Tears, Laughter And Accolades At The Inaugural Jose Hess Design Awards

It was an emotional night at the inaugural AJDC Jose Hess Design Awards. An events space in the Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum in Tucson, Ariz., was filled with renowned American jewelry designers, representatives of the largest jewelry trade organizations and many others who support American artistry in jewelry design. It was a celebration of both the man who the awards honor, and a group of new jewelry designers who were awarded for their original creations.

In the middle of the madness was Magdalena “Maggie” Hess, a renowned designer in her own right and the wife of Jose Hess, who spent the night in an emotional rollercoaster changing constantly from laughter to tears.

Jose Hess, who died two years ago at the age of 87, is considered one of the original leaders of the American designer jewelry movement. He is arguably the first person who lobbied the jewelry industry to place his name on his jewels, marketing them as uniquely branded pieces as early as the 1960s. He and a few others, including David Yurman, Penny Preville and Steven Lagos, were among the first to create jewels under their personal brands in the 1980s. Prior to this, jewels were displayed in cases without identification. Today designer jewelry is ubiquitous in the industry and among consumers. His famous expression was “Strong like a bull,” a phrase that was repeated among his friends throughout the February 2 awards event.

Hess also founded the American Jewelry Design Council (AJDC). The organization works to raise awareness of the aesthetic value of artistic fine jewelry and to elevate the caliber of jewelry design.

“His name was in a conversation about American designers,” Magdalena Hess, said to the crowd while pausing multiple times to fight back tears. “The discussion went into how little the American trade and the public knew about design work in America, so he set out to fix this. He arranged a meeting with other designers and the American Jewelry Design Council was born.”

Renowned American jewelry artists, Paul Klecka and Barbara Heinrich also spoke at the event.

The AJDC Jose Hess Design Awards attracted 80 designs from those new to the jewelry industry. Six finalists were selected, all of whom attended the awards event. However, a number of the finalists’ creations didn’t make it because of a brutal snowstorm that prevented air travel in much of the U.S. AJDC representatives quickly placed images of the designs in the display case along with the jewels that did make it.

The grand prize winner was announced at the event. It was Baiyang Qiu, a native of China who now has a studio in Northern California, where she and her team produce original works that combine traditional goldsmithing techniques with advanced 3D design technology. Qiu was awarded $15,000.

The five other finalists each received $1,000. They are:

  • Darci Shea Bodgan
  • Everett Walker Redus
  • Marianne Hunter
  • Liaung Chung Yen
  • Sandra McEwen

The finalists also received trophies designed by Jose and Magdalena and manufactured by artists, craftsmen and engineers who are closely aligned with the organization.

“The AJDC theme for this year and award is called ‘Connection,’ and that is what it took to complete this trophy,” Magdalena Hess said. “It was a true connection of artists in different industries that brought this sculpture to life.”

The five-inch sculpture depicts a sphere created in an interwoven design signifying how the world is interconnected. These same connections also suggest individuality and unique talent. The others involved in producing the trophies, who were also in attendance, are:

  • Steven Adler, an industry leading CAD engineer
  • Yanna Blacy, Master Sculptor
  • Michael Rafael, founder, Direct Dimensions
  • Harry Abramson, project manager, Direct Dimensions
  • Elliot Spence, digital artist, Direct Dimensions
  • Sam Taylor, engineer, Direct Dimensions
  • Bryce Pfanenstiel, FORGE Mfg.

One can say with this awards program, the AJDC and American jewelry design has come full circle, horning those who carved a path for American jewelry artists while supporting a new group of artists and designers who are carving new paths with their original creations.

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