Every month we introduce you to one of our consignment artists. There is no salt and pepper, we reveal the rawest story on our artists' creative journey. How they met and fell in love with jewellery? What inspired them and how? What was the making process like? What are the tips on being a successfully established jewellery artist? Visit our Facebook and Instagram pages to stay up to date on our latest collections. Go to INTERVIEW ARCHIVE to read more stories.

Artist of the Month (3): John Carnes

April 20, 2017

Origin story

John Carnes was born in Los Angeles in 1965, but soon after moved to Hawaii with his family and spent his early childhood skateboarding on the Big Island. He later moved back to California, and growing up he found himself compelled to create visual art as well as music, eventually choosing to pursue music full time. After a decade of late nights playing jazz, reggae and funk music in bars, John became disenchanted and felt it was time to return to his love for fine art. He discovered jewellery making, threw himself in completely, and from then on his appreciation for the materials and perfectionism of the various jewellery processes quickly developed!

In the mid 90’s John began making jewellery on his own while taking night classes and workshops in the upstate New York area, after which he began working for some local area goldsmiths. The colour palette and patterning options of Mokume Gane intrigued him, and it became his specialty. In 2005, John moved to Toronto and started creating his own work full time - with a heavy focus on the Mokume Gane technique.

Mokume gane wedding band and engagement ring collection.

John currently plays music with the Traditional Korean Music Association of Canada and finds that his outlook as a bassist greatly informs his metal work with a “less is more” approach, confident in the quiet boldness of simplicity.

After a 30 year hiatus, John is also back on a skateboard!


“I’ve learned from the ocean how to play music, and from music how to work with metal: be deliberate in your spontaneity, focused yet open.” -John Carnes

As a musician and an artist, John draws inspiration for his work from a variety of places, including the fierce individuality of Jazz musicians – giants like Ron Carter, Thelonious Monk and Betty Carter (to name a few), and from the compositions of the great Korean gayageum player Hwang Byungki. For him, music and art share a special bond, each informing and encouraging the other. Having grown up in Hawaii, the ocean and natural world are also profound influences that continue to motivate his artistic practice; they taught him how to work with forces more powerful than himself without being swept away, and how to truly “go with the flow”.

Coming up in the jewellery world, John greatly admired the work of Lalique and Michael Zobel, for his incredible eye and ability to integrate multiple techniques into his vision. Since he began his career in the northeast United States, John also looked up to artists who were working in the area, such as the forging master Pat Flynn and Damascus steel expert Namu Cho. And of course, John sites the Mokume elders as great inspirations for what is now his specialty, the beautiful technique of Mukume Gane. His list of favourites include but is not limited to George Sawyer, Steve Midgett, The Pijanowskis and Norio Tamagawa.

Damascuc steel rings tension set with raw diamonds.

John’s music is a delightful compliment to his jewellery creations. Follow this link to discover his sound:

Mokume Gane: process, materials, techniques

John’s specialty is the technique of Mokume Gane, which is translated from Japanese to “wood eye metal”. The technology is all in the eyes and hands, from rolling out sheet, firing billets and hand carving them, right down to the final polish. There are no shortcuts or mass production techniques whatsoever! John loves this aspect of the work – he feels that each piece is it’s own little journey, as it should be, since he is almost always creating engagement and wedding rings. So what does it look like to create one of these exquisite pieces? John begins each new work by cleaning and stacking sheets of various alloys; red, white and yellow golds, silver, platinum or palladium. He then presses the sheets between two steel plates and puts them into a small kiln he made himself, and proceeds to fuse the billet together by eye with a torch. This part of the process is tricky but it is John’s favourite – it requires him to dance around the melting temperature of whichever alloy in the stack has the lowest melting point, since even a momentary lapse in concentration could mean a puddle of metal in the kiln! After the metal is cooled, he can pattern the material with files, burs or drill bits, hammer and roll it flat again, and finally begin fabricating a piece of jewellery.

The one of a kind, one at a time nature of Mokume Gane means that each one of John’s pieces are unique and individualized. He likes to experiment by introducing traditional fine jewellery techniques such as halo heads and tension settings to create marvelously uncommon hybrid styles.

Valueable lessons, advice

Our artist of the month has some valuable advice for those aspiring to a design career in the jewellery industry: “You have to be well versed in every aspect of the business. Having a business partner (or being more business minded than most artists) is important. My specialty is Mokume Gane, but I am doing CAD design as well. They are complete opposites in some respects, but I see these skills as important. If you want to be a “pure artist” then you’ll have to accept solitude and financial brinksmanship as a lifestyle. No one owes you anything just because you want to indulge yourself. I have lived that way, and always knew that basic truth. But I have felt wealthy, in a sense, to wake up and do what I love all day. Not that I am in love with it all day… it is still work.”

John tells his students that you don’t love something until you hate it, meaning, of course, that the romance of inspiration can only carry you so far. At some point, he says, “what you love” simply becomes part of you and your life, and takes on a deeper meaning than momentary inspiration.

The most valuable lessons that John has learned in the jewellery industry are stamina, willingness to learn, grow and adapt, and seeing adversity as a challenge. In the words of one of his favourite film directors Akira Kurosawa: “stupid finds a way where clever sees a wall”.

Thank you John for your wisdom and for continuing to dazzle us with your wunderfully unique designs!

For more examples of John's work, visit John Carnes under CANADIAN ARTISTS menu.