autumn swisher

Last month, at Melee Tucson, I was approached by the editor-in-chief of UK's Gems and Jewellery magazine about a feature. I doubt they will publish the entire piece, but I wanted share it here, along with some portraits recently taken by Autumn Swisher.

Autumn is a talented jewelry and portrait photographer, and I would later come to find out, we are both alumnae of PNCA.a few years ahead of me, see more of her work at autumnswisher.com. Of course I had to ham it up, and wore my most romantic mesh top by ixdoxdeclare.

Now for the interview...
What is your name, and what is the name of your company (please include your position with the company)?

My given name is Morgaine Faye, after the sorceress from the Arthurian legends. I founded an eponymous jewelry line because my name is unique, and the aesthetics and themes of my work tie in to medieval history, storytelling, and the occult. I feel lucky to carry this name, and I am delighted that my work has taken me this direction. It feels quite like destiny.

In which part of the industry do you specialize?
How long have you been in business? How did your business get its start?

I wear many hats; I am the designer, fabricator, engraver, and stone setter for my line. My background is in the visual arts (painting & illustration) so the process of creation is central to my practice and what I enjoy the most.

Jewelry design is the perfect nexus of what draws me to art-making: it contains endless possibilities for storytelling, involves the mastery of rare skill sets, and is enriched by a vibrant, diverse, and engaged community. I enjoy that jewelry can be a rebellious declaration, a way to challenge and converse with the world through personal symbols and iconography.

Thematically, much of my visual art explores conflict, inner turmoil, and dynamics of power. I utilize my own symbolic visual language that combines natural elements, and historical objects, alongside commanding and alluring forms and figures. My work is where I can explore my shadow-self, and shout into the void.

I have had a life-long relationship with art, I began drawing from a young age, and always knew I wanted a career in the arts. Before going to art school, I studied metalsmithing as an undergrad, which lit the literal and metaphorical fire for me. After receiving my BFA in Illustration, and decade showing in galleries, and doing commercial illustrations, I felt the call of the fire again. In 2010 I opened an Etsy, to sell my paintings and simple brass charms. After just a few years I was filling so many orders I was able to quit my day job at an animation studio, and pursue jewelry and art full time. Now I have my own website, and a handful of fantastic retailers, w worldwide audience, and I maintain my visual art practice in addition to making jewelry. My business only continues to grow.

Who are your clients/who is your audience? Do you tend to gear your jewellery towards a specific group? How do you reach people who might be outside your niche, or is that not a concern of yours? Why might that be?

My client likes to stand out. They like their jewelry big, bold, unique, and personal. My work is equally at home on gen-z as it is the more classically-minded client, because although the themes I utilize are edgier and more esoteric, the traditional techniques I employ draw in anyone with an appreciation for skilled craftsmanship and art history.

I have become known for memorial and custom jewelry, so I find that clients seek me out, either for my engraving or storytelling abilities. Being a visual artist in addition to a jeweler has given me access to a broad audience. Many of my clients are drawn in by my narrative artwork, and are inspired to have a jewel made in commemoration or celebration, something that tells their own story.

Do you have a social media presence? How long have you been leveraging social media? Which apps do you find are the most popular among your clients/audience? What methods do you use to keep your audience engaged?

As a millennial, I feel native to social media. I’ve been a part of many online art communities, from blogspot, to tumblr, to Instagram and now tik tok, everything changes and I have learned to adapt. I don’t love being in front of the camera, and the trend now of brands being very forward facing is challenging, but I consider myself an artist and human before I am a brand. I operate my social media that way, with slices of life mixed in with the work. I’m not ultra polished, but I’m real, and that keeps it fun and interesting to me, and I think my audience as well. My clientele is still mainly on Instagram, but I enjoy the possibily to connect more informally on tik-tok, even if I feel like I don’t ‘get it’ yet.

How many years have you attended a show in Tucson? (If you have been at Tucson for several years but switched your locations, please let us know). If this is your first year as an exhibitor at Tucson, tell us your “path to Tucson.”

How did you advertise your presence in Tucson this year? What (if anything) was your ‘hook’?

I have been coming to the Tucson gem shows for 5 years to source gemstones for my work, but took a two year break during the pandemic. This was my first year exhibiting my own collection at a trade show. The opportunity was presented through a mentorship program I completed last year called The Jewelry Loupe Project, offered through the Women’s Jewelry Association. In this program, emerging designers are guided by industry leaders to help build the critical foundations needed to run a successful jewelry business: developing a pitch, creating line sheets, organizing a supply chain, etc.

Doing a trade show was on my five year plan, and after completing this mentorship I felt more than ready to take on the opportunity in Tucson.

I advertised my participation many ways: via my own marketing channels like socials, e-newsletter, physical mailers, and I was also supported by the WJA who highlighted my participation to their national network and social media channels.

My hook is that I love offering exclusive custom engravings to my retailers, so my marketing focused on this very niche skill.

At which show did you have your booth (did you have booths at multiple shows)?

How did this year’s show go for you in terms of the following?

-Foot Traffic

My only trade show experience was at this years Melee the Show in Tucson, so I only have that to compare to. I’m green, so I came with little expectations beyond receiving feedback for The Armory Collection, and feeling out the vibe of the show itself.

Honestly, I was blown away by how well the show went for me, not only did I receive great feedback, but I made sales, and made many valuable connections with key industry players and peers alike.

My case had many visitors thanks to my vibrant eye-catching display, but that led to many long conversations about my creative process and inspirations. Getting comfortable presenting my work and learning what buyers are curious about and responding to most was such a valuable experience for me. I was delighted so many were interested in the processes behind the pieces.

Melee the Show is perhaps the most organized show I’ve ever been a part of. I’m so appreciative to the founders who are accomplished jewelry designers themselves, and who expertly anticipated our needs as exhibiting designers. Everything I could have needed was provided, and I found the environment quite welcoming.

Have you attended any of the shows since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? How did this year match up in terms of sales and traffic?

This was the first time I have attended Tucson since the pandemic, and I have no previous exhibitions to compare to. All my previous trips to Tucson were for personal stone sourcing.

What new gemstones/pieces/designs/collections did you bring to the show this year? How did you promote these new pieces? Did you try anything that was new to you this year?

This was the debut of my newest collection The Armory, which is an all-gender fine jewelry line inspired by medieval arms and armor, featuring sculptural hand-engraved elements rooted in history. This collection employs metal-fabrication techniques that were traditionally used in the creation of medieval armor: forging, engraving, colored inlay, riveting, and hidden kinetic clasps and components.

The Armory subverts and recontextualizes heraldic symbols, by employing archetypal imagery intermixed with contemporary motifs, creating stories that are totally modern.

This dynamic collection is composed of all-solid precious metals, all natural stones, and meticulous hand engraving and precious metal inlay. The result is a formidible family of charms, chains, and rings that can be personalized, layered, and intermixed to create a narrative unique to each wearer.

My promotional materials were centered around the bold scale, metal inlay and engraving details: aspects of my line that make it stand out from the rest.

What pieces/gemstones were most popular/were you asked about most/did you sell? Was this new material for you, or is this the type of piece or gem that you have become known for?

Almost everyone who came by my booth wanted to touch the substantial gold Valor chains. They feel absolutely luxurious on the wrist, and the hidden clasp was the detail that had buyers reaching for my card.

Did you notice anything different or unusual about other sellers?

I was lucky enough to be situated with my designer friends, so the energy in our corner of the show was uplifting and optimistic. Multiple peers expressed their excitement at finally having face-to-face interactions again and letting people see and feel the work in person, jewelry after all is a tactile medium. So many of my peers were encouraging each other, appreciating each other's techniques and specialties. This likely isn’t the norm for most shows, so that stood out to me.

How have supply chain issues affected your preparations for this year’s show, if at all? Did you have any trouble obtaining inventory/objects to work with for the show this year? Why do you think you were (or were not) affected?

In addition to the fact that I carry out almost the entire fabrication process of my line myself, I also do my best to source as locally as possible, and in Portland, Oregon, that is easy to do. I use a local family-owned refiner to source my metals, and also work with a local woman-owned casting house, as well as a family-owned gem house which prides itself on responsible sourcing.

I have spent countless hours sourcing US-based packaging wherever I can, and when I do have things manufactured, like scarves and printed materials, I always give priority to US-made. I feel strongly that this tendency saved my business from feeling the negative effects that the pandemic had on the supply chain of so many others in this industry.

Did you notice any trends among your buyers? What were they? Did the trends in what you sold surprise you, or were you expecting this? Please share your thoughts about this.

Many tended toward the figurative designs, which pleased me greatly. It has been a long journey to synthesize my two major passions of drawing and fabricating jewelry, and now that I am two years into my engraving journey I really feel like I’m hitting my stride. The work I’m making now feels true to me and is coming straight from my heart, so when it connects, I know I’m on the right path.

If you were present at the shows in the past few years, feel free to share your thoughts about the trends that you noticed among buyers then, and how they might be the same/different from this year’s crowd.

This was my first Tucson exhibition, so I have no previous experiences to compare to.

Did you notice any repeat customers (that is, from previous years)? Did you find that you were attracting a new crowd? If so, what were the demographics of that new crowd (describe to the best of your ability)?

Did anything seem different about this year’s attendees, even if they were repeat customers?

What sorts of questions were browsers/buyers asking that caught your attention? Were there any question-and-response sessions that made the difference in a sale?

Once I mentioned my background in the visual arts, and showed them the illustrated silk scarf I was wearing from my previous collection, they were wanting to know more, and look at the engravings closer. I sold a number of scarves very much off the cuff (literally off my neck), had I known that would happen I would have brought boxes of them. I had only been wearing my personal garment, expecting most buyers to be focused on the jewelry.

Many buyers wanted to know about the next limited-edition scarf design, which will of course feature a bevy of lethal weapons and accompany The Armory Collection later this fall.

If you spoke to other exhibitors, did they express experiences/concerns like your own?

It seemed like other exhibitors had different metrics for a ‘successful’ show; be it sales or making key connections, so of course not everyone had my same perspective. I think we’ve all been there at some point. Being in the art world for so long, I’ve learned to just appreciate the experiences, especially if I can learn from them and incorporate that knowledge for next time. The way I look at it, even no feedback is a type of feedback. Failure is a powerful teacher.

What do you wish was different about the Tucson experience?

It never seems like enough time to see everything! This was my longest trip to Tucson, and even though I saw a bunch of shows, bought too many stones, and exhibited myself, there is always more to see and experience - which leaves me looking forward to the next year.

Will you be attending any other major shows this year?

Nothing is in the books, but I have my eye on a couple shows in NY, and I am curious about the Munich show down the road.

Based on the Tucson experience, are you optimistic about the rest of the year?

Yes, this show was better than I expected it to be, I am excited about the relationships that were made in Tucson this year.

Many of the buyers I spoke with expressed a desire to freshen up their current rosters, and were excited to be back at the shows to find new talent. It felt like people were open to my work as an emerging designer, and pleased to see all the new creativity that has come out of the pandemic.



autumn swisher