintage. I have been collecting them for decades. I also take apart old handbags going back to the 1800s—they’re usually damaged; I don’t like to take apart ones that aren’t damaged—and old clothing and cull the beads from those pieces. It’s a long process in terms of accessing the materials to make the cuffs.

Sharon:   Are you still at vintage markets and flea markets looking for things you can take apart?

Andrea:   Yes, actually. I have a mother who lives in Boise, Idaho who goes to estate sales all the time and finds wonderful treasures. I found that usually in big cities like Los Angeles, the prices are so outrageous it doesn’t make sense for me to do it. But whenever I’m anywhere where there’s a market or a possibility of a flea market, anything like that, I’m always looking, definitely.

Sharon:   I think between eBay and Antiques Roads Show, there are no bargains, because everybody knows what the value is, and they research the value. What inspires your work? Where do you get your ideas from?

Andrea:   I have to say there was a movie a while back called—now I’m not going to remember it—but it was about a mathematician, and he saw the world in numbers. I see the world in texture and color and shape and light, so it’s everything I look at. I can be walking down the street, and I’ll see a shape on the sidewalk or a gray color or something, anything, and I’m like, “Oh, I want to work in those colors.” It sits with me. I’m inspired by the world and everything. It sounds silly, but it’s true.

Sharon:   It doesn’t sound silly. It sounds like, wow, your head must be spinning as you’re looking at things. How long does each cuff take? It must take a long time.

Andrea:   They do take a long time. From start to finish, including the times I tear things out and start over, I would say each cuff takes a minimum of four weeks. I think the longest I’ve ever worked on anything is actually five months.

Sharon:   How many hours would you guess a cuff takes?

Andrea:   Over a hundred.

Sharon:   Wow!

Andrea:   Now that I’m doing these with embroidery, there’s more labor in them, because the embroidery is a whole process, obviously.

Sharon:   How are they fastened? We can’t see in the pictures. Is it a snap?

Andrea:   No, I design and cast a clasp for them. It’s a silver or gold clasp, and it can be set with stones or not. There are two versions. One is very large and—what’s the word—it’s not unwieldy, but it’s bold. The other one is the same clasp but a slimmer version of it. I’ll send you a picture of the clasp, because people love the clasp, too, which is nice. I’m glad they do. It’s kind of rough looking.

Sharon:   You designed it and had it cast?

Andrea:   Yes. When I first started, I spent a year looking for something and I couldn’t find anything. Then I thought, “This is silly, to put this much effort and time and love in a piece and not have it be finished by something you’ve designed that speaks to the same aesthetic.”

Sharon:   That makes a lot of sense. Your other jewelry you do, the pearls and silver and gold, it has that ancient feel, like Roman coins, the look of antiquity. Where’s that coming from? A love of history?

Andrea:   I think so. I did spend, as a young person, many years in Greece. I work with a woman who makes the waxes. She is the sculpturess and then I tinker, but I always say to her—it’s a joke between us now— “Make it look like you just dug it up at an archaeological dig.” I don’t like perfection and I don’t want smooth. I really like—I don’t know what the word—an ancient look to it.

Sharon:   So, you design it and she casts it?

Andrea:   I do drawings and then I take it to my wax lady. She interprets my drawings and she and work together on it, move this, change this, whatever the changes are. Then, I have a wonderful jeweler by the name of Evelyn Armine, who has recently relocated to Arizona from California. She is not just a technician in terms of being a jeweler, but she’s also an artist. She really understands how to—she doesn’t just cast and set a stone. I don’t know how to explain it very well, but she has an eye for both the technical and for the art side of it. She’s extraordinary, and I’ve worked with her now for five years and continue to. I don’t care where she moves; I’m following her.

Sharon:   What is her role in the process? I’m not sure I understand that.

Andrea:   I will send her a wax, say of a ring, and she will cast it. Then I’ll say, “I think I want to finish it with this.” We talk it out and she gets it, so she’ll say, “Well, what if you do this?” I know I’m being very vague; I’m trying not to be. In terms of texture, she’ll have suggestions that are very helpful, as opposed to when I worked with people downtown. They didn’t care about the piece. They didn’t see the piece. They just put it in the caster. They cast it, they handed it to me and it was over. She looks at the whole piece. I don’t know if that’s clear or not.

Sharon:   Yeah, I think it is. She looks at what you’re trying to achieve.

Andrea:   Yes, she gets it. She’ll say, “Andrea, what if you do this?” and many times I’ll go, “Oh, that’s a great idea. Yes, put that texture there and don’t p3ut this.” We work together. There’s a symbiotic relationship, I guess you’d call it.

Sharon:   Do you get tired of working on a cuff and say, “O.K., now I’m going to do some silver and gold”? How do you transition from one to the other? What prompts you to do that?

Andrea:   Well, I think I have a mental illness. I’m constantly moving. I’m never tired of anything. Honestly, if I had the capability or ability, I would be making so much more. I love making the cuffs. It’s my meditation. It’s my joy. I love everything else, too, but the cuffs I have complete control over. The other things I don’t. I just go back and forth. I’ll be making a cuff, and some idea will come in my head and I’ll go, “Oh, I’ve got to make that earring,” so I switch and do that for a little bit, or do both at the same time. I’ll work on two or three different things at the same time, different hours of the day.

Sharon:   It sounds like you’re busy. You’re talking about how you see the world. As I’m saying, your head must be so full of ideas. It takes so long to do a cuff, and you’re thinking about 20 other things you want to do at the same time.

Andrea:   Yes, sometimes it makes me a little crazy. I’ve never done this before, but recently I started working on two or three different cuffs and have been able to rotate through them. I don’t ever get sick of working on anything, but I’m attracted to different things at different times. Then I’ll say, “Oh, less work today.” I don’t know. I’m cranky about work.

Sharon:   How do customers find you? Is it the other people wearing the cuffs, or do they see it on social media?

Andrea:   It’s usually word of mouth and social media. That’s the most difficult and slowest way to grow a business, so don’t anybody do it. No, I’m just kidding. That’s it, word of mouth and social media.

Sharon:   In a sense everybody grows their business that way. Social media is new, but word of mouth, seeing somebody wear it and thinking, “Oh my God, where did you get that?” has always been around.

Andrea:   Yeah.

Sharon:   What else would you like us to know about your business and your work?

Andrea:   Oh, dear.

Sharon:   Or, where would you like to take your business from here? What vision do you have?

Andrea:   I would like to have a business where I can continue doing the cuffs on a grander scale. I’m working on a body of work now, a new collection that I’m hoping to get in a gallery, and I don’t mean a jewelry gallery; I mean an actual art gallery. I’m working on this now, and I want to present the cuffs as little works of art.

Sharon:   They are. They definitely are.

Andrea:   Thank you. That’s how I look at them, to be framed in a minimal way, or you could take it and wear it as a cuff. Part of what’s difficult with the cuffs is that people absolutely love them. I’ve never had anyone come to look at them and go, “Oh yeah, not really,” and walk away. They always are happy because they can feel it and see it in real life, but getting people who own art galleries to stop long enough to pay attention to the work and how they could be shown as art is a huge challenge, especially in the world we live in right now. I don’t mean COVID. I mean everything’s so fast; everything’s mass-produced; everything is fast, fast, fast. This is what art is; this is not what art is. That’s been a challenge for me, trying to find my place in the world with my jewelry. I don’t fit, which is what I’ve been told repeatedly. I don’t want to be negative at all, because I’ve also had great experiences. It’s a big challenge. The jewelry world is a challenge. So, I’m trying to move into art, is what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to move it out of the jewelry world and more into the art world.

Sharon:   That is a challenge, moving into the art world, because the art world only sees art. From what I’ve seen, they don’t understand there’s so much jewelry that is art.

Andrea:   Yes. I think in Europe they get it. I think on the East Coast there’s more of an understanding, and in Asia because they understand textiles and they have for a long time. I do see a lot of people doing embroidery now. I’m hopeful, and we’ll see now with Covid where we are in the world.

Sharon:   Right, yeah. That remains to be seen.

Andrea:   Exactly.

Sharon:   I think you’re right. I’m thinking of the world of art jewelry, but on the West Coast, the bling is really what sells. It’s the bling; it’s not so much the artistry or the love that went into it. It’s the bling that everybody’s looking for, which doesn’t attract me, but that’s what the West Coast, especially Los Angeles, is.

Andrea:   Yes, absolutely. It’s the bling. It’s the trend. I think part of the problem with social media is that everything is fast. It is constantly, every two seconds, giving people so much information. I sort of pulled back and thought, “I’m not going to pander to this anymore.” People don’t understand the mastery of a craft and they don’t care, it feels like sometimes. No one wants to stop long enough to pay attention to what actually went into something, that it took 25 years, 30 years to learn how to do it at a certain level. I think that’s, unfortunately, a cultural thing across the country, but there are areas that still get it. I’m not art jewelry, either. People are always saying, “Well, it’s not really art jewelry,” and I’m like, “O.K., what is it?”

Sharon:   When somebody can come up with a definition of art jewelry, that would be great. It can be whatever anybody calls it. I’m on Instagram. You do post there fairly frequently.

Andrea:   I do. I go back and forth with my love/hate relationship with social media, but that’s where I have access to people that purchase the work and want to come see it. If I could, I would probably have a little cottage somewhere and just do the work and have somebody else do everything else.

Sharon:   That’s how many, many jewelers and artists and makers feel. They didn’t get into this to run a business. I understand that. I think your work is beautiful, but those cuffs, to me, are flabbergastingly amazing.

Andrea:   Oh, thank you. That’s my passion. I’ve been around for a long time, and I remember the years back when I used to go to New York and sell. What I miss the most is that back in the good old days—I sound like I’m 85 years old, but I’m almost 85—

Sharon:   Hardly.

Andrea:   People pay attention differently; that’s all. It’s a different thing. It’s a different world we live in, but that’s fine.

Sharon:   I think everybody has such a short attention span today. It’s so hard to focus. Anyway, we all wish you the best. I’ll keep my eyes on your beautiful work on social media. To everybody listening, that’s it for the Jewelry Journey today. Remember, we’ll post some of Andrea’s work along with the podcast. Please join us next time, when there will be another jewelry industry insider who can share their experience and expertise. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Thank you so much for listening.