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A Look at Misa Jewelry's DTLA Studio and Sculpting Process

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Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

Jewelry designer Misa Hamamoto's upbringing in Honolulu deserves a lot of credit for her successful line of handmade jewelry, appropriately named Misa Jewelry. Aside from the design influence, it was one of her high school classes that sparked her interest in the art: "It wasn't your typical jewelry-making class where you just put beads together," Misa explains of the coursework. "We were actually working with hand torches and raw metals, putting together beautiful, sculptural pieces."

Although she went on to major at UCLA in Economics with a Computer Programming emphasis and later accepted a job in Finance, she couldn't shake the feeling that her life wasn't balanced, so she enrolled in evening art classes. When the jewelry sculpting class began, the skillset Misa gained in high school quickly returned and soon she was wearing her own pieces around the city and to the office, where co-workers became her first customers. As chance would have it, a store buyer approached Misa one day while she was in Brentwood and asked her about buying the necklace she was wearing, "She asked me about a price and I didn't have one," the designer explained. "I just made up a price and she said 'Great, I'll take 20!'" Dare we say, the rest is history?

Misa spent the next year working days in finance and nights making jewelry for several stores before finally deciding to follow her passion full-time. The designer's lightweight statement pieces are entirely handmade of sterling silver and 14kt vermeil. Priced between $35 and $575, Misa's line includes everything from the perfect stacking rings to larger statement pieces designed to hold their own. We caught up with the genetically blessed designer at her studio in the heart of Downtown LA's Jewelry District, where she was hard at work sculpting her latest design.

Where do you go for inspiration?
"I was raised in Hawaii so I've been an island girl all my life and I always visit multiple times a year. I also love traveling along the coast in California for inspiration. It's never literal, like if I see a bird I won't think 'oh I want to make this bird.' I'll inspect it and look at one feather on its wing and zoom in on that. It's always an abstract form of nature."

Do you sketch before you start sculpting?
"I have two ways of doing it. One is your typical way that I'm sure everyone thinks of, I just sketch a design that I was inspired by on a trip or something. It's always nature related. Then, I turn that sketch into an actual solid piece by sculpting. I also have another way where a design just pops into my head while I'm hiking or at the beach and I go straight to the studio and start free-handing the design and sculpting from scratch with no sketches.

Walk us through that wax sculpting process.
"I have a big chunk of jewelry wax, it comes in all different colors depending on which texture you want to work with. Then I will sculpt, say this ring I was wearing, out of the wax drop-by-drop, melted wax over an open flame. So it's truly handmade. Then I'll get dentist tools to make the design. The final sculpted wax piece then goes through a casting process where molten metal takes shape of the wax sculpture I just made. Then you have your original piece and it gets molded to create more."

What are your key pieces?
"My rings. I love making my rings because if you look at it, it's one whole continuous sculpture."

What's your favorite part of your studio's location?
"It's surrounded by so many creative people. You have the younger generations coming up with their own jewelry or clothing line and you also have older jewelers who have been in the business for many generations with their family. It's just nice to talk to someone in their 80's about they're experience. So, in one day I can talk to a 23 year old who is doe-eyed and making their new jewelry line and I can talk to the 85 year old down the hallway and listen to his stories about the gold prices rising and the new computer programs coming out to make jewelry. Every day is different."

Any local hot spots we should try out?
"I love Bäco Mercat—my friend Susan is the sous chef there. I also love Cole's because they have the best drinks. And I love shopping at Samira's Closet right down the street."

What's next for Misa Jewelry?
"Misa Jewelry Bridal! I'm going to do more affordable pieces for wedding couples or potentially engaged couples-they're shopping for their ring. I've noticed that a lot of big diamond pieces are out of couples' budget. So I would love to make something that is still within the sculptural aesthetic of my line but add some beautiful diamonds and precious stones to it and 14kt and 18kt gold."
· Misa Jewelry [Official Site]
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