Photos: Ray Spears
The truth is, we’ve been trying to get Josh Warner at Good Art HLYWD to make us a Cuban link chain for the better part of two years now. Many of us internally have fond memories of picking a silver figaro chain up at the swap meet in our younger days and were excited at the prospect of seeing Good Art bring the signature faceted link to fruition in the insane, over-the-top way that they always seem to do. For most of this time, Josh had refused to make a Cuban link because he felt that it wasn’t really in line with what his brand does. All of that changed when we opened up our NYC flagship store.
In a conversation about a year ago, we brought the subject up again and asked if he’d be willing to make one in homage to our newest flagship and our proximity to Chinatown and the myriad jewelry stores on Canal Street that sell chains galore. To our surprise, Josh agreed and got to work. What he came up with was an entirely handmade version of a mass-produced machine made chain link that oozes with details that really take it to another level.
Tomorrow, we are launching two styles - a necklace in two lengths and a bracelet in three lengths - both in 18k yellow gold or 18k white gold plated finishing options. There’s no solid gold or sterling silver options as is usually the case for Good Art pieces, and according to Josh, this will be the first and last time that he ever plates his jewelry. From concept to execution to detailing, we are floored by the Good Art take on the classic Canal Street chain and are thrilled to offer these very special pieces both in-store and online moving forward. Look for all styles to launch at noon EDT on 3sixteen.com on Friday, September 3rd.
We sat down with Josh earlier this week to recap the entire process of designing and producing the Good Art for 3sixteen Cuban Link. We hope this gives you a better look under the hood of one of the most creative people we know.
What makes a Cuban link and how is it different from the curb chain that’s so foundational to the Good Art aesthetic?
The defining feature of a Cuban link is the top facet, that flattened shape of the link on the top. You know my normal curb link, how it's very bulbous and round? Those links are made out of a piece of wire: you take a piece of wire and you wrap it around a stick and now you've got all these little loops. Now take a saw and cut right across the top, and all those links come out with a cut in them to make a bunch of round pieces. And then each one's a little off to the side. Now you take five of those links and string them together and solder the ends shut and make them lay together perfectly. You string them out, put a nail on one end of the bench and a piece of rope on the other, pull it tight, and start hitting it. And what you're doing as you're hitting it is you're making these links nest together. And that's how they get that shape, where they go under each other. We stop forming the shape of the link at that stage for most of our chains. With the Cuban we would later file down the top and groove the center to make the links more flat, uniform and to reduce weight.
Is filing the bracelet down a cost thing to reduce metal usage? Is that why you weren’t interested in making Cubans before?
No, for me it’s always an aesthetic reason – but I’m sure cost savings was a big part of the conversation at the origin of making the machines that cut these links. For Good Art that wasn't actually the reason we didn’t make them, but it is interesting because now that we've made so many in the development process, I've seen the differences in the techniques really intimately. Most of the chains you see on Canal Street are machine made; you won't see links that are made from a piece of wire bent into the shape the way that we make our curb chains because it's wasteful if you’re trying to wring out the pennies.
I think the true reason I didn’t make Cuban links before is that I really liked that rounded shape, to me it generally feels better - and I liked the weight. I started out making shit for myself and I'm bigger than your average Joe. So I think my designs started out being heavy because I could deal with it; but not everybody’s like me. It’s only been the last few years, maybe the last four or five years, where I've given a lot of consideration to the weight of things.
And not for the purpose of saving money, but for the purpose of performance.
Yeah. It's always about performance, right? At least for me. Have you ever have something that you fall in love with, you get it home, and then a few weeks later you're like, "I'm not really using it. Why? Oh, yeah. It's not easy. Or the shoulder doesn't fit right." It could be some fine little detail that's just not lining up, and then you just end up not using it.
I don't like making things like that. I like making stuff that is highly considered in every regard – and even so, look, it's not always going to be perfect because I'm always trying to improve stuff. In fact, I don't even tell people when I do it. Sometimes they'll order something and I made an improvement, they'll get the new version without us even telling them. That’s how much I care.
Let’s talk about the white and yellow gold plating on these pieces. This is a big deal for Good Art.
So, I've always had this feeling that gold plating was disingenuous, that it's trying to say its something it isn’t. And there’s me… I have such dogmatic viewpoints that when I start thinking a certain way, its hard to see other ones. With this project though, I felt like I was really tasked with making something that feels not just of an era, but specifically geographic. When you go get a Cuban link, everybody knows what that means. And that feeling is not Paris. That feeling isn't LA. Fuck man, it's New York. It's Canal Street. It's all that flavor and it’s very specific.
So, looking at it from that perspective, all these chains had to be gold plated. It's like a flipped script, even down to the clasp mechanism. Very simply: it's made to look one way, but it operates differently. Through the process, I had this experience where my viewpoints opened up and evolved and I was able to see things from a different side. And I've totally since fallen in love with this project; this particular piece moves me and makes me feel like NYC all day long.
What some people might not realize is that the plating was never part of the initial conversation. That’s something you arrived at halfway through the process of development.
It was the raddest moment. I was talking to Johan because I was thinking "In for a penny, in for a pound." Right? If we're really trying to put out this flavor of Canal Street and the style of chain you could just go buy any time in the last 20 years down there, it should really pay homage to that as thoroughly as possible. Honestly, I love the gold plate because it's authentic to the message of the piece.
And by the way, it’s a really good gold plating. It's 18 karat yellow and white gold from a local shop down here that specializes in these processes only, and they can do a better job than we can. But yeah, it’s .925 sterling silver underneath and then plated on top. You know what's funny is we could make a gold one and still plate it. That would be the real pirate move.
For folks out there who haven’t owned plated jewelry before, can you talk a bit about how it wears in?
It’s plated, so of course it's going to wear. What we’ve found though is that the wear is cool. Wherever there's a corner, you get the abrasion on the edge and it starts to spread out. It's like a camera: Some Leicas have a brass body with a coating on the outside, and the corners start to wear down - they call it brassing when you start to see the metal underneath. I think you'll see the wear probably much faster on the yellow than you do on the white. But it looks great, not unlike a pair of jeans starting to break in over time. And if you want one that doesn’t wear in, we can do that for 26, 28 grand of course.
You mentioned before that the clasp you designed for these pieces look differently than how they function. We know how much pride you take in your mechanisms - what makes this clasp so special?
Something like this typically has a box and tongue closure – let me try to describe it for you. If you take your three fingers and put them flat, that's your tongue. And then you wrap your other hand around it, that's the box. And you just pull your fingers out. It’s a simple mechanism, it’s quite traditional, but very, very difficult to make a good one because a traditional box and tongue requires the tongue to have a little bit of a spring to it and that tends to wear out over time. There’s also something I’d call a loose tolerance which is the adjustments you make along the way as the piece is built. It's the real handwork of this sort of thing and it takes skill. If they're made just decently, they'll work, but they'll eventually loosen up a good bit and that's why there's almost always a little piece of wire on the sides with a hinge that swings around perpendicular and it snaps over like a little ball. That is very commonly referred to as a Safety.
So, what I really did with this bracelet is that I made it look like a box and tongue with two Safeties, but instead of pressing down on the bar on the top for this thing to open, there’s no sprung piece. There's literally a mechanism with two tiny stainless steel springs on the inside. And when you press down on the ends of those bars where the Safeties are, this funny little trap door opens up. It looks one way but works another way with no need for Safeties. It's very Men In Black. Like, you're just not expecting it. And about a Safety… I’ve always thought that if you just made a good clasp you wouldn’t need one.
Any final thoughts?
Just that I really dig this project! I think you guys are the shit. And I’m stoked with how it’s developed into something way better than I could see at the start.