When Jules Schwanbeck of Jules underwent two spinal surgeries and four nerve block injections within three years, the Chicagoan looked to her health setbacks as a source of inspiration, rather than defeat. “I like to say, ‘You make vodka lemonade out of lemons’,” she told Mark Shale. “I might as well take this experience and make it good.” She’s now a made a career out of this experience, taking her X-Rays as blueprints for signature necklaces, rings, and earrings that model the structures of her spine and nerve tissue. Schwanbeck’s collection is organic in execution too: She creates many of her rings and bracelets around gemstones, allowing the unique cuts and sparkles of pyrite, carbon, rose quartz, and Swarovski to inform their designs. The personal story behind her work also has another layer of depth since her fiancé, painter Brian C. Vance
, is her business partner, serves as CFO, and fabricates ID tag necklaces, one of Jules' most popular designs. Their chemistry is strong. Jules has received national press from the likes of PEOPLE, InStyle, and Lucky Magazines but the Elk Grove, IL native says she’ll always identify as a Chicago designer. At her Wicker Park home and studio, Schwanbeck spoke with us about the beginning days of her collection, revealed what it’s like to collaborate with her fiancé, and explained how she keeps her craft personal.
On the inspiration for her collection:
I had to have two concurrent spinal fusions a few years ago, and when I was going through them, my surgeon recommended I print out the xrays so i could get a visual of what was doing on with my spine. So I designed a whole spinal fusion line. Then last summer, I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. One of which is an autoimmune arthritis, and essentially my body is trying to kill my spine. I had four nerve block injections at that time and decided to incorporate that experience into my line too I’m trying to be more open about my health problems and this theme will continue to carry throughout my work.
Her other sources of inspiration:
We live in this beautiful city [Chicago] so I find inspiration in the architecture and modern artists like Willem de Kooning, Pollack, Barnett Newman, and Gerhard Richter. My boyfriend proposed in front of a DeKooning at the Modern Wing in the Art Institute. I also let gemstones speak to me as well, and often pick up my other materials and see what comes to light. We sketch a lot and take a lot of photographs and that makes its way into the jewelry line as well.
On collaborating with her fiancee:
I started to take classes at Lill Street and trained in metalsmithing and when I was starting my business I wanted to get him involved. My sneaky way of doing that was to say, “Oh, you’re an artist. Let’s take a metals class together. It’ll be fun.” He took a metalsmithing class with me at Lill Street and now he does all of the metalsmithing for my ID Tags.
On taking cues from coffee table book:
I think everything art deco is fabulous and I have an art deco coffee table book that I look to for inspiration. I think it was a beautiful period for architecture, clothing, and jewelry.
On keeping her craft personal:
We do a lot of heavy-handed hammered metals and I want people to see all of the deliberate marks. We celebrate the handmade process and I love that people can tell my jewelry is made by human hands, not a machine.
On finding the perfect cut:
I work with some lapidary artists that cut stones specifically for me. I’m always on the hunt for new stones and the fun part is looking for stones in weird places. My current favorites are pyritized animal fossils. I get so attached to these stones but I can’t keep everything for myself.