In Albert Zuger‘s jewelry you can see Aphrodite taking Hephaestus’ hand; it is a heavenly marriage of beauty and the forge. The Toronto-based designer hammers out earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets in bronze that carry an unpretentious elegance, marks of the hammer, and the spirit of the American craftsmanship.
Zuger’s involvement with jewelry began with an actual wedding—his own. As a metalworker since high school and a sculptor by trade, when he proposed to his wife, Sasha Suda, he didn’t feel it was right for them to wear rings he hadn’t made himself. What he produced, and what now rests on both of their fingers, features hundreds of layers of several steel alloys, with a lining of gold peeking out around the edge. Those who saw the ring went mad for it, and Zuger—who was leaving his metal fabrication outfit in New York for Suda’s hometown of Toronto—saw an opportunity to start a new career that combined his love of sculpture, jewelry and traditional metalwork.
“I’ve been a metalworker since age 15,” says Zuger, who moved to Kansas City as a teenager and volunteered with historic blacksmith shop there. Meanwhile, he took every jewelry design class his high school offered and learned to weld in a metal fabrication studio before driving his 1950 Ford pickup to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he studied sculpture. After college, he opened his own metal fabrication business in an 1850s warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, fabricating elements of artists’ large-scale sculptures, ornate arch metalwork, and unique structures like a pair of giant bronze doors for an Upper East Side mansion.
Zuger works all of this experience into his jewelry design, citing Samuel Maloof, and the revival of the American Arts and Crafts movement in the 1950s as his inspiration. “I see myself more than anything else as a sculptor,” he says. “I wouldn’t call myself a jeweler.” Whether sculptural pieces or jewelry, the resulting golden bangles, rings and collar necklaces befit strong women from Gramercy to “Game of Thrones” (there are also shoehorns, keychains, and cufflinks for all). Their details and refinement speak to a marked sophistication, but their hand-hammered shape and construction speak to a deep connection to the process in which they were crafted.
“I’m inspired by Calder, Noguchi, Hans Hofman. It’s a cultural exploration of form and surface in a wearable sort of way,” says Zuger.
For Zuger, the key is in the craftsmanship. “Every surface has been changed from what it started out as. It’s a transformative process that creates these objects that are both and very sculptural,” he says. “The most important thing to me is to have my hands in the stuff, to be actually making it. Having studied sculpture and making things all these years, that’s what I enjoy most. It’s all hand-hammered. I don’t have other people cast stuff. I don’t have other people do my stamping.”
With no disrespect to David Yurman or Chanel (fine, some disrespect), or even the smaller, trendy jewelry-makers—the Pamela Loves, the Philip Crangis—I believe this is what is called a labor of love.