Organic Chemistry

Portrait by Christene Barberich
Like many a good success story, jewelry designer Pade Vavra's began in her garage. "I worked in there for years," the L.A.-based designer says. "Finally, I had a hard time finding a place for a stapler, let alone a computer." This need to expand led Pade and her assistant, Parrish, to a bigger space in downtown Los Angeles. Loft-like with columns, amid Little Tokyo and Chinatown and the other showrooms located in the city's Fashion District, her current workspace sounds more like a New York setting than L.A. But spending time with the designer's unforgettable creations, and one realizes her approach to jewelry making isn't typical either.
"I've been designing jewelry on a subconscious level all my life," says Pade. "Taking seashells or stones and stringing them together." After a brief period studying interior design, Pade attended the Gemological Institute where she learned how to grade diamonds, distinguish stones, cast, and sodder. It was also where she learned the practice of rendering jewelry. "It's a lost art, really," she says. "It's very precise; you work down to the millimeter on paper, so you really learn how to guage sizes and shapes, how to set things, which mountings will work best. It's very traditional what they teach you, but then you can take it in your own direction."
Her own direction has ultimately led back to her early fondness for organic materials. However, today, the designer favors prehistoric sharks' teeth and 140-million-year-old coral over found seashells. "The materials I'm using really inspire the collection," she says. "The sharks' teeth are from the Pliocene era and the Alaskan coral is from the Jurassic period. I love using things that are really unique and existed so long ago. It reminds us of our mortality."
It's in Pade's pendant necklaces and other designs that these ancient materials are given new life. A raw shark's tooth is accented with a thin crown of gold and diamonds; a delicate piece of the designer's rare coral hangs from a spare gold chain. "I love the juxtoposition of materials," she says. "I love the contradiction."
Treading further in her own direction, the designer created her own special alloy, a blend of rose gold and yellow gold, which yielded a pretty peach-hued 18-karat gold medium to work from. Using this custom metal, the designer has crafted one of her favorite designs (which she wears everyday), the entirely hand-carved hummingbird ring. "It's both raw and sensual," says Pade. "Yet is still has an undertone of femininity." The hummingbird ring is part of the designer's fine jewelry collection. However, she also designs a bridge line called PADE by Pade Vavra, which has a more playful approach and is seasonally defined. "The fine jewelry collection is more consistent aesthetically," she says. "I don't want to manipulate things too much," says Pade. "I want a piece to look like it came from the earth."
Pade Vavra is available at TG170
She may favor materials that are more than 100-million years old, but Los Angeles-based designer Pade Vavra's approach to jewelry making is anything but ancient history.

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