CCS: Crafts I Shape the Future With an Arts and Crafts Degree
Link Wachler didn’t become Michigan’s most awarded jewelry designer by following trends or mass producing flashy bling. So, what’s his secret?
A lifetime developing expert craftsmanship and the ability to create meaningful work—pieces that evoke emotion and tell a story.
“I grew up learning Old World craftsmanship,” said Wachler, who attended CCS during the 1970s. “My grandfather was a diamond setter who had apprenticed in Germany. He came to the US in 1921 and eventually started David Wachler & Sons with my father and uncle in Detroit and ended up in downtown Birmingham. My dad used to bring home pieces for me to help with, and, by age 15, I had a studio in my bedroom where I worked as a ghost designer.
“While I am grateful for what I learned working with my family, I wanted to explore other opportunities as a designer. Taking part in design competitions gave me the chance to see what other designers were doing, and I wanted to grow and be able to express myself more artistically—to see how my ideas resonated with clients without having to work in the confines of the family business. So, in 2008, I decided to take a leap of faith and build my career independently as a concierge custom jewelry designer. I became an entrepreneur.”
Wachler has won over three dozen awards and was the first American to win first place in the Japanese Pearl Jewelry Design Competition after a 20-year stretch. Recently, his contemporary necklace design, Outside the Box, was recognized in the 2016-2017 International Pearl Design Competition sponsored by the Cultured Pearl Association of America. The design features three 14-karat white gold cubes, 13 black and white pearls and a three millimeter rubber cord. All of the winning designs will be on display during the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) Gem Show in Tucson from January 31 through February 5, 2017
“I still remember my first design competition,” Wachler recalled. “I was 22 and got to travel to New York for the ceremony. I was the youngest designer there and surrounded by many of the established designers I looked up to. It was such a surreal feeling to be among them!
“A few years later, when I was in my 30s, I was at the same competition and approached by a young designer who reminded me of myself at that first competition. I was flattered to think that I was now being recognized by other designers. That ‘eureka moment’ helped me think of myself differently and gave me confidence.
Wachler’s pieces are worn and enjoyed by CEOs of international companies, rock ’n’ roll hall of famers, athletes, movie stars and television and radio personalities. As a concierge jewelry designer, he “goes out of his way to cater to clients.” He meets them in their homes and coffee shops, places that are convenient and comfortable. Then, he looks into their eyes and listens to their stories. He asks them questions, not so much about the jewelry itself, but to understand the purpose of the piece and uncover details that can be translated into the design. After the initial meeting, Wachler meets with them several more times to go over sketches and wax models and to help them select stones (if necessary).
“People tend to have their guards up when they’re in a store,” Wachler explained. “I want my clients to enjoy this experience; I want it to be easy for them. Connecting this way (and with a sense of humor!) tends to break down barriers and surface what they’re really after. Being able to create something special, something that touches them deeply or tickles their funny bone, is what gives meaning to my work.”
Wachler doesn’t limit himself to one particular style or material as a designer. He has developed classic engagement rings, whimsical pieces, a line of interchangeable jewelry called LifeLinks and sculptural objects d’art. With each new project, he finds ways to express what it is his client needs. He once designed a bracelet that captured the memory of a mother’s son who passed away. It incorporated his photo, her other children’s photos, birthstones, an image of the moon (Goodnight Moon was his favorite bedtime story) and four stars in the night sky to represent each of her children. Creating the bracelet helped her to heal. For a woman going through chemotherapy, he created a silver bracelet made from his LifeLinks collection. Each member of her family selected a special bead to encourage her fight against cancer. As part of another project, Wachler was approached by the family of a wealthy man who wanted him to design a sculpture as a surprise for his 60th birthday. He used old family photos to create a Mount Rushmore-like sculpture of the man’s children, something this man never expected.
“Working on my own allows me to really connect with my clients in a way that working in a store would not,” said Wachler. “A short time ago, I was working on a large diamond ring. One of my friends contacted me about her neighbor who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He wanted to do something special for his wife for Christmas, but he didn’t have much time to live. I put the ring aside and went to his house right away.
“The man told me a story about how he had gone zip lining to help overcome his fear of heights. He did this to teach himself to be brave and face whatever came his way in the upcoming months—to surrender himself to God. He wanted to help his wife to be brave as well. He told me about how when he was zip lining, he threw his arms and legs out to the side like a starfish. So, I went home and got to work. Within a few days, I created a starfish ring for his wife. This ring helped remind her of this man’s brave attitude and helped give her strength after his passing. The seven-carat ring that I put aside didn’t compare in meaning to what this ring did for her.”
While Wachler has attracted most of his clients via word of mouth, he also devotes a lot of time to establishing a web presence, finding effective uses for social media, networking and creating work for different charity events. He continues to compete in design competitions because they challenge him to flex his creative muscle, which is critical to his work.
“Going to a college like CCS gave me the freedom to try new things that I couldn’t do while working at the store.”
“And, I didn’t have to wait to begin my studio classes; we got our hands dirty right away! It also allowed me to explore sculpture and drawing, which all helped me as a jewelry designer.
“There are so many options out there today for designers—online stores, social media and so forth. It is possible to make a living doing what you love. You just need to market yourself and learn how to listen to people who will be honest with you. It’s good to be successful, but it’s better to be successful and well liked. And find your niche. Don’t think of design as competition against other designers; you’re competing against yourself.”
To check out more of Wachler’s work, visit http://www.linkwachlerdesign.com.