Ann Wasserman crafts jewelry from gold, silver, freshly blown glass and stingray skin
Richly textured silver bracelets, smartly fashioned glass bead necklaces—the signature elements of Ann Wasserman’s handcrafted designs are unmistakable. From her tiny studio equipped with a digitally controlled kiln, tiny furnaces, and an arsenal of precision propane torches, Wasserman transforms glass and silver into handcrafted design elements. Using precious metals in a variety of innovative formats, she creates every aspect of her limited-edition jewelry, from the chains and toggle fastenings to cut, shaped, cast, patina’d and polished pendants, rings and ear ornaments. The results are sensuous and elegant, yet it looks like an unbelievable amount of fun, as I watch her demo a plump “tiger print” bead.
Building glass beads is all about temperature, twisting and twirling, and of course, having a trained aesthetic eye doesn’t hurt one bit. “The glass teaches you,” she says. She doesn’t stockpile beads, or sell them as individual items. “I’m not a bead maker, I’m a jewelry maker,” she explains. “I already have the entire piece in mind before I make it.” After a decade of working with glass, Wasserman has turned her focus to silver. “It’s more exciting,” she claims, “I’m a restless person. I have so many ideas coiled up, waiting to come into existence. I wanted to master silver.”
Inside her home studio—where the elements made in her fabrication lab are transformed into gleaming collections of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets—she shows me work featuring her glass beads and gemstone beads of amazonite and aquamarine. Many include her handcrafted elements—long, textured dangles or gold-leafed silver elements—in combination with freshwater pearls or antique glass elements. Combining gold and silver in a single piece of jewelry is her signature. Wasserman keeps a collection of rubber molds she’s made from reptile skins, leaf patterns, and tracings of ancient scrolls. “I’m inspired by patterns, especially patterns with texture.”
The work has a timeless, even ancient appearance, but in fact Wasserman uses many innovations, like atomized pure silver that has been powdered and mixed with a clay binder. “It’s called precious metal clay,” she says. After the piece is shaped, “the small amount of clay binder is burned out in the kiln, leaving a silver object with more silver content than even sterling.” The metals are almost infinitely malleable, and can change their appearance with polishing, burnishing, hammering, the addition of chemical patinas, or the overlay of 24-karat gold bonded onto the silver. Wasserman keeps track of what works and what doesn’t in spiral bound notebooks filled with details, dimensions and sketches of major pieces and collections. “So I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time,” she says.
Wasserman admits that the Open Studios Art Tour is her big venue. “And it is a great deadline motivator. I’m as busy as I want to be,” she says. Having made jewelry “almost every day for 15 years,” Wasserman should have no time for a real life. But she does. Somehow the co-founder and owner of the original India Joze, mother of two grown sons, and graduate of Washington University with a double degree in psychology and education, manages to tutor private students in math, whip up mega-batches of seasonal marmalades—a huge bowl of sliced kumquats await her touch—and look terrific wearing her own creations.
Like many of us, Wasserman came out to Santa Cruz on a road trip after college and never left. That was in the ’70s. You may recall her as the first woman behind the bar at the old Tea Cup, or the teacher of preschool and childbirth classes for two decades. The restless Wasserman kept growing and experimenting, and today her original jewelry designs can be found in fine galleries from Dallas to Seattle, as well as Capitola’s own Many Hands Gallery. Stingray skin translated into an opulent silver ring, old texts etched in gold leaf. A tiny golden bee upon a silver disk, pendants on long silver chains, gemstone rounds linked with sensitivity to scale and color. Ann Wasserman’s work is at once timeless and fresh. “I make new designs all the time—I always like to explore further.”
See more of Ann Wasserman’s work at annwassermanjewelry.com. PHOTO: Combining gold and silver in a single piece of jewelry is one of Ann Wasserman’s signatures. CHIP SCHEUER