1.- The interviewee
Aleksei Sigaev is a master jeweler who lives in Moscow. He is a member of the Creative Union of Artists of Russia and the winner of the National Competition in Jewelry Design “Golden Constellation” 2002. In addition, he is very well known for his ‘modding’ skills. He is an active member of the Russian ‘Steampunk’ community and many of his creations can be found at Steampunker.ru.
2.- Russian Steampunk
Our first contact with Steampunker.ru was in March, due to the release of the compilation of the twelve interviews of the series ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ published in 2012. We have the feeling that Russia has a very active Steampunk scene, but it is almost unknown outside of the Russian-speaking countries. For this reason, when Peter, Editor of Steampunker.ru, asked me if we would be interested in interviewing Russian creators, we showed our interest immediately.
When Peter told me that Aleksei Sigaev was willing to participate in our interviews’ series, both Irene and I felt electrified and we are more than pleased to help make Aleksei’s works known beyond the boundaries of his country. Why? Because Aleksei may be totally unknown for our readers, but he is a genuine master jeweler and an expert ‘modder’. Enjoy!
Q.- Aleksei, you are the first Russian interviewee of this interviews’ series. How did you discover Steampunk and what makes it so attractive for you?
Aleksei Sigaev (A). – Hello! From the very start of my career as a jeweler I was not satisfied with the limits of the classical style of jewelry. Gradually Celtic and Techno designs have become my favourite trends. Techno in its turn was split into two trends. Futuristic Trend is when pieces of work look like weapons for “Star Wars” and Archaic Trend is when pieces of work look like scientific devices made by Jules Verne’s characters. Only many years later I discovered that this type of design is called ‘Steampunk’.
Q. – Would you tell us a bit about the Russian ‘Steampunk’ scene?
A.- I apologise, but I am not into ‘Steampunk’ as a social movement and I don’t take part in the life of the Russian ‘Steampunk’ community. ‘Steampunk’ is only one of the creative genres which attract me and it is where its role in my life is finishing. I spend my free time not as a ‘Steampunker’ but as the captain of a sailing catamaran.
Q.- Which event would you recommend as first contact with the ‘Steampunk’ community of your country?
A.- At the moment in our country there is no permanently functioning exhibition for ‘Steampunkers’.
3.- Fine Jewelry + Steampunk
Q.- Aleksei, you are a very skilled jeweler, a member of the Creative Union of Artists of Russia and the winner of the National Competition in Jewelry Design “Golden Constellation” 2002. Finding ‘Steampunk’-inspired jewelry pieces made for master jewelers is not very frequent. What is the meaning of ‘Steampunk jewelry’ for you?
A.- For me it is a possibility for self-expression, a possibility to create what I really like. To do what I enjoy has always been more important for me than success in the society or material well-being.
Q.- Which influences should ‘Steampunk’ jewelry have?
A.- In my childhood I liked Polytechnic and Military-Historic Museums; for hours I used to admire models of industrial machinery, ships and other equipment. As for the ancient scientific devices made of bronze with numerous lenses, scales and tuning fly-wheels were not only interesting for me from the cognitive point of view but I clearly saw that they were BEAUTIFUL. This beauty is different from Living Nature’s one which is an undoubted beauty too. At that time I didn’t know that there was a vast majority of people beside me who valued and understood the beauty of ancient devices and that with time this would give birth to a new trend in modern Art – ‘Steampunk’.
So, it is not a surprise that once I had become a jeweler I regularly turn to this genre. I like to create things which are complex and functional: signet rings in the shape of boxes which can open, pendants in the shape of bottles for fragrances etc. A piece of work is perceived better when you can open or close it, turn a wheel, press a button…on the whole it is good when a piece of work shows not only its beauty but also its movement.
Q.- We have really loved the ring tutorial inspired by the dragon theme (see picture above). What are your main inspiration sources? Should the Russian historical exquisite heritage in the field of jewelry-making become a powerful source of inspiration for the Russian ‘Steampunk’ jewelers?
A.- Not at all! I saw these dragons on stone carved gutters in the old Polish town of Gdańsk:
At the same time, as I see it, there is an influence from the East, from the dragons of Chinese Fine Art. I like to draw inspiration from the heritage of different ancient cultures without being limited by Slavonic culture.
Q.- Many of the jewelry pieces you create have gears that actually work (see picture above and this Awesome tutorial). Is this aspect of decoration and function very important for you?
A.- Yes, of course. I like it when a piece of work has its own “secret”. An opening ring as a container “for poison”, a pendant as a vessel for fragrances or a pendant with a small knife inside; when I create my own things I like to think about times when not a single piece of work was made without a utilitarian practical purpose. Initially there were no works without a purpose and any jewelry piece was either a sign of power or a reward or a sacral religious symbol or an amulet. It was a fully functional piece – a weapon, a container, a useful object of everyday life but decorated with gem stones and metals. A combination of beauty and utility is the approach I like.
Q.- What would you say to other fellow jewelers who feel inspired by ‘Steampunk’, as we do? Do you have any piece of advice for us?
A.- Having skills in jewelry technologies give a jeweler all that is necessary for successful craft work in the field of ‘Steampunk’. In order to achieve maximum reality I advise studying real examples of ancient mechanics, from trains to watches and astronomic devices.
Q.- Do you think that quality is receiving the attention that it deserves? Is there a place for ‘Steampunk’ fine jewelry?
A.- To analyse the demand and capacity of the market before the work starts, to decide whether there is or there is no place for ‘Steampunk’ is a marketer’s approach. A real Artist should not ask such questions but should prove it with their works – have a look, there is place for ‘Steampunk’!
Q.- Non-ferrous metals such as copper, brass, bronze and silver are among your favourites, and you have experience even with such complex techniques such as mokume gane (see picture above). Which techniques are your favourites? We are experimenting now with different textures and patinas to achieve new finishes for our pieces.
A.- I can’t say that a particular metalworking technique is my favourite. I think that the more technologies the Master jeweler is good at the more interesting and various pieces of work he can create. I don’t consider jewelry work to be “elitist” in comparison with other metalworking. For example to work with titanium and stainless steel is more difficult than with silver and gold. Three years ago I got interested in forging, built my own furnace and started exploring different technologies of artistic iron forging:
However my success in this field is very modest.
Also I like to create metal objects by using electric welding. For example, a lamp in a shape of an iron stove with a copper kettle:
And this is my last project, steam-tank:
This work is a fantasy of what a steam military caterpillar vehicle would look like. Suppose the engineer Hornsby had to design not a prosaic tow tractor for coal but a fighting attacking device, or suppose revolutionary workers at the depot need a tank urgently in order to safeguard the Revolution but the donors are only two old steam engines. This is how I see it:
Q.- There is a large collective of ‘Steampunk’ writers that exchange ideas and collaborate through platforms like SWAG (The Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild). Would an International Steampunk Professional Jewelers Guild make any sense from your point of view?
A.- Maybe. On the other hand, perhaps, it will make sense just to create a separate jewelry chapter in SWAG. If, of course, it is interesting to its organisers.
Q.- One month ago we presented our first jewelry piece created using 3D technology (design and prototype): the Vigilat Planchette. Would you dare to make any prediction regarding the impact of this technology in the future of the jewelry industry?
A.- The changes will affect only methods of work of designers’ subdivisions at jewelry enterprises. The rest of the technological chain will stay the same. So I think that the final consumer of mass jewelry won’t even notice the difference.
And still there will be a certain amount of users who will value and order handmade jewelry without using mass machine technologies.
Q.- For the average person who is afraid of spending ‘too much’, what advice would you give him or her when shopping ‘Steampunk’ jewelry?
A.- Of course, I will advise these people not to buy but to create their own jewelry.
Q.- Aleksei, you are very well known in the ‘Russian Steampunk’ community not only for your jeweler skills, but also as modder. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that you started modding in 2011. What brought you to modify hardware with the ‘Steampunk’ approach?
A.- I never wanted to lock myself in the narrow limits of only jewelry making. Modding is a handy field for applying one’s skills in creating beautiful and unusual works of a bigger size. Why is ‘Steampunk’ gradually winning more and more followers all over the world? I am pondering a lot about it.
Firstly, a feeling of abnormality of today’s way of development is ripening in the world at the moment, a feeling of approaching dead end and catastrophe. So the desire is to search for ideals not in the future, but in the past, unfortunately an average man does not see anything positive for himself in the future. It is in that epoch where the future development of Mankind did not forecast global catastrophes.
Have you ever thought what the epoch of rapid development of steam technologies differs from ours?
How does a steam engine differ advantageously from an iPhone? It is in the fact that a steam engine is cognizable. You can take a steam engine apart and understand how it works. Practically, in case of a breakdown, its every part can be repaired by using the most primitive hand tools. The man is a sovereign; a steam engine is his obedient tool.
The current situation regarding our modern life packed with electronic gadgets is different. A microchip can’t be taken apart. If taken apart it is impossible to understand how it works. Devices surrounding us collect and process information themselves, take decisions, communicate with each other regardless of our will without letting us know. One may say that – in a way – a mobile phone has become cleverer than its owner! Is it good? What will happen in 20 years time if technologies are developing at today’s speed and in the same direction?
Such thoughts give a feeling of confusion, people are developing a subconscious yearning for “a simple piece of iron” which is in principle incapable of independent decisions and other actions regardless of its Master’s will (or without his knowledge).
So it turns out that a steam engine served its Sovereign, the man, more “honestly”. Perhaps this is what makes ‘Steampunk’ attractive as a phenomenon of world culture.
Q.- Your collection of modified USB-drives is simply astonishing (see example above and more ‘Steampunk’ USB-drives here). Which fresh projects do you have in mind?
A.- Yes. I like this line of my work; that is why I am making on average approximately 2 new USB drives a month. For example, to honour the first flight of a Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, to a circumterrestrial cosmic space, Cosmonautics Day was celebrated in Russia on the 12th of April. In honour of this holiday I made a case for a USB drive in the shape of apparatus for space exploration:
This is what this space apparatus should look like in an operating mode:
Q.- Besides, you achieved the second place in the contest ‘Time’ organized by Steampunker.ru with an amazing Steampunk watch (see picture below). Are you planning new watches?
A.- Yes, of course. I have already got one more watch mechanism ready in skeleton style. I hope that in the near future I will be able to start making a case and a bracelet. Also I have some plans regarding a big wall clock.
Q.- Thank you very much for sharing your expertise with us. Is there anything else you would like to add?
A.- I wish all creative people success and inspiration. Thank you.
Image Credits: All photos by Aleksei Sigaev.
Disclaimer.- The opinions or statements expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decimononic.
4.- Next interviewee!
On the 15th of July we are publishing the interview for Strange Artifact. In their own words, ‘Strange Artifact is a “Steampunk Rock” unit created by vocalist MaRy and bassist 130JET. Strange Artifact is from a technical Victorian civilization of adventurers. With his music, 130JET draws a decadent and fantastic world that awakens memories of a future that could have been. Vocalist MaRy narrates this world, accompanied by an ever-spinning chorus of cogwheels’.
Remember that all the published interviews are available for your delight: ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ the brief interviews series by Decimononic.