A FORCE FOR GOOD
An Interview with Master Jeweler Geoffrey Good
GEOFFREY GOOD’S INSTINCT TO CREATE SPIRITED, ONE OF A KIND JEWELRY HAS LED HIM TO DISTINGUISH HIMSELF IN AN ELITE REALM OF NOBLE BEAUTY AND NOBILITY. TODAY THE DESIGNER WHO COMMENCED HIS CAREER WORKING ON GEMSTONES THAT EXCEEDED THE GDP OF MOST SMALL COUNTRIES IS CARVING HIS OWN PATH, EXPLORING BEAUTY IN THE UNEXPECTED AND UNKNOWN
Geoffrey Good has a gift. He has the power to make the ordinary extraordinary. Or rather, he can take the extraordinary and make it into a collectible piece of fine art. The master jeweler has always been good at making a lot out of a little. “I love finding an inexpensive stone that speaks to me in some way, that has some kind of strange, crazy beauty to it, and putting that into a piece and it’s like “Wow!” I love that.” Good’s breathtaking creations combine Game of Thrones grit and Bond Girl glamor mixed with sometimes tribal and other times futuristic chic. The very idea of rare hand-cut gemstones, precious metals, exotic woods and incomparable natural materials is mesmerizing in itself, but when you add Good’s signature meticulous craftsmanship to the equation, chances are you will be spellbound. Good’s pieces excite nuances you never knew you had, or deeply desired to explore.
Good describes his muse as “an elegant nomad who believes that essential art emerges from an intense engagement with nature”. A Good woman is one of a kind. Refined and eclectic, she has impeccable style and rarified sensibilities. She is strong and independent. She knows what she wants, and how to get it. “Who I make for has definitely evolved in my mind’s eye somewhat over time. A friend of mine gave me a high compliment, she said my jewelry required thought. It required a woman who wanted to think about it, and get it. To me that’s a great compliment, because I want to feel like whoever buys my things did it with a sense of knowing, or sense of understanding the thought that’s gone into it.”
I ask Good if there is any memory that has influenced his work. “I just gravitate to it. My mother never had anything fancy. It’s how I started. I made a pair of earrings for my girlfriend in college. It’s this whole 'press-friendly' story, but I kind of just fell into it not expecting to do so.” Good was born in Philadelphia, six weeks later his mother would take her newborn son to live in Uganda. As a child Good was raised primarily between Kampala and Nairobi, and would later return to the United States to live in California before heading back East. Good had taken an interest in making jewelry by the time he was 21 and remembers pouring over the gift catalogues from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. As soon as they would arrive in the mail Good would head straight to his basement and tinker away, making pieces that would mimic the jewelry he was seeing in the catalogues. “It was something to aspire to – this is what I thought was ‘real jewelry’. Really, it’s more like costume jewelry.” When Good decides what he wants to do there is no stopping him – within ten years he would be producing pieces for The Metropolitan.
Good’s persistent pursuit of perfection has made many a fortunate collector, unfortunately none of whose names can we endeavor to share. The jewelry trade is notoriously secretive for obvious reasons. It is difficult for a designer of Good’s repute to discuss bragging points. For most of his career Good has worked under the radar for high profile companies such as Christie's cutting investment-grade gemstones that exceed the annual GDP of most small countries, and creating intimate pieces for an elite clientele that might read like an International Who’s Who – the American Establishment, the international jet set, Internet tycoons, movie stars, crazy rich socialites, and high-flying Icarus types. Names that shall remain nameless. Serious beauty can mean serious money, and when serious money is involved, corruption can follow. There is definitely a dark side to the world of crazy amazing beauty. Good solemnly recalls a number of murders in the building where he apprenticed in New York City. “There were robberies in that building where people died – because of jewelry. People would be targeted and followed in. So it was always ingrained in us that we were not to talk about what we did outside, on the street, or at all. It’s always balance – just like when you have these insanely fabulous things that you’re a part of, and you want to share it with people, and there’s always that urge to do that, but it’s better to just keep your mouth shut most of the time
There is no doubt Good’s story is unique because he made it happen through sheer willpower. At the age of 25, while working as an apprentice under German master jeweler Klaus Wisskirchen at Platinum Custom Craft, Good would mount a rare pair of 105 carat and 75 carat D flawless diamonds worth $21 million dollars into “very simple” handmade necklaces made from scratch. D flawless meaning best color, internally flawless, there is no better. “When I decide what I want to do you can’t stop me. When our workshop first began working with Cartier, I saw the first order and told my boss right away “I want to be the one that does this.” The necklaces had to be perfect. “It was an exercise more than some crazy thing, because it was all about the stones. It’s a little contrary to what I do now.” Good saw opportunity and seized it. He would become the 21 million dollar man and a designer of distinction in his own right. A driving passion would open many possibilities in Good’s stellar career, and many masterpieces would follow. As for the diamond necklaces, the last time the designer saw them Claudia Schiffer was wearing one on the evening news, “because they were so unusual”.
The type of jewelry Good learned how to make is called stone jewelry. It is “very Harry Winston-esque”, where the mountings are subservient to the stones. They are there purely to support the stones, and must be technically flawless and well engineered. Good muses “It’s like the idea of the perfect dress for a woman, it’s there to support her, not overwhelm her qualities.” Before forming his own design house in 2005, Good spent years producing pieces for establishments such as Cartier, Christie's, Sotheby’s, Verdura, Taffin, and Fred Leighton. He is proud to have known Henri Larrieu, one of the last apprentices to Pierre Cartier, whose grandfather founded Cartier, and knew and admired Ambaj Shinde, the famous head designer for Harry Winston, who would often visit the firm where Good apprenticed. At Taffin, Good produced pieces for James Givenchy, the nephew of Hubert Givenchy. “James is an amazing designer, not a jeweler, but an amazing designer. I did some work for him, but he basically ended up buying and running his own workshop. He’s gone through several iterations. But I got lucky. At that period in time I could make a million dollar engagement ring and walk into Cartier on the sly and see the piece sitting in the case. That was kind of fun. It was validating, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Good found a mentor in master craftsman, Klaus Wisskirchen, whose clients included celebrated socialites and famous actresses like Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters. Wisskirchen would become a great male influence and role model for Good at that period in his life, and revered Good so much that when he faced retirement in 2008 he would offer to hand over his business to him. As it turns out, it was Good’s will to do his own thing. “The experience of the financial free fall of 2008 triggered a very intensive creative period for me. It really taught me a lot about myself, and my ability to manage, or not to. Really, it was a very extensive focusing exercise. I was making crazy stuff, and that’s when I was discovered by Vogue. I had this big profile and it really helped get me up and out of it. Just like everything kind of works for a purpose.” Soon after Good went and became a Professor at FIT, beating out several of his own teachers from years past for the full-time position (Good graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1995). “I kind of applied for it as a whim, but I really wanted to teach. I’m definitely not a good person for a political or academic environment because I’m too opinionated.” Good fondly remembers the chair of the department while he was a student, the late Samuel Beizer. “He was so cocky but he had so much knowledge. He did consulting for foreign countries with regard to jewelry and resources and things like that. I remember him giving us a lecture and him saying, “I’m like a rock star to you!” He wanted to make sure that we knew damn well where he had come from and what he was doing, and why we needed to pay attention.” Good confesses most of his classes were very technical, and perhaps not so enjoyable for his students. “The thing that I would tell them over and over again would be “If you can do it – if you can absorb it, if you can rise to the challenge – if you can take that, you can apply it to anything. If you’ve set the bar high for yourself, everything else you touch becomes better, and it makes you better than if you didn’t. History is the judge I guess. But I was thinking about Samuel Beizer because what was great for me with teaching was I had all this real life experience – not like someone who had come through this MFA program and talking about things theoretically. I had incredible real world experience with what I was doing – the stories, and things to show them. I remember bringing in this pair of million dollar earrings to show class, just stuff like that your average professor is not going to be doing in jewelry, or anything else. Basically, I had a lot of information, and students are starved for information.
In 2012 Good moved his family from Brooklyn to Hudson, the artsy enclave two hours north of New York City. Here he has opened a retail gallery and workshop, and is currently exploring rigid, faceted geometry with his ‘Hedra’ collection, borne from a pair of earrings from the late 1700s, while simultaneously developing his ‘Lamu’ idea, a daring play on sculptural curves and elegant Swahili inspired arcs. Good feels most of his collections are ongoing. He never works on one group or idea at a time, and will sometimes leave an idea in order to pursue another and return months later to revisit those forms. “My original Lamu ring was created nearly eight years ago and I’m still getting ideas from it. I like variety in my life and my work, and it shows in my jewelry.”
Good loves to create visual tension, he pairs disparate forces that redefine beauty, but he also likes things that are subtle. “I’m always trying to find the balance between subtlety and ornamentation.” Primal, exquisite, deep and dark exotic creations bewitch those who enter his Warren Street emporium. Sitting atop a large wooden easel are five oversized glass cloches that one would typically find somewhere like The Natural History Museum. The dramatic domes display creations like his Sparta ring, an organic ebony ring mounting a ‘Pyrite Sun’ that looks like a primitive pressed flower, found pressed between layers of shale and “popped out of the matrix” by miners in Illinois. Sculptural wooden bracelets sit aside hexagonal bracelets made with panels of stingray hide cast in metal and studded with diamonds. Good shows me a pair of stunning onyx and diamond “Navette” earrings and tells me they have been diagrammed and designed down to within a tenth of a millimeter. The Rock Crystals were cut in Germany, renowned for fanatical precision, but under Good’s direction the stones were returned to Germany twice. “They weren’t exactly what I wanted, and they’re still not perfect, but it’s the kind of things nobody sees except for me usually.”
Good’s jewelry is crafted with an auteur’s aesthetic, however, on defining his “look” Good pauses for thought. “It’s a mystery to me sometimes. I’m not in fashion jewelry, I’m not in traditional fine jewelry, it’s definitely not costume jewelry, it’s kind of this weird place – and it’s hard for people to understand where I am in the hierarchy of things. I look at some stuff and I see that it’s made in the moment, and that it’s made for a trend or time, it may be expensive, but usually there’s not a lot of staying power. That’s what I mean by ‘fashion jewelry’, but it serves a purpose.” Of the living designers, Good admires JAR in Paris. “His sense of design and craftsmanship are exceptional, and his reclusive mystique has created a cult-like following. He has others make his pieces, but that’s beside the point. He also combines metals in ways that not many would.” He also admires the work of German firm, Hemmerle. “Their combining of non-precious and precious materials speaks to the heart of what I do, and they know how to add a bit of whimsy at the high end.” Good is also inspired by the work of another German, Otto Jakob. “Whose sense of design and use of color is simply awe-inspiring to me. There’s not much I can tell you about his work other than to tell you go look for it. But I hadn’t looked at his work in a couple of years, and I started looking at his site again, and I couldn’t stop looking after I started. It made me feel lazy, and I love that kind of stuff. It’s like a kick in the ass.”
After leaving Good’s Warren Street studio, I wandered the short walk to the Amtrak station and boarded the train back to New York City, to go on what has to be one of the world’s most beautiful train rides. Halfway into my journey I received an email from Good saying that he hoped that he didn’t come across as “full of himself”. I was so touched by his humility that I couldn’t help stop and think. Here was a man so gifted, so accomplished, with such a rich history, and such a bright future, and here he was sincerely sweet, and actually shy about having to tell his story, which, in reality, is as interesting and as elaborate as his creations. He has pursued excellence, lived through fascinating scenarios, and has the talent of divining unusual truth in beauty out of innovation and fantasy. He is a genius. As I gazed over the slipstream of the Hudson River I realized that true to his nature Good had elevated things to a whole new level. He has gone beyond mastering the art of life in the process of mastering his craft, he has become a work of art.♥
Geoffrey Good Showroom
251 Warren Street, Hudson NY 12534
Tel (212) 625-1656