Treasure Hunt: Mark Loren Brings History, Nature and Technology Into His One-Of-A-Kind JewelrySep 07, 2021 05:00PM ● By KATHY MONTGOMERY
In describing his 40-year career designing innovative jewelry, Mark Loren looks to René Lalique, the undisputed master of the Art Nouveau jewelry movement. Lalique had a patron who allowed him to create whatever he wanted because he would buy it regardless. Loren says this freedom from business concerns helped Lalique focus on perfecting his art.
Like Lalique, Loren strives for creative freedom. “In addition to a tremendous volume of custom-design work and jewelry repairs, I am privileged to design pieces I like,” Loren says. “I have clientele who support my creative work. As an artist, that’s liberating at the soul level.”
Loren started his career training as an apprentice with Frederick Prete, a jeweler, goldsmith and designer in Chicago, before establishing his own style and voice. “I try to get the very most with the very least; to get the greatest impact with the least amount of material,” says Loren.
In the early 1980s, Loren notes, the Florida jewelry industry seemed fixated on making jewelry from Atocha coins, the silver and gold Spanish coins recovered from the shipwreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha discovered in Florida Keys waters by treasure hunter Mel Fisher. “Our area was completely saturated with these pieces,” Loren says.
In time, through a network of buyers overseas, Loren came across artifacts he found more interesting, such as Egyptian, Viking, Roman and other items dating to the Crusades. Decommissioned museum collections became available that included fragments of Byzantine to 17th century metal religious icons, crosses and Judaic materials. Ancient bronze statue fragments, Sumerian stone seals and mosaic tesserae have also seen Loren’s artistic hand.
The fragile ancient metal pieces present a design challenge, however. Unlike a coin, which can be encased in a metal frame, the fragments do not always fit easily into jewelry. “We have to be technically innovative, as well as artistically adept to work with objects 3,000 to 4,000 years old,” Loren says.
At first, Loren would set an ancient cross fragment in a bed of gold, re-creating the missing parts with gold or diamonds. “We were taking the fragments and putting them together in a way you wouldn’t expect,” he says. “But when we created a piece using the bronze artifact, it became a one-of-a-kind item, and we couldn’t replicate it.”
While making a wax form to hold an ancient cross fragment for retired cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Brian Hummel as a gift for his wife, Kristin, Loren said the cross fragment popped out of the hand-carved wax model. To his surprise, in the mold was a perfect impression of the intricate design of the cross. It was the launch of Mark Loren Designs’ Historic Impressions Collection.
“Sometimes my best designs and some of my international award-winners are happy accidents,” he says. “Now we can take impressions from the cross, cast it in gold to create limited editions, and still have the uniqueness of the original cross.”
Loren was so pleased with his discovery that he gave Hummel a gold cross made from a mirror image impression of the fragment in the piece made for his wife.
“He’s a genius,” Hummel says. “People like Mark have the vision and ability to transcend 4,000 years to bring something back to life that was important to people so long ago.”
Loren was intrigued when Geoff Roepstorff, his friend of 35 years, was certified as a licensed hunter to remove invasive pythons from the Everglades. Loren jumped right in when Roepstorff asked him to accompany him on a snake hunt a few years ago.
“He was so stunned there were no mammals,” says Roepstorff, CEO of Edison National Bank and Bank of the Islands - 1699 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL. “He couldn’t believe how much devastation the pythons had wreaked on the small animal population in the Everglades.”
While Loren did not catch a snake on that outing, he was motivated to get trained to hunt the predators himself. Also, when Roepstorff showed him wallets and belts made from snakeskin, they both thought that the beautifully patterned skins could be incorporated into fine and unique jewelry to bring additional awareness to the python issue. With each sale of his python jewelry, Loren will donate to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on Sanibel.
The challenge was developing a method to hold the pliable skins, which took about a dozen attempts before developing a proprietary process to make the skins durable enough to be used in jewelry. Earrings and pendants made out of the skins have proven popular. “I’m going to be the first to buy cufflinks,” Roepstorff says.
Two years before he would celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary in October 2020, Loren’s client, Tom Crider, an engineer, had been sketching the design of a ring he planned to give to his wife, Linda. His vision was two diamonds to represent them as a couple, surrounded by 50 stones to signify their years together, including 42 diamonds and eight birthstones to represent their three children, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild. “Quite a grouping of elements,” Loren says he thought at the time.
While the traditional way of creating jewelry can include sketching and hand-carving wax blocks of the design, Mark Loren Designs is also using computer-aided design (CAD), which allows creation of three-dimensional objects on a computer, with photorealistic images of the final product. CAD also ensures that the design is structurally sound and will last.
“Designing in 3D is how I see it in my head,” Loren says. “CAD allows clients to look at all the angles and see a perfect picture of what their design will look like. It closes the gap for clients between what they expect and what we deliver. It helps make sure the jewelry heirlooms we create fit perfectly, create a meaningful impact and are cherished for generations.”
Loren used CAD to execute Crider’s concept, allowing the client to see how the ring would look before anything was ever made. “It turned out that my design was too big and a little bit clumsy and wasn’t what I thought,” he says.
Tweaks were made in multiple versions. Instead of round diamonds, Loren suggested using two pear-shaped diamonds. “They came up with an even better design from my concept,” Crider says.
When the ring design was completed, a plastic model was created on a 3D printer. “It was life size,” Crider says. “I could see how big it was and how it was going to look.”
CAD allows Loren to involve his clients in the process of creating their custom-designed pieces. It also means Loren and his staff can work with clients all over the country, sharing the design process through text and emails.
“I absolutely love designing jewelry for people and their families that will be around much longer than I will,” Loren says. “That’s a great legacy for an artist.”
Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region.