Her calmness of mind seems to be only one among many of her beautiful jewels of wisdom; and her works have life in them. If the artist herself were something we could slide onto a finger or around a wrist, into an earlobe or fasten at the back of our necks, she’s the kind that we’d carry wherever we go. But also the kind that when we can’t wear her – because we’re going to, who knows. . . a long dynamic breath or dance session – she’s on us anyway in our minds while we’re out, but we’ve placed her at home, held on a generous square of soft silk cloth on the dressing table beside a sculpture with internal prisms that refract rainbows in the sun’s light to shine over her fairly with their luminous rays – as she should be.
I confess to oozing with insatiable intrigue by the idea of Maria Mancuso Gersh using our platform for her creative renditions when she replied to an email, where I was apologising for some delay, with these words: ‘My timing is your timing is the One timing.’ And if you thought a character couldn’t be more soothing, she provokes the pinnacle of kindness with this when I told her that my excuse for being late was because I was watching the David Attenborough documentary A Life on Our Planet: ‘The shot of Chernobyl’s greening at the end of the film blew my mind. Nature is obscenely forgiving of mankind. Imagine if we met Her half way. I hope your day borrows from the resplendence of the documentary.’
In December 2020, I received a message from San Francisco with a profile’s url and under it read the personal note: ‘Check this out. Her work is sublime. It brings an off-beat fantasy vignette of Yoga on Diamonds to mind. Wish I could wear them to practice and before leaving class and everywhere else in between.’
I opened the page and scrolled Maria’s site: 5683. In the bottom right-hand footer of each window, discreetly displays a hypnotic disclosure: ‘An adornment can be transformational if it reflects inner work; otherwise, it is a costume change, which has its purpose, just not the same one.’ This got me thinking. Meaning it stuck. Over the years I’ve learnt to trust that what sticks is striking and true. Which leads me to welcome you to an introduction of 5683’s creator whose dedication to jewellery design is rooted in a desire to understand life and experiment with truth, which is apparent in each step of building the life she currently leads.
Says the designer: ‘With more time at home for quiet contemplation and study, I see how much my inclination to create and conjure beauty has a root in the mystical traditions of making ‘art’ through awakening, of alchemy and of living essential questions. Fashion, dance, design, even the written word – are all modes of exploration and expression for me.’
living habitat: Please expand on how the symmetries between the journey of personal inner work and its expression in adornments are applied?
5683 by Maria Mancuso Gersh: ‘The jewellery work is always born out of something learned, but ultimately, I want it to serve its wearer in a soulful, meaningful way. My most recent work is a collection of bespoke rings where what is touching the skin, in the way of a personal engraving, is given as much consideration as any and every other design detail. I love the idea of a piece being both inward facing and outward facing. There’s opportunity in that to make it an invocation or a support of Self, something that fosters intimacy with who we are, and our connection to the deeper I. Each of my collections does this in a different way by exploring themes such as lifecycle, sacred geometry, eyes/seeing as loving, etc.’
lh: What was your first piece and what inspired it?
5683 by mmg: ‘My first piece was a pendant of the sacred symbol Om. I made it for myself with no intention of it being the start of anything more. Wearing my Om was a way to affirm to myself and others the growing value of my spiritual path. I forged a design, shared it with a local jeweller who had production experience, and once around my neck, the curious attention of others followed.’
lh: Did you enrol in any formal jewellery studies?
5683 by mmg: ‘My focus at university was fashion / apparel design. Jewellery came later and grew out of my ability to communicate ideas through sketches.’
lh: Influences on your decision to become a jeweller (family background or something that happened or that you felt, an anecdote that switched on your calling)?
5683 by mmg: ‘Gasp. This question exposes a kink in my proverbial chain because while I make jewellery, I don’t necessarily consider myself a jeweller. Materially speaking, I see myself as a creative, as a stylist or visual alchemist. I am as happy arranging flowers, designing clothes, rooms, or events as I am jewellery. Non-materially speaking, I see myself as an explorer of mysteries, a seeker of truths and sacred knowledge. Making jewellery is a way to marry both aspects of my being. In that space, I can make beautiful things from beautiful understandings and revelations.’
lh: Your passions or hobbies?
5683 by mmg: ‘Family, Nature, Movement, Fashion, Education, Depth Psychology, Meditation, Night Skies, Sesame Street and Chocolate.
‘Fashion is a first love.
‘Sesame Street, Chocolate, the moon and the stars need no explanation. They’re just perfect.
‘Making a morning tea, being in nature, being with sacred texts and teachers, sitting in meditation, dancing, communing with others – these are rituals that support me.
‘Love has taught me everything. Being love at every juncture, even when I fall short, is why I’m here.
‘‘Lost’ in a forest is scary but not. Nature restores me.
‘I love to move my body. Dance gives me permission to express more. Yoga deepens my relationship to my body. Both are pillars to me, ways to embody feminine and masculine aspects.
‘I sit on the board of two entities whose missions I support wholeheartedly. Jacob Jonas The Company is a is a Los Angeles based creative collective of artists/dancers who in a few short years since the company’s inception are breaking boundaries and receiving global notice for their work in dance/choreography, photography, and film making. I consult and sit on a very small board of this company and am in complete awe of them as artists and as human beings. The company intersects dance across mediums to make original work that inspires its audience and dares to put them on notice. With diversity entwined in all aspects of its operation, JJTC looks to make dance a more valued and visible art form globally. Windward School is a secondary school in Los Angeles that is very whole child focused and delivers an exemplary college preparatory education. Its mission to provide a dynamic education in a nurturing community sets it apart from others in the LA area.
lh: How and where do you like to conceive and create? When making a piece, what is involved from conception to completion?
5683 by mmg: ‘Gratefully there is abundant magic in and around us all. The inspiration to create comes spontaneously for me, so can happen any time, any place. Most often it rises like a fragrant steam from something I’m deep in process with: a riddle, myth, theme, or discovery. Then suddenly I’ll feel the need to materialise and share. In the Ashes collection, the skull emblem is a reminder of the birth, death, rebirth cycle; the idea that in the end we as souls, are eternal. There’s no rush to get ‘it’ perfect. We are all created in a Divine image, and life is where we forget and remember to be the One we came here to be. With the Visions collection, the eye became a symbol for a purer, more holistic conveyor of love. To ‘see’ another, to ‘see’ oneself. This gets me closer to the love I want to experience, offer and receive in this lifetime. Eckhart Tolle, a teacher I respect immensely, says artists create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. I relate. Once I’m clear that work wants making, I grab one of my sketchbooks, dodge the dogs, kids, and husband, and steal a quiet space to occupy. There I begin the journey.
‘An inspiration leads to an ideation process, starting with a question: ‘What form will this take?’ I take that question to my sketchbook and play. Those first sketches, as rough as they are, hold all the energy of the original inspiration. There’s a ‘That’s it!’ feeling, and eventually the sketches become more detailed renderings that a wax maker can interpret. Once a wax is made, I make edits until the carving is the best representation of the drawing. From there a mould is made and the piece is cast. All other decisions about metal, if and where to set stones, finishes, etc. get made later. Certain collections, ones that are more architectural like the initial rings from the Alphabetical collection, are better suited to my collaborating with a computer savvy drafter.’
lh: Do you have stock at any galleries or shops in Los Angeles?
5683 by mmg: ‘I’m not a self-promoter and the reason for that is partly because I recognise that the jewellery I make has a narrative not everyone will subscribe to. I know that part of my work as a maker is to let people know that I’m making things, and to be open with that invitation. After that, I trust that those who connect with the pieces and their messages will find me.’
lh: Tell us about your bespoke pieces. Is your work mainly one-off or do you have collections that hold several of the same?
5683 by mmg: ‘My work is both bespoke and not, but even a piece that is not bespoke, or designed for only one person in mind, is customisable to some extent. I am a pleaser by nature and want people to have what they want most. Sometimes that’s just a different clasp.
‘All that said, I feel myself moving more and more into the bespoke space. My last two collections beg for collaboration. With the rings for the Memorandum collection, my clients are invited to consider both the outward and inward facing aspect of their piece. To me, the engraving that touches the skin is as relevant and critical as what meets admiring eyes.’
above: This bespoke ring from the Memorandum collection says YAY LOVE and is engraved with a quote from the Dalai Lama XIV: ‘Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.’ Material: 18kt yellow gold with 32 diamond baguettes.
lh: What direction may that process typically take e.g. interview with the client to understand their bespoke piece’s desires or hopes around the piece (empowering purposes the wearer may wish for or sentimental representation of a time in their lives or goal / affirmation they’re hoping to achieve or other)?
5683 by mmg: ‘Making a bespoke piece for someone starts with a conversation. We explore personal themes, aspirations, memories or intentions and get a feel together for what this gift (to self or other) wants to embody. From there I take pencil to paper, research ideas for an engraving if indicated, present the musings to the client for review, and onward from there. It’s remarkably fulfilling for me to co-create in this way. Ideally there is a feeling of service to both souls.’
lh: What’ve your favourite projects entailed?
5683 by mmg: ‘I don’t have a favourite really. Each one is an access point to something Sacred that I am wholeheartedly grateful for.’
lh: What does a piece of jewellery mean to you? Is it art, is it medicine? Symbolic representation from your perspective? Expand on your theory about jewellery’s impact and how any personal philosophy you may follow enriches your work ethic?
5683 by mmg: ‘On my website the quote on the footer of every page best expresses how I feel about jewellery and even fashion, things we might categorise as material. Jewellery / Fashion can be Art and medicine. Our psyches are full of coded information about who we are really and what makes us unique. There are many faces of me and you. The expression of those discoveries through what we wear, or how we adorn ourselves, can be both artful and healing. Sometimes it’s fun to wear platform shoes, or ear cuffs because they’re trending, and they appeal. In a completely different application, a thing you wear can be an access point or an attunement to something more. There’s an unspoken language, a narrative, an energy in the realm of creativity and all things created. You might say the ‘thing’ has a spirit. When we connect to that spirit and the magic that is its source, or when it puts us in an alignment with something that is true for us, it becomes healing.’
Maria’s humanness is evident in her accessibility. She dedicates such a large share of her energy to the greater good and she reminded me that there are shining qualities beneath my sometimes rough exterior, and that what I choose to do with my spare moments can be some of the brightest and rewarding gems in my life. It has been a special experience to be able to interview Maria about 5683‘s gilded heirlooms and peer into her spirit across continents; to feel in her warmth, and in her sensitive yet free expression, as if I were an uncut diamond of a woman walking on air.