Based in the United States, master jeweler Gregory Crawford has created some of the finest designs on the jewelry market today. He has held many jobs in the jewelry industry, from initially starting as an apprentice, to opening his own showroom, to working from his private studio today. His passion for jewelry is unwavering and despite the growing use of Computer Aided Design, Gregory continues to use traditional techniques and tools to create his timeless, high art designs.
GREGORY CRAWFORD DESIGN makes vibrant and colorful collections, with important core principles of grace, pleasing symmetry and beauty guiding his work. Gregory is constantly inspired by everything around him, from art to nature, from music to other renowned artists and designers. Gregory Crawford chats to JewelStreet about his previous life as a professional musician, the power of art and the unforgettable moments in his jewelry designing career.
When did you first fall in love with jewelry and when did you know that you wanted to be a designer?
I was a professional musician (lead guitarist) from age 15 - 19, playing the club circuit in the South East of the US, 6 - 7 nights a week and constantly travelling. My entire life up to that point was dedicated to the arts in various forms. As a kid, I spent countless days doing wood carving, kaolin sculpting, model ship building and playing guitar. By the time I was 15, I was playing night clubs in Macon full time. That was a magical time to be a young musician as there was a creative explosion happening there and then. If you recall Otis Redding, Little Richard and many other artists were based in Macon at the time. I’m still in touch with many of my friends from those days.
When Karen (my wife of 48 years) told me she was pregnant, I knew I had to get a ‘day job’. The club music and travel lifestyle wouldn’t work anymore for a meaningful family life. I had an acquaintance in Macon that owned a jewelry workshop and he asked if I wanted to work there as a helper / apprentice. The first day I worked there, I knew it was for me. Eventually, I opened my own successful workshop and showroom in downtown Macon.
After 10 years, I decided I didn’t like being a ‘businessman’. The day came when Karen and I decided to take the leap and close all of our businesses, in order to focus entirely on behind the scenes work, designing, producing jewelry and working on entire production lines for the US fine jewelry industry. I built a private workshop and have worked there alone for the last 35 years. Five years ago, I decided to spend the rest of my career working directly with a discreet list of commissioners, clients and producing ‘spec’ items of my own for sale.
Values are really important to us at JewelStreet. What are your core brand values?
I always have and always will treat every human being who I interact with, with respect and generally try to apply the ‘golden rule’ in all transactions.
From where do you draw inspiration for your designs?
Time would not allow me to list the sources of my inspiration. When I view or hear something that excites my spirit, I’m keenly aware that such feelings reside in a realm beyond or deeper than the object itself. Inspiring music is not just ‘sound’. The sound waves themselves are the raw material. If it is crafted well, it excites more than the mind. That is why we are moved to tears when we hear musical creations. It is not the sound waves alone that have that affect our emotions, but rather what a human being has done with or crafted from the sound. Michelangelo’s Pieta represents much more than ‘a mother and son’. The blend of perfect classical beauty and naturalism is beyond description here. I don’t intend to compare myself to the master, but I will say; it is the ‘otherness’, that ethereal aspect of art that inspires me, whether it be Stonehenge, the Great Mosque of Cordoba or a spearpoint crafted by an unknown man 10,000 years ago.
How is your jewelry made?
I purchase all of my metals from Hoover and Strong in Richmond Virginia. Their green, environmental agenda is well known in the industry. As for gemstones, I would like to believe that every gemstone I purchase is ethically produced. The unfortunate truth is that no one can be 100% certain that every stone they purchase meets these standards.
The great majority of new fine jewelry for sale is designed and made with the assistance of CAD (computer aided design) and CAP (computer aided production). Computers are great at making auto and aviation parts and they are actually better and more useful than things made the old way. But to me, jewelry resides in a different realm than toasters and jet engines. Ultra technical precision is not the apex of jewelry design. Something human must be in the mix, like symmetry, grace and symbolism. These traits, when transferred from the heart of the human artist through their own hands, can permeate their creation, resulting in work that displays much more than the sum of its parts. Every piece I make is 100% human hand made - my hands! I know many secrets to making jewelry truly beautiful. That is my goal. I want each piece to have an emotional impact on the viewer / owner. Basically, I use the same tools as the great jewelry artists of previous centuries - Carl Faberge didn’t use CAD.
Are there any celebrities you would love to see wearing your designs?
Many celebrities do wear my designs. Each one of them know and have known (some are no longer with us) that I will not violate or abuse their trust and confidence for the sake of garish publicity. That said, and since he’s no longer with us, I’d love to go back in time and make a piece for Jimi Hendrix.
Can you recall a particular moment with a client that will stay with you forever?
Oh so many! I’ll mention two occasions:
I once had a jeweler customer who was employing a man who would routinely make pick up and deliveries to my studio. He always wore an oversized knee length coat and a hat that looked like those worn by men in the 1930s. I would often observe him on the security camera reach into his lapel, pull out a flask of whisky and take a quick swig. One day, he entered my office and said he had brought a matching pair of ‘cat heads’ for me to design earring settings for. I was already grinning after seeing him on the security camera, so I said “Don’t you mean cat’s eyes?” He said “No, I believe the boss said cat heads.” At that point, he began slapping his hands on his coat, searching for the package containing the goods. I was turning purple trying not to laugh at the poor man. “Here’s the envelope” and he produced one from his pocket and handed it to me. I opened the envelope with him and as I opened it, there they were: a matching pair of cat heads! Two pretty little cat heads carved in gold with emerald eyes and diamond necklaces around their necks. I literally exploded with laughter.
This incident was a few months ago. Karen and I drove to Atlanta to deliver a diamond and opal necklace I made for a favorite customer from Philadelphia. The man and his wife were delighted. He asked me to remind him of the agreed price and I obliged. “That is not enough,” he said, as he made a check out for an extra three thousand dollars! As we waved goodbye, Karen elbowed me and said, “See, I told you that you don’t charge enough!”
How do you want someone to feel when they wear your jewelry?
I want the owner to say: “This is me. This piece symbolizes and reminds me of what I think is important and beautiful in my own life.”
If you hadn’t become a jewelry designer, what would you be doing?
Probably still playing guitar. I’m really happy that it didn’t turn out that way though. Karen and I have raised three beautiful children and purchased our home by me selling - not gold and gems - but what I do with them.
Do you have any exciting future plans and where do you see your brand in five years?
From here forwards, I plan to continue working, which is really play to me. There are fewer outside demands on me at this point in my career, and I’m using that time to indulge myself in making certain pieces that I’ve only dreamed of before.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Plan for the unexpected. I’ve applied that to the best of my ability.
What drew you to JewelStreet?
JewelStreet called me and it was at a good point in time. I’ve never participated in direct outreach to new clients and JewelStreet looked like a good beginning for that.
What music do you play in the studio whilst you’re working?
It depends on my mood and mission for that day in the workshop. Lately, I’ve been listening to early Beatles, plenty of 1960s material. If I’m in the mood for classical, it’s Vaughan’s ‘The Lark Ascending.’ On bluegrass days, it’s Alison Krauss. There’s always that day when only Allman Brothers will do.
How do you ensure that you keep a good work/life balance?
I work a great deal but when I’m not working, I devote my time to just being with my life partner and wife, Karen. Nowadays, we are enjoying house redecorating and gardening. Beyond that, we have three adult children and we’re all pretty close, so there’s always something going on in that respect. So the work/life balance thing is pretty much self regulating.
Which three books would you love to have with you on a desert island?
Contact by Carl Sagan, God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.