Following article written for aboutri.com
Magical Artistry from a Talented Wizard
A Look into the World of Jewelry Designer
By G. Spencer Berger
Dungeon. Albino frogs. An ordered chaos of fascinating things.
This is the world of Susan Sarantos — goldsmith, artist,
Well, not really a dungeon. But that’s how she describes
her basement studio in a lovely Victorian house in Newport,
Rhode Island. “A lot of jewelers work in basements,” she
tells me. “If you try to look for a space, the oxygen
and propane throw people off.”
Another contributing factor to the dungeon-effect is that
she works at night. “My work day starts as soon as I
wake up, at about 11 a.m.,” she tells me. “I work
until I fall asleep. Three o’clock in the morning is
good, but sometimes I work until six. It’s nice and quiet
“Have you always been that way?” I want to know.
And, I can tell you for a fact that she has a tank of albino
frogs. I saw them. They’re cool.
“Yes,” she replies. “I remember when I had
to wake up to go to school. I’d have to set two clocks,
one right next to my bed to wake me up and one across the room
so I would physically have to get out of the bed and turn it
off. Otherwise, I would just shut off the one next to my bed
and go back to sleep. I was always late for school.”
Sarantos started making jewelry when she was seven years old,
and she was selling to stores when she was ten. Except for
a brief period when she was 16 or 17 and wanted to be an airplane
pilot, she always wanted to make jewelry. “I consider
myself one of those lucky few who have always known what they
wanted to do,” she tells me.
When I ask her about the inspiration for ideas, she gets up
from her chair and walks over to one of the porch columns that
is heavily covered with vines. She breaks off a section — dry,
gnarly and twisted — and wraps it around her neck. “I
see a pattern of shadows and light,” she says.
“How does that translate into jewelry and do you automatically
see it in terms of the type of metal that you would be working
in and perhaps the stones that you would use?” I want
“It triggers a design,” she replies. “See,” as
she plays with the vine around her neck, “instant necklace.
You can change things. You could do a really expensive piece
with gold and precious gemstones, or you could do silver with
feathers and glass. But the basic idea is there. I don’t
think automatically, ‘Oh, that would be great in silver,
“Do you have a favorite piece?” I ask.
“Yes. I didn’t want to give them back to her when
I was done,” she tells me with her signature expression
of delight — sort of a half-giggle, half-laugh. Her favorite
piece is a pair of earrings. She was commissioned to make them
for this woman who had brought her a whole bunch of orange
Mexican opals. “I made them in 18K gold,” she says. “They
were about two inches long with nine opals on each bezel-set.
They were so nice.
I did give them to her,” she adds.
“Why is that your favorite piece?” I want to know.
“There was,” she explains, “ just something
about them — the combination of the color and the stones
and the way they felt when they were on. I always think about
them when I think about my work.”
“How did you grow in terms of the type of work you were
doing?” I ask.
“I got a lot of magazines — jewelry-type, ornament,
metalsmith magazines,” Sarantos tells me, “and
I joined some jewelry organizations.” She is a member
of MJSA [Manufacturing Jewelers Suppliers of America], of SNAG
[Society of North American Goldsmiths], and of ASJH [American
Society of Jewelry Historians]. She did a lot of volunteer
work for SNAG, including serving on their Board of Directors.
As a sole proprietor, the value of these organizations is that
they have conferences and trade shows where she can get supplies,
connect with people and attend lectures and workshops.
“Who’s your clientele?” I ask.
“All different kinds of people,” she replies. “Anybody
who needs jewelry. If I’m walking down the street and
people know that I make jewelry, they chase after me. My best
advertising is wearing my jewelry.”
“What,” I ask, “is your work process?
“First,” she tells me, “I just write the
idea down because I’ll forget about that right away.
Then I’ll do some sketches. I have notebooks, and I have
saved them over the years. I ripped them apart, and after going
through years of notebooks and organizing them I realized that
I had certain theories and themes that I had been working on.
My drawing skills have improved. Or, the materials I have used
in the design have improved. So, it was just kind of interesting.
For instance, I have this ‘eye’ theme. I want to
do a show, and I’m going to call it ‘Surreal Vision.’ I’ve
been collecting stones, gemstones and rocks, anything shaped
like an eyeball, eye shape, and I want to incorporate that
into jewelry and have a show.
Probably a virtual show on the internet,” she continues.
Instead of having pieces in a real gallery, I would have a
virtual exhibition right on my website. I can show the process
of working on a piece and then the finished piece. I can have
someone modeling it and walking around with it.”
I ask, “Are you going to design the website?”
“Yes,” she replies, “I’ll do the website
and the jewelry.
“So, let’s continue the process,” I suggest. “You
have the idea. You write it down and make a little sketch.
What happens then?”
Sarantos explains that it depends on what mood she’s
in and that she has different phases that she goes through. “I
keep the sketchbooks,” she says, “so that when
I am looking for things that I feel like working on, I’ll
just zip through them and go ‘Oh, that looks like it’ll
be fun to work on.’ Then I make a version of whatever
is in the sketchbook. I create the piece, clean it up, take
a picture of it and sell it.”
“Is there a professional accreditation for you as a
jeweler?” I ask.
She replies, “They have a Masters Bench Program, which
just came out recently. A lot of metalsmiths are, like, ‘Who
needs that? Look at my work, and you can tell whether I can
make the stuff or not.’ That’s for people who are
looking for jobs in stores.”
Sarantos did not go to school to learn how to become a jeweler.
Instead, she focused on areas of interest. Early in her career
she apprenticed with a local jeweler. She studied silversmithing
with Corky Ackman and attended workshops, including a Photoetching
Workshop with Eleanor Moty & Anne Krohn Graham at the University
of Delaware, an Enameling Workshop with Rebekah Laskin at Penland
School, North Carolina, a Jewelry Design Rendering Workshop
with Sharon Church at Skidmore College. She studied Jewelry
Design Rendering Techniques with Sandra Boucher and with Omar
Torres at FIT New York [The Fashion Institute of Technology],
and a Surface Techniques on Precious Metals Workshop with Harold
O’Connor in Peter’s Valley, NY.
Her work has been featured in numerous galleries and exhibitions
as well as publications. She has lectured locally at the Newport
Art Museum and the Providence Art Club. In 2000, she delivered
her lecture ‘The Seven Phases of Creativity’ at
the Kraftwerks Symposium in Ontario, California. Sarantos is
the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Vision
Award from MJSA, the Ponte d’Oro Design Competition -
Italy, the 13th International Pearl Design Contest – Japan,
and the Spectrum Award from the American Gem Trade Association.
One of her designs is in the permanent collection of Oro d’Autore,
a museum in Arezzo, Italy.
“How do you market yourself?” I want to know.
Sarantos tells me that she is pushing her websites now. “I
used to be in galleries,” she tells me, “doing
consignment work across the country. When you do consignment,
you’re making the piece, putting it out there at your
expense, and it’s sitting in someone’s store or
gallery until it sells. They take their cut and wait 30-60
days to pay you after it sells. You’re tying up a lot
of money. Also, they don’t always sell your things. Sometimes
they use the consignment work just to fill up the gallery.
Then they push their own stuff. It just looks more impressive,
but they’ll only sell their things.
I’ve got http://www.sarantos.com, which is my jewelry
website.” She had metalsmithing information on this site,
but that started taking over so she decided to set up a new
one, http://www.metalcyberspace.com, just for industry information.
Another site of Susan's you might be interested in is http://www.newportbytes.com
which provides a contemporary and historical coverage of Newport,
RI with an artistic slant.
The industry information website is international in scope.
Sarantos has created a listing from A-Z of all the artists.
She says, “I ask people if they know somebody, or if
they should be on the list. Contact me, and I will put their
information on the website. I’ve been getting inquiries
from Sweden, Russia, Italy and France. It’s incredible.
I have metalsmiths, museums and galleries listed. I am going
to have interactive metalsmithing studios where you can go
into the room, click on something and it will tell you how
to use the piece of equipment. It’s going to be huge.
I have always connected people together and networked.”
I ask about her tools and equipment.
“An Ultrasonic cleaning system is a key component,” she
tells me. “You fill it with water and a soapy solution,
and it just vibrates the dirt off of the jewelry. Also, torches — I
use oxygen and propane for welding and soldering. Then a polishing
machine for polishing everything. Another key piece of equipment
is a motorized flexible shaft that I can use to drill and grind
and polish things. You can also engrave with it. It’s
really versatile and saves a lot of time. Also, I have a jeweler’s
bench. It’s set up so that I can do my soldering. It
has a tray that pulls out over my lap so that when I am working
all the dust and filings can collect. I save those, turn them
into a refiner, and get money back. They are called ‘jewelry
sweeps.’ Anvils, too. I have a huge tree stump with an
anvil on it. I do a lot of the forging techniques with hammers.”
Recalling her interest in being an airplane pilot, I asked
this successful goldsmith, artist, jewelry designer if she
had been really serious about it.
Sarantos replies, “Well, I was too young to take classes.” This
was back in the ‘70’s when there were numerous
hijackings. She decided that becoming a jeweler was a better — as
well as safer — choice.
“How did you segue from airplanes to jewelry?” I
want to know.
“Well,” she replies, “I always did the jewelry,
but I thought that I had to have something serious for a career.
I didn’t think of jewelry as a career because I liked
doing it. It just didn’t seem like you were supposed
to really like what you do.”