Makin' It: Edward Janssen, Silversmith and Jeweler
The Tiffany's silversmith who found his way out of the service industry rabbit hole to craft jewelry and keep his clients from destroying antiques.
Edward Janssen is a silversmith for Tiffany’s who also designs a custom line of jewelry under the name This Charming Man. After losing his passion for jewelry-making during a stint in the service industry, Edward rediscovered it during a trip to the United States and built a career. Originally from Australia, he now lives New York with his wife Elizabeth Carey Smith and their daughter.
Tell me how you first got into designing jewelry. Did you wear a lot of jewelry growing up?
I have always been interested in adornment—not just jewelry, but clothing, hairstyles, tattoos, any form of decoration, basically. I'm sure my mother was the predominant reason for this. She has always shared her interest in fashion with me, and is very talented herself. She was actually head of the Australian hand-knitters guild, which, yes, is as odd as it sounds. As well as producing incredible argyle and Fair Isle sweaters, these women and a few men would also take on crazier projects, like reproducing exact replicas of wartime clothing or knitting full desert landscapes out of wool. I was also lucky enough to attend a high school that fostered and encouraged creativity. After I attended an amazing one-year arts program designed to let you try a little of everything, I narrowed my choices down to printmaking or gold and silversmithing. I then pursued my BFA at university, but in a lot of ways I regret learning my craft there as I feel the emphasis was put squarely on concept technique, where technical skill came in a very sorry second. After university, feeling mentally burned out, I went down the hospitality rabbit hole and ended up working in, and then managing a bar. It wasn't until coming to NYC for the first time in 2005 that I got inspired to start making jewelry again, and from there to creating my This Charming Man jewelry label.
And you do that full-time?
These days I have a day job at Tiffany & Co. as a silversmith. Although I do some jewelry repair, the majority of my work there is with larger silver items, flatware, and hollowware repair. This Charming Man still technically exists, but it’s on a much smaller scale and my primary focus outside of Tiffany’s is on custom work like wedding rings.
What do you do at Tiffany's?
My official title is Silversmith for Repair Service, which means I only work on customer-owned merchandise. Some days I get to see and work on some truly amazing pieces of American history: tea services that took a year to make, Civil War swords, antique art deco watches, the list goes on. These pieces will come in in various states of disrepair. Sometimes all they need is a good clean, other times we will have to fully restore them from the ground up. It is my job, along with the senior silversmith, to assess the repair requests that accompany the orders and figure the best course of action to take to bring the work to “age-appropriate” condition. This sometimes means doing nothing at all, as we will occasionally receive beautiful antiques that are in great shape but the customer wants the piece to look "like new.” It is then our job to explain that their item was made a looong time ago and not supposed to be “factory fresh.” If that doesn't work, we are fond of using the term "any further repair may effect the antiquity and value of your piece.” That usually works.
After such a circuitous professional route, how did you manage to nurture your passion for so long while having to work in the "hospitality rabbit hole?"
To be honest, that whole period after university and before I came to New York I really didn't give any thought to making jewelry. My creative outlets during that time were skateboarding, working on my two '69 Chryslers, and playing music, while my jewelry tools were literally rusting in the garage. There was definitely a point where I considered making a career out of hospitality. However in 2005, the bar I was managing was bought out by a larger company, and I was given a severance package. The next day I bought a plane ticket to New York. I was instantly drawn to the creative drive and sense of purpose that people had in the city. Everyone seemed to be doing or making something; everyone had a goal or at least an idea they were pursuing. Looking back, this may have been idealistic or naïve, but it was also infectious. I began sketching ideas and thinking about making things again. I met one of my biggest creative influences in a bar in the East Village, my now-wife Elizabeth. At the time Elizabeth was working as the senior designer for Bust Magazine, but she always seemed to have other little creative projects on the go. She also introduced me to “Highbrow/Lowbrow Fridays.” This basically meant taking in a bunch of great art, usually the Guggenheim or Free Fridays at MoMA or Chelsea galleries, and then sitting in the park with forties getting wasted and watching the world go by.
How long did it take you to break through? Was there a specific moment?
Because of visa issues, I had to return to Australia (where Elizabeth would eventually meet me). I began making the pieces from my sketchbook with the idea of creating a range I could sell. The first piece I made was the Knuckle Sandwich Necklace. The whole range was formed around this one piece and the idea of making humorous visual puns that were also delicate, unisex, and wearable. Around this time I was fortunate enough to meet Thom Grogan, who was in the process of opening a boutique menswear store in Melbourne. He became a champion of my label and gave me not only my first break, buying whatever I made, but also valuable insight into the fashion industry, explaining how “ranges” were formed, promoted, and sold—as well as introducing me to buyers from several other stores. In that regards, Melbourne was an amazing place to start out. I garnered some solid press and a small cult following without ever really having to “pimp” myself out.
But these days you primarily work for Tiffany's. Does that mean This Charming Man on the back-burner?
I took the bob at Tiffany for two reasons. Firstly I saw it as an opportunity to broaden my skill set and work alongside some very talented people (which has indeed proven to be true). Secondly, Elizabeth was pregnant, and having a job that offered a level of security and health care became very important. To be honest, the decision to make my own label more of a hobby was not hard. I have never been great at “selling myself” and was also not willing to compromise the quality or standard of my work by outsourcing the production.