Beacon artist crafts jewelry for fans
Allison Cimino, who lives in Beacon, is the CEO and jeweler of RockLove (rocklove.com), a company that, in her description, “marries precious metals, custom-cut crystals and fair trade genuine gemstones with lines designed for fans.”
RockLove’s licensed lines include Pokémon, Star Wars, Disney, Marvel, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, League of Legends and Studio Ghibli, among others. She responded to our questions by email.
Most of your designs and products tap into a market of fervent followers. How do you keep on top of what’s the latest in fandom?
The licensing industry is typically invite-only, after a brand demonstrates not only an ability to execute on-trend and unique products, but also the consistency, quality, integrity and foundational stability needed for the largest franchises in the world to trust you with their intellectual property. RockLove became my full-time career in 2008 but it wasn’t until 2014 that I was invited by CBS to design for Star Trek and the path forward became clearer. While there is a constant stream of content being released, I only design for properties of which I am personally a fan, so that the jewelry I create remains authentic and inspired.
What does RockLove mean?
It’s a niche term in the performance-art community. Before jewelry, I was part of that community. I was a classically trained violinist, belly dancer and fire performer, and I was surrounded by multi-disciplined creators. The word describes the relationship between two artists who share a mutual admiration that leads them to collaborate. From the beginning with RockLove, I collaborated with musicians, authors and concept artists.
You studied abroad in Florence. Did that influence your avocation?
Oberlin College didn’t have a jewelry curriculum, but it did have an extensive study-abroad program that allowed me to have an old-world apprenticeship with a jewelry studio in Florence. When I returned, I did an independent study to build a jewelry program. I also worked at a fantastic jewelry and bead store [Bead Paradise in Oberlin, Ohio] during my final semesters, and did an internship over the summer in the Diamond District in Manhattan.
The Diamond District sounds like the antithesis of artisan. Was it a shock?
It was a crash course in the business side of the jewelry industry. As the youngest and most inexperienced person in the office, I ended up wearing many hats in a short amount of time — while witnessing the shadier underbelly. It was exactly the education I needed to teach me how to run a company and what sort of brand I did not want to be.
Learning skills like “the lost-wax casting method” through “ancient smithing techniques” sounds like a spellbinding fantasy genre all its own. What was the learning atmosphere like?
Jewelry-making is a sort of alchemy. There are so many techniques, from wire-wrapping, beading, fabrication, repoussé, lampwork, lapidary, with most applying fire, water, solder, stone and acids. Many techniques have been around for thousands of years. Jewelers bend elements and follow the disciplines that inspire them most. The lost-wax casting method is sculptural, intended for duplication, and allows me to tell stories in three dimensions, which is pivotal when you are creating designs celebrating characters, props and artifacts.
What are the challenges of creating licensed jewelry?
It has to not only be aesthetically pleasing but capture the essence of a world, character or moment. A good design is more than replicating logos or iconography; it has to tell the story in a precious metal miniature. The character must be crafted in a unique way, because many of these blue-chip licenses have been around for 40 or more years and there are countless renditions on the market. For me, that often means clever articulation to capture the charm and humor of a sidekick. So you have products such as Disney’s Ursula shell locket with a chain of linked music notes that is a transcription of Ariel’s aria or Star Wars’ R2-D2, BB-8 and Chopper droids with spinning, swinging and rotating components.
Your latest line is from Disney’s Encanto. Can you share the process you go through?
I’m a fan of Encanto, so I knew I wanted to represent multiple character doors articulated to open, paired with Mirabel’s golden butterflies as the core elements. We also needed a sculpted version of the magical house, Casa Madrigal, and I added Luisa’s flying unicorn donkey for a little levity. Disney reviewed and approved my sketches, and from there we began sculpting and sampling the jewelry. At the same time, we developed packaging designs, photo and video elements, product descriptions and marketing content. Each step involves submissions and approvals.
You started as an artist but now describe yourself as an artist and entrepreneur. When did that happen?
For many years, I described myself as a craftsperson, since so much of my day was about crafting duplicates at the jewelry bench, boxing them up and shipping them to customers. Then I began to add assistants and managers, so I felt I had graduated to businessperson. As I felt more confidence in negotiations, idea-generating and decision-making, I stepped into entrepreneur. Now, with 15 years of experience, I embrace designer, recognizing my evolution as an artist.