Pure materials, Pure workmanship, Pure perfection.
I suppose that, as is the case with most endeavors, there is the easy / fast way to get something done, and then there is the right way.
You could say that Jack Walker, a life-long jewelry artisan of the Tetons, has made a career for himself – getting it done right. There is nothing easy about what he undertakes. The painstaking efforts, both physical and mental, that go into each of his works, is astounding. I watched in awe as Jack pounded the crap out of a 3” square silver brick, the vibrations from which traveled through his anvil, across the floor, and up my spine. Pound, torch, quench, repeat. In fact, he was only just getting started, in what would turn out to be a day-long endeavor to fashion one single piece of his amazing work.
Frankly, it would be easier (and cheaper) to use a lower purity silver in his works, or to use ready-made silver bars. But unless you want Jack putting your hand on his anvil and pounding your fingers until they resemble emery boards, don’t even float such a suggestion. No. Jack will only use pure 99.9% silver that he then melts, with just the right amount of copper ingot, to arrive at his own perfected formula for the finest silver, for use in fashioning his works of art. Jack stands by his conviction that, if not for his patient hand forged techniques, the jewelry would just not look the same. He is right! The hand hammered effect gives a unique quality that machine formed could never mimic.
Walking into Jack’s studio was a bit of a shock (in a very good way). I had been fully expecting to see an array of modern machinery, and every imaginable mechanical apparatus, such as electric grinders, polishing wheels, gas forges, perhaps a lathe or two. (Why not? The guy is a well renowned artist. Ralph Lauren cannot keep his merchandize on their shelves). But, No. Jack’s studio is that of a man who works with his hands. Had it not been for the electric light bulbs hanging from the ceiling this shop might have been that of an 18thcentury artisan. Anvils, huge hammers, files, and a mind blowing assortment of metal stamps, make up his tools of the trade.
Years ago, as a collector of antiques, Jack traveled throughout the Southwest and spent a lot of time working with dealers from the Native American tribes in New Mexico. It was common for the tribe members, who raised sheep, to trade their wool for Silver Dollars. They often melted those silver coins to fashion jewelry. Jack became fascinated by their workmanship, and tooling of the pieces, and made the decision to train himself in this art form.
Later, a chance encounter with a buyer from Ralph Lauren, that is almost too good to believe, set Jack on a course that would change his career trajectory. OK. I have to tell it. He was parked along-side the road, and a guy walks over to ask him for directions. In the course of the conversation the guy sees some of Jack’s jewelry in the back of the van. Impressed by what he sees, he inquires further. One thing leads to another, and today Ralph Lauren carries Jack’s works in many of his Double RL stores, and sells the pieces faster than Jack can make them. Kid Rock and Bruce Springsteen are among his many admirers. It was reported that “The Boss” snapped up the entire Walker collection from one RL Store.
His pieces are almost always Silver based, but often incorporate stones such as topaz or turquoise, as well as one of a kind leather straps. Just hearing Jack describe his lengthy process for treating leather to arrive at his signature vintage look, exhausted me. Then he finished by saying that whenever a customer returns an item, due to a strap eventually wearing away, he always replaces the strap at no cost. He rationalizes, “If a customer loves one of my pieces so much, that they select it for purchase, and then wears it so much that they ultimately wear away part of the leather, they deserve to have that complement to my work returned”.
It would be impossible not to leave Jack’s shop buoyed with optimism, and a renewed faith that our best efforts always bring us to our best selves.