Metalsmith Cody Sanderson lets curiosity pave the way

Metalsmith Cody Sanderson lets curiosity pave the way

Designer Spotlight

Text: Andrea Sim

The Navajo jewellery designer and metalsmith on the eternal joy of creating, left-field collectors, and the art of waiting

Youth is not Cody Sanderson's elixir. In a day where the biological clock is the trump card to one's success, time on the contrary, is his accomplice. "I used to sell jewellery on the road for eight years. [Designing] was an evolution for me," Sanderson starts off. A late foray into carving out an eponymous label by all means, but his tale is his testament to the power of curiosity, not a chip on the shoulder. 

"Visiting galleries, I'd look in the case and think, 'If I made that, I'd change the stone; reposition this.' I'd ask some of the jewellers in the company how they made the rings, how they shaped things, and I started practising and playing. I ran with it," Sanderson continues. And boy did he run with it, gaining traction by steamrolling the boundaries of jewellery making. 

For instance: Creating the unconventional such as a functional silver Rubik's cube conceived by studying the puzzle's mechanism, a process that brought about "smashed thumbs and cut hands". Or a bolo tie with an anatomically accurate, life-size heart as its pendant. Items not to be worn, but collected for they spark a natural curiosity in anyone that comes across them, just like the pieces he once sold roadside and saw in those galleries, did him. 

So while Sanderson chalks up his success to "hustle and some good people that helped me grow stronger internationally" — his punk-inflected Navajo hardware swathe bigwigs like G-Dragon, Yohji Yamamoto, Pharrell and Motofumi Kogi — his critical acclaim could just as easily be traced back to a ravenous curiosity that grew to become his constant source of inspiration. We speak to the man below.

Cody Sanderson

How does your attention to the human anatomy translate in your jewellery?
All the pieces I do make I end up wearing myself, to ensure that it contours to the human body and remains comfortable whether you wear it for five or 10 hours. I don't want the person to feel like it is a chore to wear it regardless if it is a ring that is square or a bracelet that conforms to the body. It [mustn't feel] too busy or bulky, though it may look like it is. 

Which is your most treasured piece?
It is this Rubik's cube I've made here. I sold it about eight years ago and I told the collector that if he ever wants to sell it, I'll buy it back from him. He ended up selling it back to me and made 50% on his money. I've done that with several pieces of my work. When I started out, I put a lot of effort, time, anguish and pain — you know, smashed thumbs and cut hands — into my pieces, but because I had to make money to survive, I sold them. Years later, the owner matures, and I'd ask if they want to sell it back to me. Some do and I pay them more than what they paid for it initially because I want to let them know that the art they bought has appreciated, it hasn't gone down. 

Why the Rubik's cube — was the technical challenge the draw?
When I was a young man in high school, I used to play with the Rubik's cube all the time. I can still do one in under two minutes. [Creating one out of silver] is something I always wanted to do. So when I had the right capabilities, tools and figured out the mechanisms, it was a challenge I enjoyed. I did it because I wanted to. I had more excitement over that piece than I had with any other.

Is there a next big challenge, design-wise?
Yes, there always is. Like this oversized bracelet I made here, there is no reason anyone will ever fit that. This bolo tie too, it has a anatomically correct human heart in silver, and see the cord that's dripping off the end of the arrow? I've had that stone for like 10 years, and I thought someday I'm going to find something for that stone.


Some things are worth the wait.
Exactly. Those are the pieces that I still want to make. I don't want to just work in the fashion or jewellery industry. I'll get into fashion, but rugs, furniture, wallpaper, textiles — things like that too. 

There's something to be said about the joy of creation, is there? 
Oh yes, and I don't feel like stopping. I don't feel like retiring. I enjoy it too much. It's not a chore to get up and design something. I'm really blessed to be able to create, and I'm just fortunate somebody else enjoys it — that they want to bring it home and maybe even pass it on. You can see a lot of my pieces aren't serious. They're not politically motivated, they're not religious. They're fun. You have the cube, the heart, and here is a [belt] buckle I made. It's all sterling silver, but [what is inside] is something a lot of people don't see. The hook on here — you see what it is?

A penis (laughs). Fashion doesn't have to be such a serious business, yes?
Yes, stuff that no one will see but maybe one day, I'll sell this to a man who is in his 70s. And he may not be around in his 80s and his grandson will say, "My grandfather wore this buckle everyday and now I have it." They'll be looking at it and go, "Wait, what the hell is that? Wow, grandpa, was he a freak? What do we know about grandpa?" That's so fun.

Are you able to tell a person's personality from the jewellery they wear?
No, you can't! You think you can, you feel that you can, but the reality is that some of my most impressive pieces that I've ever sold — that we thought would go to a celebrity or some punk rocker — have gone to 70 or 80-year-old women. Some are from Kansas, some from Texas. There's a woman (probably in her mid-70s) from Denver who bought all my avant-garde spike pieces in New York. She can actually go down South and see me in Sante Fe, but I sell to a company in New York and she purchases it there. She then tells her friends in Denver that she's bought this in New York. It's fun for her. She enjoys it, and I enjoy that she enjoys it.

Cody Sanderson jewellery is available at Dover Street Market Singapore, located at 18 Dempsey Road.