Lord of the Rings

Jeweler Clare Yares turns rock fragments into fine art

Friends insist you can't help visiting the place without wanting to come home and torch everything you own. Yet Yares' tidiness has an obvious iconoclastic edge. Tall bandstand-style bongo drums are stationed just inside the front hallway, where Yares can easily rattle the skins while passing from room to room. A vibraphone sits around the corner in the living room. And soft jazz and classical music is piped into every room. Yares, who also spent time as a woodworker, made a fair portion of the household furniture, which shows the clean lines and organic simplicity of Shaker, Scandinavian design and Japanese-folk craft. The garage holds some of his heavier and noisier stonecutting and wood-shaping equipment.

And down the hall, on the other side of the house, are rooms devoted to making and photographing his jewelry.

Yares says he likes to have his tools and materials arranged like a drum set--everything he needs within reach. The walls and table tops of his studio room are filled with neat collections of hammers, miniature anvils and dapping blocks (for forming varying size cups out of metal), pliers, files, reamers and more hammers.

"It's sort of manic, I know, but I just love hammers," he says. The hammers come in all shapes and sizes, for a variety of purposes too lengthy to name. Some are made of steel, some plastic and teflon. And in the thick of them is a mallet made out of rawhide.

Beside the workbench and row of hammers are miniature booklike slabs and flat-ended chunks of blue and pink chalcedonies, chrysoprase--a green stone with the glow of a subdued emerald--and rutilated quartz--clear as glass and filled with reddish-gold threads of the mineral rutile. More uncut stones sit in gallon containers tucked neatly on the floor against the wall. Yares also has samples of obsidian, opal, hematite, carnelian and varieties of jade.

He reaches for a chunk of jasper and moistens the surface with his finger to give it a fleeting polish. "What I'll do is pick the places in the stone that do the most for me."

Pointing to a spot mottled with reds and greens, he says, "There's a place up here that has some really lively, spotty greens. The idea in cutting stone is to bring that kind of thing to life. That's why I cut my own stones because I can see how the colors and light are changing with the shape."

He says he's got 30 pounds of rock crystal--enough for several generations of jewelers.

But he can never have enough of the luminous green chrysoprase that he picked up earlier in the day at Rockazona. "That's so good. I have to ration that to myself."

He makes every part of his jewelry by hand. He never uses molds or casts. He views the tools as vital extensions of his hands, and reminders of the craftspeople who have schooled him in one intricacy of his craft or another. He says the late Scottsdale jeweler Fred Scaggs and former Phoenix jeweler Pierre Tourraine, who worked under the flashy moniker "Pierre of Paris," were mentors of sorts.

He picks up a hammer that came from Tourraine.
Says Yares, "I used to go to see him just to watch his hands. Instead of hammering a wire to straighten it out, he would work it straight with his fingers--pretty high tech. Same with a piece of metal. He had the touch. Just magic."

Yares says that his early years in the tool-and-die shop introduced him to the visual and mechanical conundrums that are an everyday part of his work as a jeweler. Many of the shop practices from those days have stayed with him. At a large drawing table in the entryway, a long reach from the bongo drums, he makes detailed, improvisational drawings of his sculptures--forms that feed and borrow from the jewelry. And on index cards boxed in his studio, he keeps precise measurements of many of the forms he has made.

The irony of all this tidiness and order is that they serve what at times can be a vague, elusive cause. "What I'm trying to get in these works is an aura, an ambient quality that exists in a lot of good art," says Yares. "That probably doesn't translate very well, or it might sound odd. But basically it's a mystery that you can't solve. You can only experience it, over and over."

Unlike the gold, diamond-encrusted jewelry sold in fine stores everywhere, Yare's works aren't worth much melted down. And like other art jewelry being produced today, it doesn't command much of the estimated $20.5 billion Americans spend annually on fine jewelry.

Its value is, at best, esoteric.
"It's very abstract, and difficult to talk about without sounding like a New Age snake-oil salesman," says Kim Rawdin, a fellow Phoenix jeweler and admirer of Yares' works. "But Clare's work does have a sort of magical tension. He often talks about this polarity between two opposing forces in his work."

Rawdin says that tension is most apparent to him in some of Yares' rings, where the bands, settings and stones seem to come together specifically to set one another apart.

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