I love adorning my ball jointed dolls with beautiful jewelry. In addition to putting the final touches on any outfit, jewelry is also vital to overall doll characterization and personality!
My favorite BJD jewelry shop is The Horned Moon, With One Bright Star (formerly “orangebabydolly jewels”), owned by Jenn (St. James) and Machaelle (idrisfynn). This talented duo creates unique and intricate designs, perfectly in scale for ball jointed dolls of various sizes. A very special aspect of The Horned Moon jewelry is that it is made using fine metals and gemstones, for that extra touch of realism. A ring I commissioned for my Soom Topaz – a silver band with amethyst cabochon – looks like a perfect miniature version of a ring I would be happy to wear myself!
In this interview, Jenn will share insights into her craft and some tips for those wanting to try their hand at making doll jewelry.
- BJD Realm: “The Horned Moon, With One Bright Star” is a beautiful and unique name. Can you tell me more about it?
Jenn: When we decided to divide orangebabydolly jewels into two separate companies, coming up with a new name was one of the most difficult things! After years of operating under a company name that didn’t have any special significance for me, I wanted our new name to have a more personal connection. It’s taken from a line in Coleridge’s 1798 version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
“With never a whisper in the Sea
Oft darts the Spectre-ship;
While clombe above the Eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright Star
Almost atween the tips.”
There are quite a few reasons this resonated for us. We like the surface message of the poem (respect nature or endure a fate worse than death), and the idea that it grew out of a collaboration between two friends to earn funds for a holiday. Machaelle and I were both born the year of the Water Ox, so the horned aspect of our tide-governing satellite seemed a fitting association. Two heavenly bodies now correspond to the number of company members. The horned moon is associated with the horned god, particularly Cernunnos, who is an integral part of our own BJD story. The horned moon is also an alchemical symbol for silver, which is our raw material of choice.
On a purely personal level, whenever I see a crescent moon in the sky I feel both humbled and happy. And I invariably want to point and exclaim “The horned moon!” to no one in particular like a total nerd. The aspect of the moon so dramatically lit in the sky is what really makes it obvious that there is a huge sphere being held in place over our heads by massive gravitational forces. For me, it’s a reminder of the macrocosmic and I relish seeing it every month.
- BR: What drew you to jewelry, and more specifically, BJD jewelry?
J: Jewelry is a form of visual communication and personal expression that I can’t imagine being without. Personal adornment is fundamental to human culture. It is also a very efficient way to carry a tiny piece of history (personal or otherwise) with you at all times. This is what draws me to tribal jewelry and other artifacts. I started with a broad interest in archaeology and somewhat inevitably ended up narrowing my focus to jewelry. To be able to hold a tiny natron-etched carnelian bead from a civilization that has been gone for more than 3000 years is just spectacular. I have always been guilty of wanting to pile on way too many things, simply out of the desire to carry all of my favorites with me. If my spine could handle it, I would wear all of my necklaces at once!
In the same way that I sometimes feel like I am just a vehicle for interesting objects, BJDs provide a way for us to prominently display tiny, special artifacts that would be lost and ignored in human-scale jewelry, and of course jewelry is a way to visually express the personality we have invented for each doll. orangebabydolly jewels was actually born of Machaelle asking Maggie to make tiny versions of her tribal jewelry for her doll Idris Fynn. It has been fun to design custom pieces that are very specific to the character of each doll, since most readymade jewelry for dolls is extremely generic.
- BR: What materials and techniques do you prefer?
J: I mostly work with sterling and fine silver in combination with gemstones. My favorite stones are carnelian and citrine, but I also like garnets and moonstones. I also use repurposed Balinese and Thai Hill Tribe silver elements for some pieces when I want a more visually complex design.
When I’m not hand cutting and hammering pieces from raw metals, I use macrame on a miniature scale as the base for old African trade beads and new glass from places like Murano and Japan. I pick through my own antique bead collection for the smallest strands and I cannibalize human jewelry for parts. Every couple of years Machaelle and I vacation in Tokyo and we spend a day picking through our favorite bead shops in Asakusabashi for new stock. It is hard to consistently find tiny enough beads, so I also scour antique shops wherever I happen to be. There are some really tiny bead types that went out of production a hundred years ago, so it’s exciting to find them even if they are difficult to use. I don’t always use my materials in a design that comes from the same root. Sometimes I end up making things with African patterning but in Japanese color palettes.
- BR: How do you go about creating a new piece? Describe your design and creation process.
J: With any design process, it’s challenging to create something that feels unique and personal. Sometimes my work grows out of a request from someone (usually my partner) who wants a doll-sized version of a piece of jewelry she likes. So “make Swift some knuckledusters” or “Vivi needs a ring with a bow on it” sends me off on an exploration that may or may not result in what she wanted. Sometimes it’s simply not possible given the techniques I have at my disposal, sometimes I come up with something that doesn’t quite fit the brief but looks cool anyway.
Most sterling pieces come from my sketchbook of ideas. I start with a concept, either a physical shape that I find appealing, a structural form that is an engineering challenge, or an abstract idea that I want to represent physically. I try to fill a page with as many variations on the theme as I can. I suppose that’s a remnant from art school, where our instructors always told us to throw out the first idea and the next and the next, because if it was that obvious someone else has already done it.
San Francisco is now the most expensive US city to live in, so an apartment big enough to have a separate workroom or renting a studio is out of the question at my pay grade. Therefore my former drafting table has become my studio space in our tiny Victorian living room. I am limited to tools that can be swept back into a single drawer and a cabinet, so I do not do any casting. If I want to make a piece with dimension I have to hand carve it out of solid silver or carefully solder it together out of smaller components.
- BR: On average, how long does it take to create a piece of BJD jewelry?
J: It varies greatly. I have some pieces that have been sitting half-finished in my drawers waiting for a design solution for over a year. Experimental new pieces have a higher fail rate; things I’ve made dozens of times like basic rings are almost always successful. I’d say it averages out to about twelve hours spread across a two week span. I rarely have more than six hours in a week to work on jewelry. That doesn’t count the hours lying awake at night puzzling over the best way to construct something complex. It’s hard to feel good about that level of output when comparing my production levels to my predecessor’s, but orangebabydolly was her day job at the time and we all knew it was an unsustainable pace. I don’t want to go that route, but it is frustrating to have so many designs just sitting there in my sketchbook when seeing them realized is such a satisfying accomplishment.
- BR: What is the most challenging part about designing and making BJD jewelry?
J: Actually finding the time and energy is the biggest challenge. Between my day job and my volunteer job as an admin of Den of Angels, there is very little time left to do more work. I also still need time to nurture personal relationships, recharge my brain, and chill out with my cat.
There is a lot of physical wear and tear: squinting at very small details under very bright lights, sitting hunched over my workspace for hours, and making small repetitive motions. Burns, cuts, hand cramps, tendinitis, peripheral neuropathy – the stuff that is unavoidable when you work with tiny things and bits of metal. I actually wouldn’t be the one getting interviewed right now if Maggie hadn’t basically broken herself making hundreds of pieces of doll jewelry month after month for several years. I took over making all of the rings because those are the toughest to do and she couldn’t even feel her hands anymore. Eventually, the pain and frustration was too much and she had to return to making only human jewelry, which she now sells as Sticks and Stones SF.
- BR: What is the creative inspiration behind your designs?
J: Most of my inspiration has its roots in Bronze Age archaeology and early trade routes through Africa and Asia. My childhood interest in Classical mythology led me to studying the archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean as a side project while I was in art school, and it turned out that the Bronze Age was the most personally compelling. I love all of the ancient jewelry from places like Troy, Knossos, Djenne, and Mohenjo-Daro. It’s one thing to study the footings of an ancient building site to try to figure out the purpose of each room, it’s quite another to be able to interact with the things that ancient peoples considered significant enough to wear on their own bodies. I don’t really attempt to replicate these jewelry styles, but I do find myself gravitating toward the color palettes and gemstones they used.
My most immediate inspiration these days is the tremendous amount of new observational data on the Solar System. The last fifteen years have seen huge expansions in this scientific arena, so in my spare time I have been taking astrophysics courses with a focus on planetary systems. Our current technology has allowed us to learn so much more about our universe that it’s impossible not to be excited about it.
I have combined my interest in very ancient and very modern things into a design concept that I’m sort of thinking of as “future talismans.” In addition to the time I spent trying to figure out how ancient civilizations ended and why, I grew up fascinated by dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, and I think that they resonate because we know that someday that lights are going to go out. We’re looking for a road map through that future landscape, and we’re trying to play out all of the possible behavior models in literature and film to determine which one will be successful. My desire to witness the results of our current space exploration endeavors is in opposition to my persistent pessimism regarding climate change and our likely inability to rally as a species toward anything but hunkering down in pockets where we might survive. This leads me to question the value and longevity of the things I have learned. Will the vast amounts of data that we are currently collecting even be available? What knowledge will survive? Will the parts of our world that are not observable with common instruments fade into myth? Will anyone remember the Curiosity rover’s images of Phobos partially eclipsing the sun? How will that memory become distorted over time? How will future myths become muddied simply because we’ve named bodies in our solar system after ancient deities? I use observational astronomy to create my jewelry designs, but I don’t expect their significance to remain intact any more than I have any idea what some of the antique amulets in my collection actually meant to their previous owners.
Jewelry will survive along with humanity. It’s portable, wearable and has always been a type of currency. Things we create now have a chance to become significant to someone else many years from now. I think that’s pretty amazing and I want to inject just a tiny bit of our current science into that future, however enigmatic that reference turns out to be. People will always like mysteries, especially if they are linked to something visually compelling. I know that I am not the only ball-jointed doll owner who has been amused by the scenario of my dolls being unearthed by people of the far future and being misinterpreted as some sort of ritual object decorated with carefully fabricated devotional goods.
- BR: Do you have a most cherished item in your personal BJD jewelry collection?
J: Oh, there are quite a few! The tiny gold and coral repurposed Shriner’s pendant I bought in a flea market in Paris that now lives around my Soom Deneb’s neck, the hinge-clasped sapphire collar that Maggie and I collaborated on for my Custom House Choa, the very first gemstone ring I made with Maggie patiently looking over my shoulder that now has pride of place on my DollsTown Elysia’s index finger, the truly stunning antique North African silver necklace Maggie gave me when she sold all of her big dolls on condition that it only be worn by my Soom Shadow Onyx, the crazy elaborate Balinese silver and faceted garnet ring I made for Pierce in a lucky single try. Since most of what we’ve made is unique, it’s hard to name an absolute favorite.
- BR: Can you describe the process of commissioning a custom made piece of jewelry?
J: We no longer really do completely custom jewelry commissions. The process was so labor intensive and time consuming that Maggie and I couldn’t really justify doing it anymore. Some commissions were really fun and the ones that allowed us a lot of design freedom turned out to be some of my favorite pieces ever, but many requests are for jewelry styles that either don’t match our aesthetic, or require sculpting and casting, usually because the owner wants to have matching jewelry with their doll or their doll is styled after a celebrity who wears specific jewelry. I still accept requests that seem like interesting challenges but with conditions: no time frame for completion, no changes will be made to the final design offered, I may sell the piece if they chose not to purchase it, and I retain the right to reproduce it in the future.
We have always offered bespoke jewelry; pieces from our design catalog that can be made to fit a specific doll. I often get requests for an antique tribal necklace we’ve sold in the past, and depending on the availability of the beads used, sometimes I can make something with a similar feel. Our most often ordered bespoke jewelry is wedding band sets for male couples. Half the time it’s a moonstone engagement set for a Delf boy and a plain sterling band for a larger boy, which always makes me feel nostalgic and happy. Rings are easy to lose because they are so tiny and because resin can’t hold jewelry the way flesh can, so a custom fit is very important. I am lucky to have many different dolls to use as fit models, but sometimes owners mail a hand to me so that I can make their rings the precise size and shape for the finger. I appreciate that they are willing to trust me with parts of their dolls!
- BR: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to try making BJD jewelry?
J: Be very picky about scale and proportion on everything – jump rings, clasps, bead holes – everything. At that size, anything with a scale that clashes with the style of the jewelry you are making will be very jarring. You could use nothing but rubies and pearls but they will be wasted if they aren’t in a believable scale and don’t drape properly. If you have to use tweezers to fasten the necklace clasp and a magnifying lens to see the holes in the stones, you’re probably doing it right.
If you have a very specific design in mind, don’t be afraid to tear your work apart over and over until you get it right. If you don’t have a very specific design in mind, let happy accidents lead you toward new ideas. And in either instance, if you can’t figure out how to finish a piece, have the patience to set it aside until a harmonious design solution comes to you.
Are you going to Dollism USA in Buffalo, NY? The Horned Moon is! Check out booth #35 for a variety of jewelry pieces for your ball jointed dolls. If you are shopping for a ring, consider bringing along the hand that it is intended for to ensure proper fit.