Alan Revere

Posted by on Mar 28, 2018 in Blog, Interview | No Comments

Alan Revere is a master goldsmith, award-winning jewelry designer, visionary, trailblazer, writer, and one of country’s most prominent jewelry educators. Alan has been a member of MAG since he moved to the Bay Area in 1974.

In 1979 Alan founded the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco and over the next four decades he and his team of master goldsmiths taught, inspired and changed the lives of thousands of jewelers and jewelry students. Through his teaching, his jewelry, his books, videos and tools, Alan Revere firmly established himself as master’s master, and one of the most important figures in American jewelry education. In December 2017, Alan closed his school and embarked on a new career – retirement.

Here is a summary of Alan Revere’s career followed by an interview with MAG.

Early Years

Alan’s first introduction to jewelry came when he was 10 years old. His mother took him to visit the family jeweler on 47th Street in New York so she could have some diamond and ruby earrings made from a dismembered platinum bracelet. Alan remembers sitting there, captivated by all of the tools, and helping her design a pair of earrings in which he suggested the ruby be suspended like a trapeze. He had no idea jewelry would become his world.

As a youngster, Alan enjoyed arts and crafts at school and summer camp. He was drawn to working with his hands, despite being pushed in academics. In the summers that Alan taught swimming and diving he discovered an ability to teach others. At the University of Virginia, Alan received a degree in psychology, focusing on human behavior and creativity, with a minor in art. After graduation, during the summer of 1969, Alan began his professional life as a taxi driver in Manhattan. As it turned out, that was the summer of Woodstock. The experience completely altered the course of Alan’s life and his plans to go to law school went up in a cloud of smoke. Alan did not need more academics, he needed to be free and to explore himself. So, he took off for Mexico in a Volkswagen camper.

A year later, Alan enrolled at the Instituto Allende, an arts and crafts school affiliated with Universidad de Guanajuato in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Living in the beautiful colonial town in the high desert of central Mexico, Alan spent 2 years studying and learning to work in a variety of media including stone, wood and metal. He completed the requirements for a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture, with an emphasis on making jewelry. Alan’s eyes light up as he recalls the day he made his first simple piece of silver jewelry. “I bent, soldered and hammered a piece of silver wire into a little loopy form. It was unbelievable! Lightning went off in my head. It just lit up my day, lit up my life. At that moment I realized the limitless potential of what I could do with my hands. To be able to make something of my own design was a huge personal discovery. I knew I could do this and I knew it was my road forward.” Alan got to work. He took classes and as he learned more he made more jewelry often working into the wee hours. Before graduating with an MFA, Alan made over 200 pieces of jewelry, keeping a log of each piece with a photo, notes, purchaser and sale price.

Photo: In 1972 Alan began his teaching career at the Instituto Allende.

Alan wanted to learn more than what was available in Mexico. He looked for a school in the US but he could not find anything serious and professional enough. It seemed that the best schools were too academic and artsy, with graduates’ work often looking more like a political statement than personal adornment.

When Alan met Harold O’Connor in Mexico, he was told about the traditional jewelry school in Pforzheim, Germany, where Harold had studied. After looking at Harold’s portfolio, Alan set his sights on attending the Fachhochschule für Gestaltung, a hundred-year-old school Germany’s Black Forest. Six months later, Alan arrived in Pforzheim several months later, but not realizing he needed to speak German, the school was not going to admit him. So he followed a Dutch student, Charon Kransen, around for the first two months of school. Drawn by images of the jewelry of Professors Reinhold Reiling and Klaus Ullrich, Alan was in heaven. He thrived in the technical classes and was inspired by the high level of design. Reinhold Bothner, his goldsmithing instructor, celebrated his 50th year as a master goldsmith that first semester. Everyone and everything was focused on jewelry. While learning to speak German, Alan was taught the fundamentals of precision handwork, drafting, engraving, stone setting and goldsmithing for jewelry and its varied applications

Photo: Alan studying forms he created in balsa wood during his design class with Professor Reinhold Reiling at the school in Pforzheim, Germany in 1973.

In Pforzheim, Alan says he was taught from the ground up. He learned everything one needs to know to independently make jewelry. They began by teaching students how to hold each tool, something Alan feels is both essential and also largely absent from jewelry programs here. From pliers and hammers to saws and gravers, his teachers showed him the most efficient grip and hand movements for each tool. Two years later Alan had gained a great level of proficiency and was ready to return to the U.S. focusing on California.

Bay Area

After four years away from the U.S., two in Mexico and two in Germany, Alan moved to the San Francisco Bay Area on the day before Richard Nixon resigned from office. Everything was changing and for Alan it was a new beginning. He set out to get a job in the local jewelry industry, starting out in a jewelry trade shop, where he would learn about custom work and jewelry repairs for the first time. Alan recalls showing his prospective employer the jewelry he had made in Germany and the man just scratched his head in disbelief at the finely constructed work with stone settings, hinges, chains and clasps. His new job added stone setting and jewelry repair skills to Alan’s growing repertoire. Working daily in gold and platinum rounded out Alan Revere’s knowledge and confidence to accomplish a wide range of jewelry tasks. He learned trade standards and he was challenged every day. In the morning a stack of jobs greeted him. Repetition has its rewards. He got faster and better. He was able to size ten rings in an hour. “I loved it,” says Alan. “I just love working with my hands and jewelry was the perfect fit.”

In 1974 Alan started teaching at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, where he offered specialized evening classes in Stone Setting, Engraving, Design and other subjects. His classes attracted the attention of local professional jewelers, who were mostly home grown eager to gain European skills. Based on what he learned in Germany, Alan’s classes were so popular that he decided to skip the politics at CCAC and open his own school.

Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts

In 1979, Alan opened the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts and moved his studio to San Francisco’s Phelan Building, then the region’s jewelry center and home to over a hundred jewelry businesses.

The prime Market Street location was centrally located and as enrollment grew so did the size of the studio/school. A team of former students and apprentices manufactured Alan’s designs in the daytime. In evenings and on weekends the space converted into two classrooms for 15 students. Everything kept growing, and along with the payroll, so did the stress.

Photo: Alan Revere – Jewelry Design booth at ACC Craft Fair in San Francisco, circa 1991
Photo: 1988 Double Helix Earrings won a Japanese Pearl Contest Award. 14k gold with 64 round Akoya pearls

Taking a class on business in 1994, Alan stepped back to evaluate his life and career, coming to the conclusion that he needed a change. With a full time, staff of ten goldsmiths plus another ten instructors, management was draining his creativity and straining Alan’s ability to manage the school, jewelry and staff. He was burning out. Taking the view that he had accomplished what he wanted as a jewelry designer, Alan closed his jewelry business to focus all of his attention and all of his resources on education. He had a series of instructional videos, “Revere on Goldsmithing,” in the works with Rio Grande and a list of books to write.

Photo: Alan with a group of Jewelry Technician Intensive students around 2008

The Revere Academy attracted people and brought together a community who shared Alan’s passion for jewelry. The school became a center within the jewelry industry. Thousands of students came from around the world. Lifelong friendships were formed. After 33 years, the new owners of the Phelan Building decided to boot all the small jewelers and the Academy moved across the street in 2013 to the beautiful Humboldt Bank Building, as the school attracted more and more students. Some students met business partners and even their spouses at Revere. Today there are Revere graduates working in all aspects of the greater jewelry industry in all corners of the world, from Anchorage to Miami and from Rio to Bangkok.

Although he is backing away from his high-profile position, Alan plans to remain active through two industry associations, the Contemporary Jewelry Design Group, which he founded in the 1980’s and the American Jewelry Design Council. AJDC is an organization that promotes the artistic appreciation of original fine jewelry. Each year members are invited to design and make a new piece for the annual design project. This year, with the theme Transformation, Alan created a platinum, gold and ruby brooch in the form of a heart. “AJDC remains a top priority for me,” Alan notes. “My best work was created for the AJDC projects over the past 25 years.”

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Recently, Metal Arts Guild (MAG) had the opportunity to sit down with Alan just after he shut the door to the Revere Academy. MAG President, Emma Machiareni and Board Member, Michaela Farkasovska, joined Alan in his office, shortly before closing down.

MAG: How did you get here?

Alan Revere: I’m not sure. I didn’t really intend to do any of this. I just wanted to work with my hands. I wanted to bring more beauty into the world. I was minding my own business, tapping away on a piece of silver or gold, when somebody looked over my shoulder and asked me a question. The next thing I knew, he was sitting beside me and I was teaching.

MAG: How hard was it to attend a European school to learn jewelry making? What was most challenging? Most rewarding?

Alan Revere: There were very few Americans in the program, which was taught entirely in German. There was a bump getting in, because I did not realize one needed to speak German. As I was being turned away during registration, in a language I did not understand, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A Dutch student named Charon Kransen stepped up and told the registrar that we were best friends and then he took me under his wing until I could get along by myself. I loved the international atmosphere. The program attracted students from 50 countries. Many were sons and daughters of prominent jewelers from around the globe. It was all so much fun. I was driven by a lot of horsepower, once I found myself on the track. My teachers were at the top of their field. Every day I learned new skills and I was growing by leaps and bounds. The expansion was exhilarating.

MAG: What was the most difficult to learn?

Alan Revere: Like most people, I found engraving and stone setting to be a challenge. These tasks require a very high level of focus, concentration, eye-hand coordination and fine motor dexterity. My teachers were all seasoned masters and they patiently guided me through exercises designed to build skills and confidence.

MAG: What did you bring to the table with your school?

Alan Revere: At that time there was a resurgence of interest in handwork and handmade crafts were finding a ripe market. At There was something about the German model which I brought back with me, that worked for Americans in the era when arts and crafts where on the rise. Based on European standards, my own spin more welcoming than what I experienced in school. As a child of the 60’s I brought a freedom and creativity that inspired others as well. While based on tradition, my teaching was alive in the present. This resonated with people who had the same kind of passion for creating beauty around them. One of the reasons the Revere Academy was so successful is because of the team of teachers and guest instructors, many of whom I met when I was designing and selling my own original jewelry. I met most of them at the major shows, where I exhibited, and at conferences. We became friends and buddies and then, when I knew them, I invited them to teach.

One of the things I created was an annual International Masters Symposium. Each April for 20 years, we invited a small group of top-flight jewelers and makers from all over the globe to teach workshops in their areas of specialty. Many stars in our field came to San Francisco. We hosted the first and often only classes taught by David Yurman, Bernd Munsteiner, Barbara Heinrich, Naohiro Yamada, Fabrizio Aquafresca and others.

MAG: What changes have you seen over the past 40 years?

Alan Revere: The times have definitely changed.

One big change is the role of women in jewelry, which has become a great equalizer. When I started out there were no women in the shop, just six or eight guys. Women were discouraged from entering the field. When I met Nancy Wintrup, who would become one of our teachers, it was at a Jewelers Union meeting in the 70’s and she was the only woman in the room. Today women are on par with men in this field, if they don’t already dominate it as owners, designers, entrepreneurs, sales people, etc.

The student ratio was very different in the beginning. At least 70% were young men looking for skills to get jobs. As the effects of the Feminist Movement took hold, women figured out that they could do this just as well as men, which leveled the playing field. Since the 1990’s new opportunities have opened up for women, when success was based on what you could do with your hands and not on whether or not you wore pants. Since then women have flooded into the jewelry field.

It has always been a challenge to make and market handmade jewelry. While it is easier to sell in some ways because of the Internet, the market has gotten smaller for handmade jewelry. Some people figure it out and some don’t. I have friends who are doing very well in jewelry at this time. If you have a niche with a strong product line that fits the market and clientele in place, then you can ride any wave.

MAG: What is your advice to jewelers and metal artists who are entering the field and starting a business or career?

Alan Revere: I have watched hundreds of my peers and thousands of students navigate careers in jewelry and there are definitely a few keys that seem to open the doors to success. Here are the first three:

  1. Feel the passion: The most successful makers and entrepreneurs are driven by passion. It could be for jewelry as ornament. It could be the luster of gems, or the reward of handwork, or the way metal feels and can be formed, or anything else. But one has to be pulled toward this medium, to be excited and engaged, in order to drive an enterprise forward.
  2. Be prepared:Do your homework. Learn all about your medium and about the field, the industry and the marketplace. Study everything that is related to jewelry. Go into every jewelry store. Read every jewelry book and magazine. Look for and follow your favorite designers. What do you like about their work? Learn about business. Get a job working in the field to gain experience and connections. Take a class in writing a business plan. Learn how to do all the support tasks yourself: photography, marketing, bookkeeping, graphics, etc. Do them all yourself at first in order to get started and so you can direct others to take over these tasks later, which will free you to be creative.

There is a great resource here in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center on Fifth Street offers very helpful classes related to starting a small business. One popular program, which I and several of our students have taken, is led by Paul Terry. It involves writing every step of a business plan over the course of 12 weeks.

  1. Find your niche and develop your style: I think it is important to find your own voice, to figure out how to look different (and better) than all the other makers. See if you can create a signature style. Take the high road. Compete on quality and design not on price. Find your strength and exploit it. Try a lot of different things and follow your success, so in the end other people can recognize your work.

If you’ve got the passion and the endurance, drive and the smarts there’s definitely a career here. Unlike most other fields you can start very small in jewelry. You don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars to kickstart. It’s pretty easy. Just sit down at your bench and knock out a few pieces in silver and test the market on your friends. Jewelry is like no other field, as far as ease of entry.

MAG: What do you think your legacy will be?

Alan Revere: My legacy lives in the books I wrote, the jewelry I made and in the students, I taught. Each of those has a life of its own. The books will be read and re-read on different platforms for years to come. The jewelry I created in gold and silver will endure. And in addition to creating their own beauty and making people happy with their own work, my students are now passing along their skills to others. So, I feel that my time has been well spent.

Most of all, I hope that my legacy has been to create and share beauty. The world needs as much beauty as possible. Thousands of my own original pieces are out there and I am very proud that they bring beauty to the wearers. I am thrilled to see my work come up on the secondary market through eBay, 30 years after I made it, which means it is still alive. My legacy is being worn everyday by people who are enriched by the jewelry I created.

MAG: Why did you close the school, when classes were full?

Alan Revere: It was a very difficult decision, which was the result of a few events coming together. Despite the fact that classes were doing just fine, the cost of operations in San Francisco is so high that it raises the stakes and the stress. Our lease was coming to a close and the new one was at 33% higher rent. I just turned 70 and everything in my life was telling me to slow down. At that point it occurred to me that there might be a buyer for the school. And while several prospects showed up, none stepped up the take the baton from my hand. So, I decided to shut the doors with the graduation of the 34th Jewelry Technician Intensive class on December 15, 2017.

I have to say that I am very relieved to be out from under the weight of my school: the operations, staff, finances, regulations and stresses that come along with a small business in America’s most expensive city. I have had a wonderful support system in Registrar, Glenda Ruth, and the staff of teachers. My closest friends are jewelers and I will miss the contact and the industry that way.

MAG: And what about your future?

Alan Revere: I am ready for a break from what I have been doing. I am looking forward to being bored, to waking up and deciding what to do each day. San Francisco and the Bay Area offer endless adventures. My son, Dustin Revere is a glass blower. We are both building studios at his new house in Berkeley right now. So, I am sure I will continue to create. I don’t think my hands will allow me to stop altogether. Right now, I am working on my piece for AJDC’s 2018 theme of Together. Yesterday I made 18k settings for a Mexican fire opal, pink tourmaline, opal triplet, fire agate, rough diamond and pearl. This piece goes in a new direction for me, in that it is all about the gems.

Looking back on it all Alan says,” I was in the right place at the right time. I did my homework and applied myself all the way. I walked through doors as they opened up for me. I followed my dream and others joined in. I am very lucky that I was able to help so many people along their paths as well.”

Photo: Alan demonstrating how to solder a ring in 2017.

Alan Revere

Metal Arts Guild wishes Alan all the best for his new adventures.

Emma Machiareni and Michaela Farkasovska

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Books by Alan Revere:

  • Professional Goldsmithing
  • The Art of Jewelry Making
  • 101 Bench Tips for Jewelers
  • Professional Ring Repair
  • Professional Setting Repair
  • Professional Stonesetting
  • Professional Jewelry Making

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