Published: April 4, 2023
Margaret Cross is the designer and creator of Love and Loss, a collection of fine modern mourning, memento mori and sentimental jewelry. Trained as a printmaker at the Pratt Institute, Cross applied her skills to jewelry making after enduring a personal tragedy. Exploring the delicate and varied nature of life’s celebrations and endings through her handmade creations, Cross designs these objects to house not only the remains of her clients’ loved ones but also their memories of them. Antiques and The Arts Weekly corresponded with Cross from her Brooklyn, N.Y., studio.
Please tell us about your custom commission process.
A person or family will reach out to me via email, and tell me about whose life they would like to commemorate. They’ll tell me a little about the person, and what they would like preserved in a reliquary piece. It may be their father’s ashes, their mother’s hair, a bit of lining from their grandfather’s coat, their cat’s tooth, their dog’s fur, a rose petal from their grandmother’s funeral bouquet, a snip of their baby’s first haircut…the possibilities are endless. We’ll discuss a shape, whether a ring or necklace is more suitable for their lifestyle and accent stones that are meaningful to them.
What is your customer demographic?
The interesting part of all of this is, I very rarely meet the people who I create these pieces for face to face, so to share my customer demographic would be pure speculation. I couldn’t tell you their age or what they look like, but I know their greatest losses, and maybe even the story of the worst day of their life. It’s a unique way of meeting someone, and you instantly feel bonded in a time that can feel so isolating. I shared my story with my customers, and I feel a great connection to them and privileged to do this work. I can tell you; I’ve shipped custom work worldwide. Mostly within the United States, to Canada and England, but also as far as Japan.
Where do you find inspiration for your original designs?
I create pieces for myself, things that I want to wear. I love green. I can’t stop making green diamond rings. I keep getting requests to recreate this one white diamond ring I made years ago. I was at the Tucson Gem show earlier [in February], and I vowed to bring back at least a few white diamonds. Well, I bought some diamonds: blue, brown and of course, green! I can’t help myself. My parents were born in Italy and England, respectively, and I can see the influence of both those places in my work and from traveling to visit family in each country. Pieces like the Devotion rings are inspired by trips to my father’s birthplace and the Cimitero delle Fontanelle in Naples, and of course hairwork was popularized by the Victorians. Hairwork jewelry can still be found every weekend at Portobello Road and in the V&A Museum in London.
As a trained printmaker, how did you translate that skill to jewelry making?
I was once told by a professor that blacksmithing and printmaking have always gone hand in hand, and I think it’s always been that way for me. When I was a student at Pratt, the printmaking and jewelry studios were stacked on top of each other. I’d pierce and saw and solder my plates together before running downstairs and then etching, inking and printing them. I’d make multiples in my jewelry casting class, and it all felt very one in the same. I was never able to make editions in print, I had to make each one a little different, a little unique, which was frowned upon. And my wax work process is very much the same. There’s a mold, they can all be identical, but I can’t bring myself to do it!
In addition to mourning jewelry, you also release Ceremonial Collections twice a year that commemorate all of life’s events. Please tell us more about these collections.
I like to think of my work as equal parts “love and loss.” Custom mourning and custom ceremonial rings. I create two small collections of ceremonial rings twice a year, in the “spring and fall,” inspired by the Gerard Manly Hopkins poem of the same name. For many of my customers, I’ve created a reliquary for them to honor the life of someone who has passed and their engagement ring. It’s all so bittersweet and it’s all the same big ball of wax.
Do you have your own collection of antique jewelry?
I do have a small collection of antique rings, only a handful. They’re nothing fancy or expensive. I guess you might call them study pieces. Just beautiful little bits I’ve found at flea markets and antique malls and estate sales. I love estate sales; you can find me at them most weekends. These pieces I find may be in dire need of repair (I wouldn’t dare) but the hair work is pretty, or maybe it has my initials or someone who I love’s initials on it. I tend to collect contemporary designers and my peers’ work much more, which I’ve been told is rare. Because you’re supposed to self-promote and only wear your own jewelry or something, but…that’s no fun. I like to imagine my daughter will have this collection one day. My family are immigrants, so they arrived in this country with nothing, no heirlooms to speak of. I’d love for my daughter to inherit a collection, that’s a big reason I have this little collection, future heirlooms, future antiques to preserve this time our lives.
Would you please share one of your favorite commissions?
Each commission resonates with me to some degree, so I truly wouldn’t be able to pick one. I will say, I love when I send an email to a person to let them know that their piece is ready, and they tell me that the timing is perfect. The anniversary of the person we’re commemorating’s passing is the next week, or it’s their birthday. When things like that happen, and it feels like a sign from a power greater than us, that’s my favorite. I get the kindest, most thankful emails from my customers, and I can’t say it enough, I’m so lucky to do what I do. It’s an honor that I am so grateful to have.
[Editor’s note: For more information, www.mourningjewelry.com.]
– Z.G. Burnett
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