It was by happy surprise that we met Los Angeles-based jeweler and artist Ramsey Conder. While photographing his wife Beatrice Valenzuela for her On The Rocks feature, we were delighted to learn that her husband Ramsey made several of her beautiful rings. Ramsey, also a skilled clay modeler and surfer, is building a following for his custom wedding bands that he makes by hand in a workshop at the couple’s Echo Park home. He invited us into his warm, well-loved workspace where his technical mastery of his equipment is instantly apparent. He’s a true artisan in every sense of the word, and covers all aspects of the jewelry making process himself, from design to casting to molding. Below, Ramsey shares how he approaches mediums of art as a whole, how nature impacts his design, and some happy accidents along his journey.
“Before I ever thought about making any jewelry, I worked in the automotive design world sculpting cars. I spent eight hours a day, five days a week, carving and shaping clay until it became second nature. We built life-size car prototypes with clay so that there was always an opportunity to make changes. By the delivery deadline I had developed enough shapes to generate several cars. As you can imagine, I became pretty good at creating shapes.
I love how design and art can expose something in you that might not have been entirely clear until it’s sitting there present before you. It can really change your life. Being open to other mediums helps push my work in directions I wouldn’t normally go. At one point, I was trying to create the absence of light in my work. It was interesting at first, but it became a kind of monotone thought that I couldn’t resolve. Then one day I found light. I know it sounds silly, but for some reason I began obsessing over lamps and lighting designers. I dove deep into research and came out with some beautiful pieces that lit the bauhaus and shaped the look of lamps as we know them today. Once my obsession with lights subsided, I knew what direction to go in with my work.
For my first piece, I took a lost wax casting class with a friend at Barnsdall Park. I remember finishing a ring while listening to the instructor lecturing on how to make rings and feeling a bit of her annoyance. The ring was more of an experiment than something I’d call beautiful. It had texture on one side and a polish on the other, curved in a few different directions, and cast in silver.
My favorite thing to make currently is custom wedding bands. There is something to meeting a couple and providing a ring specifically for them that I love. It’s like entering into a snapshot of a really beautiful time in two peoples’ lives. I’ve also been working on a project with the love of my life, Beatrice Valenzuela. She is designing shoes and bags that I’m creating hardware for. It took us 12 years to get to this point of collaboration and we’re going to do a lot more together in the future.
My favorite part of the design process is the creation. The moment when I lose sense of time and ideas flow faster than I can keep up with. When I get the feeling of how great it is to be working wherever I am and begin to wonder why I don’t do this more often. The satisfaction. Many things inspire me. A cup of coffee in the morning at my house. I also love rising early and surfing. It’s great to watch the sun rise from the water. I recently bought a motorcycle for the dirt and I’ll meet some friends for rides in the mountains. I think I find most of my inspiration after I do something for myself.
One evening, I was working on a ring and my dog Coyote was hanging out with me curled up on the floor not paying much attention. I finished up the ring in wax and went to bed. When I woke the ring was gone. I found it later on the ground and was so mad because my dog found it in the night and chewed on it. Afterwards, I took a second look at the ruined ring and noticed some interesting and beautiful elements to it that weren’t there before. The ring became my first and only collaboration with my dog. It sold almost immediately to a woman who loves it and still wears it today.” –Ramsey Conder
Photography by The Stone Set.