Featured Member

Each month a new Featured Member is chosen from the completed member profiles on our website. Their interview and work is highlighted on our blog and social media. Visit our archive of past Featured Members.

September 2023

Sharon Zimmerman

Website: Sharon Z Jewelry
Instagram: @sharonzjewelry

  • Sharon Z 2017-04-22-9498 photo cred Ryan Leggett
  • One of a kind sapphire earring banner image - Sharon Z Jewelry - Handmade in San Francisco
  • One of a kind green australian sapphire-cabochon set in 18 karat gold on oxidized silver chain OOAK-NE025-Shaorn Z Jewlery - San Francisco
  • Christina B in the process of learning how to flush set a sapphire into a silver band

  • Studio-527-bathed-in-sunlight-Sharon-Z-Jewelry-School-scaled.jpg

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

Being a business owner and a professional jeweler wasn’t part of my original path – I was going to be a musician and performer. Even after 17+ years in jewelry and metalsmithing, I feel like I come at it with an outsider and observer’s view. But being a performer, I think that’s where my deep desire to communicate stems from – wanting to understand my characters in acting isn’t that different than trying to understand people in a classroom. Interpreting their needs, motivations, and desires is like researching the character in a play. Understanding people is central to how I work and teach.

2. What is your favorite tool and why?

My favorite tool is one of my hammers. I bought it used online 8 years ago, refinished it and it is one of my most flexible and trusted tools. Using it to transform and strengthen metal is such a magical process for me, even after so many years of practicing it.

3. Which materials do you create with most and what is your attraction to using them?

I use sterling, 14K and 18K gold as well as platinum. All have properties that I like to work with for different reasons. Silver allows me to be more avant garde and expressive, since the metal is both flexible and economical, 14 K gold is strong and beautiful, 18 Karat yellow gold is my favorite to work with for its density and flexibility and hello! to that gorgeous color. Platinum is so heavy and bright. I love polishing platinum and watching that glow reveal itself.

4. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I draw my inspiration from all kinds of places. A lot of it comes from observing the world around me. Nature, sure, and architecture, and of course a reasonable dose of Sci-Fi movies. I love futuristic aesthetics — it feels optimistic.

5. How long have you been working in metals and what brought you into this field?

I started in 2003 with my first metalsmithing class. A couple of years later I picked up and moved to San Francisco to live here, but also to attend the Revere Academy. I met other passionate and motivated jewelers there (some I am still friends with to this day). I had spent a lot of time working retail and customer service jobs – a must for anyone wanting to run their own business! You learn so much about how to work with people. But even before picking up metalsmithing I was always keeping my hands busy – sewing, crafts, beading – but I was searching for more. A guidance counselor heard me say that I really liked making jewelry as a hobby and told me about a local community college metals course. I took a class where I learned that I could make my own rings and I was hooked!

6. What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in metals?

Try everything! Even if it frustrates you, even if you don’t think you’ll be totally into it, even if you think you won’t want to use a particular skill, try it and find out for sure. Also, try your hand at working in the jewelry industry. Nothing like having to do production work to find out if you want to keep doing it for decades. And working in the industry can teach you so much about how to work efficiently and consistently.

7. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a metal artist and have you overcome it, or how are you working to overcome it?

Figuring out the intersection of what I like to make vs. what people will want. There is a big push/pull of making work that is expressive and represents my aesthetic ideals, while also making sure that it connects with an audience. I do in-person shows and events to find out how customers interact with the jewelry, and to hear how they respond to and describe my work. This has helped me to be better at designing with the customer in mind. After all, if I don’t connect with people, then I don’t get to keep doing what I love.

The other challenge is that a lot of old ways of thinking and working pervade the industry at the upper levels. When I started my business, finding enough companies that provide transparency of their sourcing was a challenge. Overall, the jewelry industry has been so slow to respond to demands for greater ethical accountability, and it has been slow to realize that it has lost the younger generation of consumers because it didn’t provide traceability and accountability. I am happy that a number of organizations like Ethical Metalsmiths and the CRJC are shifting the conversation and putting pressure on larger companies to change their models, but it’s deeply unfair that it is falling to us as individuals. There have been real positive changes – Fairmined certification, a push for Mercury-free mining, thriving partnerships with mining collectives that benefit source communities and a dedication to providing mine-to-market transparency to name just a few. I am excited to see where this will take the industry over the next decade. Joining these organizations and learning from their forums or attending conferences and meetings has helped me discover better resources and has helped with actions like becoming a Fairmined Licensee.

8. Favorite resource/vendor or website.

Favorite resources! OK, so let me give a shout out and a follow to @metalsmithsociety on Instagram for creating an amazing and sharing community of jewelers and metalsmiths. So many good tips on there. For as long as I’ve been doing this, there is always something new that I can learn. Rio Grande is still my go to vendor for so many things, especially tools (their Rio Pro membership which is totally worth it!) and I love Hoover and Strong’s continued commitment to traceability for their raw materials. It’s where I get my Fairmined gold and silver from. Also my caster Jena Hounshell who has been an incredible resource for me over the years that I have worked with her. And her mold and sprue class last year was mind-expanding – I learned SO much.