Gabriella Kiss spends a lot of time in the woods. “That is my place of peace and reflection,” says the jeweler, who regularly combs the forest floor surrounding her studio in upstate New York for inspiration. “My pockets are always full at the end of every walk,” she says, referring to the bounty of leaves and bones she gathers that later inform her work. The holy grail of any treasure hunt in the woods? “A shed antler,” says Kiss.
Antler-inspired pieces have been a cornerstone of Kiss’ work since she began her studies in making jewelry at Pratt Institute in the late ’70s, starting with the cuff of a deer head. “It served as a model for a better one I made a few years later,” says the Canadian native who worked alongside Ted Muehling before launching her namesake line in 1988.
The initial impulse behind the piece was to get the form of the horns to hug the wrist, explains Kiss. But conceptually, it was also about capturing the magic of the moment when one comes face-to-face with a deer in nature. “For me, there is a hush, a halt of time, and a very brief connection to the other,” says Kiss. Plus, “there is a surreal aspect of humans with antlers dangling from their ears.” (Her ram’s horn post earrings, for example, are “a quirky twist on your average hoop earring.”)
Making things wearable can be the hardest part, says the designer, who has worked with horns and antlers from a variety of animals, from deer to oryx, elk, ibex and buffalo. Antlers are tricky to work with from the start, because of how pointy they are, she explains. (“I once made a cuff that was a single moose antler wrapped around a wrist, but it ended up looking like a big flame on the arm,” she laughs.)
But Kiss is always up for the challenge. There are always more iterations being worked on, says the designer, who draws up sketches for each design before setting to work, sculpting and carving directly into wax before casting pieces in bronze or silver then adding accent stones.
One of the most striking pieces to emerge from her jeweler’s bench as of late: an otherworldly tiara fashioned from antlers—“a natural progression of the elements I have in my studio,” she says. “Historically, they represent wealth and social standing, so my tiaras are a slightly perverse take on this traditional status wear.”
Ultimately, it all comes down to studying and respecting forms in nature. “The kind of quiet concentration required for carving something from nature allows me to ‘see’ better,” says Kiss. “It’s about paying attention and being present.”