Studio visit: jeweler Jonathan Corey

As a self-employed artisan, there is no such thing as a typical day.” - Jonathan Core

Jonathan Corey could be described as your quintessential New Brunswick artisan: a skilled craftsman, family man and outdoorsman all rolled into one. Jon creates a stunning variety of jewelry which is picked up wholesale by shops and by the public, both online and at craft shows. His pieces are recognizable by their simplicity and lustre, the clean lines showcasing the quality of the silver and the occasional peek of gold. He and his wife Jessica work as a team running Masterworks Jewelry out of their home studio/office in Hanwell, N.B., splitting time between the business and their two children.

Jon makes the bulk of the jewelry and Jessica takes care of the accounts, photography, shipping and anything to do with the Internet. Jon can send an email if he really has to, but admits that the business would be much smaller if it weren’t for his web-savvy wife! Apparently it is a match made in heaven because Masterworks has grown in quality and reputation, becoming a well-loved N.B. jewelry-maker.

When I visited Jon and Jessica on a sunny day in May, their welcome was as warm as the weather we were finally enjoying. We sat at the kitchen table to chat and figure out all the people we knew in common, Maritime-style, before heading downstairs for a tour of the studio and interview. Making jewelry and working to make the business a success important, but it was clear that family is central to Jon and Jessica. At one point during the interview, we heard the pitter-patter of little footsteps upstairs and a little voice to match them. Maya, their youngest daughter, had woken up from a nap. Jon smiled, stopped was he was saying and listened, wondering what she was up to. Later we went upstairs and they introduced me to her. She did the obligatory I’m-shy routine for a few minutes, but my favourite moment was when she rushed over and exclaimed, “Look at my pink jewelry box!” She then proceeded with great pride to show me her lovely plastic jewelry of all shades of purple and pink. The connection between her joy in her jewels and her parents’ life work was simple - there must be another jeweler in the family.

Jon’s studio reflected his personality: clean, methodical and everything in its place, a well-ordered space full of tools and gadgets accumulated over 16 years of making jewelry. Jon and Jessica walked me through the workspace, starting with the first room where the benchwork gets done, which is lined with three desks. Masterworks used to employ two full-time and one part-time employee, which explains the extra work stations. They had to downsize after the recession but the space is still useful as they can move from one project to another with ease. From there we went to the part of the studio where the “heavy lifting” of jewelry-making happens: the soldering room with its two hood vents.  A little farther in the polishing room they showed me various gadgets with obscure names that sound like super-heroes like “Ultrasonic”, “Rouge” and “Triple E”. There was also the tumbler, probably the noisiest machine known to man (or craftsmen at least). The tumbler is full of steel pellets, rods and saucers that run for hours and hours, polishing and refining pieces to a high-quality sheen. “It’s our white noise in the house” they said with a laugh.

 

When people ask you what you do, what do you say?

The short answer is, I am a self-employed jeweler and we design and manufacture jewelry, we sell to stores and to the public. I work mostly with sterling silver a little bit of gold, some precious and semi-precious stones.

How did you start making jewelry?

We guestimate that I’ve been making jewelry for about 16 years. (Yes, Jessica was already in the picture.) I did my training at the NBCCD under Brigitte Clavette and Ken Valen. I started doing shows with Brigitte in my second year and kept doing shows while building up my business. After I finished at the college, I worked for another jeweler for a year and a half while still building my business to the point where I could launch out on my own. I started working out of a small studio in a shared house on Palmer Street in Fredericton, but my roommates were a little too crazy for me with clients coming over. So we moved into a small house that was 12 feet wide! We set up the main studio in the living room and kitchen, the office was in the kitchen, and I took a window out to put in ventilation for soldering. We bought this house when I outgrew that space. It was funny because when we were looking for a house all we wanted to see was the basement so we could figure out if it would work for a studio space. Realtors just didn’t get it. This house is perfect, it has lots of living space upstairs and all the studio/workspace we need downstairs.

What does a typical day look like?

What a typical day should look like is wake up at a reasonable time, make my commute down here and work until lunch, have a quick lunch and work until suppertime. The reality is that there isn’t a typical day because we do all our own shipping and receiving, bookkeeping, website maintenance, etc. We are on the phone with suppliers and customers, we need to pack items, deal with customs and tracking numbers on shipments, etc. Also we have to maintain our equipment, which is starting to get to the age of breaking down and needing to be replaced. For example, today I’ve been to the post office, I’ve packaged up some products, answered emails… Our biggest challenge is managing our time.

Do you like working together?

Jessica: It is fun… (they grin at each other) but it has its moments!  I started out helping with shows, then I did some of the accounts, which worked well since I was a math teacher. My responsibilities just kept adding up over time and now I am full-time with Masterworks. I do all the product photography;I’ve rigged my own photobooth. Jewelry photography is really tricky because of how reflective the pieces are. I basically have to mask the whole camera or else you can see it, you can see me, you can see the whole room in the reflection.

Jon: There was one photo we thought was a success only to realize when the print came back that there seemed to be a bullet hole in the side of it. It was the camera lens, and when you looked closely you could see extension cords and other things in the room.

Jessica: I get excited when it’s a matte piece (she says with a laugh).

Give me a ball-park of the steps involved from making a piece beginning to end.

It all depends on the piece, but let’s say we were doing a high-polish ring, we would…(pause) I don’t know how many steps to leave out! We would cut the ring length, put the two ends together and solder it, pickle it, grind any solder off, form it to be perfectly round, go through 3-4 sanding grits on each surface, triple E, ultrasonic, rouge, ultrasonic, steam it in between each step... and then hopefully sell it!

You make a special line of jewelry called Mokume Gane. How did you get into that?

Mokume Gane is Japanese for wood-grain metal and it is made up of alternating layers of metal, for example layers of gold and silver.

When you twist it and carve into it, it creates different textures. Some people think it is painted on, but it goes all the way through.  I learned about it when I was at the NBCCD. They didn’t teach mokume gane but it was in our textbooks. I played around with it, but it is a very labour-intensive process and got away from it for several years. I eased back into it and started offering a very small selection of mokume gane products. We are starting to do more of it and I am constantly learning every time I work with a piece. We ship all over the United States, Canada and even got an order from France.

Check out how Mokume Gane is made

What is your favourite thing to make?

For a long time I really enjoyed making bracelets. Now I would say it would be the mokume gane rings.

What inspires your work?

I am inspired by architecture, found objects and nature. I like balance and symmetry in work as well. If you have a day off, what do you do?

In the springtime, as a family, we enjoy making maple syrup from trees in our backyard. We’ll go out and collect sap and boil it down on the weekend. In the summer, rock-climbing, hiking, working on our garden, in the winter we’d go skiing… There was a time when I could easily be away every single weekend doing something outside when it was nice. We are starting to be able to do more of that now as the kids are getting older. Also I’ve been trying to learn to weld on my own. I’ve made a couple furniture projects with wood and steel. It’s creative but it’s not work. I can just do it for myself.

To explore Jonathan's work, go to his CreatedHere bio page.