Jewelry: Technical Triumph

  • Jill Newman

Necessity was indeed mother to Alex Soldier’s inventions. As a young man, he lived in Russia’s remote Ural Mountains, where even the most basic tools to pursue a career in jewelry design, much less the advanced training and artistic encouragement required to excel at it, were lacking. His native ingenuity, however, supplied what his meager resources did not. The determined novice experimented with wood carving, metal casting, and sculpture and, in the process, devised his own tools for creating finely detailed finishes. "We didn’t have stores to go buy things or places to research technique, arts, and technology," says Soldier, who spent six years as the chief designer of a government-controlled jewelry factory before immigrating to New York at age 33.

Soldier’s want of formal training—together with his remarkable inventiveness—accounts for the distinctive style of his jewelry. Each piece is a gold or platinum work of art cast in a meticulously carved wax mold, set with colorful gemstones, and painstakingly finished with Soldier’s own handmade tools. "You will never see a polished gold setting in my collection," he says. "I create layers of hand-engraving so that each piece sparkles and has life. Jewelry should never look dull or flat."

His metal surfaces glitter so delicately that they appear, at first glance, to be inlaid with tiny diamonds; this effect, however, is the result of the proprietary engraving techniques that he uses to finish each piece. He has mastered so many different hand-finishes that, he says, if he were given 10 identical polished gold bands, he could create 10 completely original designs simply by applying his varied techniques and treatments.

Thanks to the engineering degree he earned in Russia in 1979, before beginning his career in the jewelry factory, Soldier has also developed a technical approach to his concepts. "Each design is about proportion, detail, and composition," he says. "It is like a Rubik’s Cube, with each piece dependent on the next to create the whole."

Recent examples of his complex workmanship include an elaborate floral ring that easily converts to a pendant or a brooch, and the Lava ring, a bulbous, organic form set with hundreds of rubies and black diamonds on the outside and featuring a seamless hollow on the inside. The Rainbow ring features seven layers of stones—including amethyst and yellow, pink, and blue sapphires—in the shape of an arched bridge.

These one-of-a-kind and limited-edition designs, priced from $15,000 to about $100,000, are not Soldier’s only offerings, however; he also creates gold and sterling silver pieces employing the same hand-finishes, and, on occasion, he accepts commissions for custom miniature sculptures. The latter hark back to his humble beginnings, which are never far from his mind: In a glass vitrine in his New York showroom, he displays his first sculpture—the figure of a woman—which he made at the age of 14. "It still inspires my designs and ideas," he says.

Alex Soldier, 212.354.4244, www.alexsoldier.com

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