Music Feature

Insider Out: Jonathan Wahl

by Juliet De Rose
Tyler jeweler goes from Ambler to Manhattan
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Growing up in Ambler, Pennsylvania Jonathan Wahl was inspired by the rich historic nature surrounding him. After channeling his aesthetic at Temple’s Tyler School of Art and doing various stints overseas, Wahl moved to NYC where, along with winning a handful of awards and featuring his work at various exhibits, he was named one of the top 10 jewelers to watch by W Jewelry in 2006. Currently, Wahl teaches jewelry/metalsmithing at the 92nd Street Y and works on his designs at his home in Brooklyn.

Describe your collections and who or what influenced them.
My jewelry was initially inspired by Greek and Roman intaglios and cameos reset in the 19th century. The Rock Crystal Line was an attempt to make a contemporary version of those ancient/ antique pieces.

What type of medium do you use to create your rings, cufflinks and pendants?

I use gold, sterling silver, enamel, rock crystal and semi-precious stones.

Jewelry spans the bridge between fashion and architectural design. Do you think of your designs as fashion or art?
I am also a sculptor and my work for a long time was partially about how we classify objects.  It recently returned to that theme with my larger, highly rendered, charcoal drawings of Victorian jet mourning jewelry. The Metropolitan Museum of Art just bought one and the MFA Houston bought two. I try not to think of my jewelry either way but what I can say is that I don't try to make my jewelry "art" and I find there is a difference in how one comes to an object depending on what scale it is.

Where do you go to get inspired?
Funny thing, I got inspired this morning on the subway by a Barnes and Noble plastic bag. I guess it happens anywhere but mostly when I am somewhat distracted like driving or riding the subway; my brain goes on autopilot.

It seems like your pieces are mostly inspired by animals and other elements of nature; they’re simplistic and resonate with an older era. How do you maintain modernity within your pieces?
Living through the '80s I have come to realize the true meaning of "out of style" but who knew the '80s would come back with such a vengeance. I really am a fan of the classic “something” that you could wear through all the decades of your life, pass on to someone and have it still be relevant and not "vintage."

You’re a designer but you’re also a teacher. Describe how both roles complement or contrast with each other.
I am not sure that for me they relate too much. I guess the most interesting thing is that jewelry technique never changes: a good setting is a good setting and a high polish is a high polish or not.

How did studying in Philadelphia influence you as a designer and contribute to your growth?
Oh, my beloved Philadelphia! I grew up in an old house surrounded by old things; George Washington slept around the corner. My mother took us to see the reenactment of the battle of Germantown in 1776.  How could I escape the influence of history here? To this day, I read the driest books on history you can find.

Was it ever an option for you to design for a big name label?

I thought about it as a student at Tyler School of Art. I thought that was my destiny but I quickly realized that I needed more control and to make my own decisions for good or bad.

Where are your designs available?

In Philadelphia, you can find my work at Egan Day and in NYC at De Vera in SoHo.

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