The rich textures and distinctive landscape of the American southwest feature prominently in Erin Cuff’s jewelry, and no wonder. The Oakland artist grew up near the desert in southern California, and studied silver smithing in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “The desert is my sacred place,” she says.
Erin captures the desert motif in rings, chains, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets made of sterling silver and 14k and 18k gold. She works with a variety of gemstones. Her current favorite is rubies, and she’s adding diamonds now that her business has grown. She works exclusively with recycled, antique, or sustainably-sourced materials. Erin does a lot of custom work and especially likes working with repurposed stones. “I like to nudge people toward antique stones,” she says. “They’re sustainable and sentimental. I like thinking about the life the stone has lived.”
Erin’s path to jewelry making started in her heart. “I always knew I was meant to be an artist in some way,” she says, by way of background. “Before jewelry I was into photography, painting, and collage as a personal practice. I worked in restaurants and as a nanny to pay the bills.” Erin spent two years as a wood worker for a custom furniture company. She left, thinking she’d travel, but heard instead about a silversmithing school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
“I took my travel money and went to San Miguel for a month. I loved silversmithing so much that I went back to California, worked, saved some more money, went back, and completed the program at Sterling Quest in five months.”
Erin returned to California and landed a job with Kate Ellen, a jewelry designer in Oakland. “Kate’s my biggest mentor. I was her production manager for three years. I was lucky to have Kate as a jewelry mentor and a business mentor.” Erin was also selected for the Jewelry Loupe Project, a Bay area-based mentorship program for jewelers who want to create their own line.
Erin comes by her talent and love for making jewelry naturally; her grandmother was a jewelry maker. When it came time to set up her studio in her live/work space in Oakland, Erin inherited her grandmother’s materials. Erin’s best friend gave her a studio’s worth of German and Swiss-made materials from the ‘60s that came from her friend’s grandfather. “So yeah, my start-up costs were fairly low,” says Erin.
Erin’s customers are drawn to her handmade process. “They’re drawn to the sentiment of my story and where I went to school,” she says. “Customers appreciate that my work is well made. They say the pieces feel really special. I don’t do a big amount of production. I do a small batch and one-of-a-kind pieces. I really enjoy the specialness of creating something I put my heart into.”
Erin especially loves making rings and chains. The chain bracelets and necklaces sell at a higher price point because they're time-intensive. “When people connect with the chains, they really get me and my aesthetic,” she says. “It’s always the best sale when someone buys one of my chains.”
Erin Cuff jewelry is carried in eight galleries and retail shops. Most of them are in California—and one in Denver. Her price point ranges from $150 to $2,000 - $3,000 for high-end custom work. You can find Erin’s jewelry at KMJ online and in the KMJ brick and mortar at 3450 W 32nd Ave, Denver.