About Rebecca Zemans

I strive to make art accessible to everyone through sculptural jewelry. My work magnifies and explores the structural similarity of biological cells and celestial bodies that repeat themselves in all aspects of our world, from architecture to anthropology. Inspired by classic jewelry, I create timeless pieces with a twist. The end result is casually elegant - easy to wear by anyone at anytime. It’s important for me to employ sustainable practices by using recycled metals, natural conflict-free gemstones, and making everything locally in Chicago. The forging process I use recalls the ancient tradition of metalworking, continuing the history of adornment for generations to come...

Store Stories – Illinois Artisans Gallery Chicago

Established in 1985, the Illinois Artisans Shop was the first gallery of its kind in the state. It showcases one of the most diverse collections of handcrafted work in the Midwest. ILArtisans The Illinois Artisans Program focuses national attention on the rich heritage of the fine crafting that exists in Illinois. Juried artists participate in art sprees, craft festivals, exhibitions and other events held at three locations throughout Illinois.

  • Illinois Artisans, Chicago,  James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St. Suite 2-200, Chicago, IL 60601. Open Monday – Friday 9AM-5PM by the Clark/Lake EL stop.
  • The Museum Store, Illinois State Museum, Springfield: Museum Events
  • Dickson Mounds Museum Store, Lewistown, IL

illinois artisansAt the Chicago gallery, visitors can browse work by over 350 artisans from throughout Illinois, and learn more about the process and materials from their knowledgeable staff. On display are jewelry, ceramics, metal, painting, wood, glass wearables and much more! My jewelry been part of the Chicago gallery since 2009 just after I started my business. I’m so grateful for the gallery’s support, which has been integral to building my business. Among the opportunities have been trunk shows and art sprees. I was also selected to design and create a brooch for “straight-shooter” Dawn Clark Netsch and an awardee who exemplified her leadership.

Dawn Clark Netsch's brooch made out of sterling silver with oxidization

Dawn Clark Netsch’s brooch made out of sterling silver with oxidization

This month, I was selected to be part of Celebrating 30 years of Craft: Made in Illinois. An exhibition celebrating the Illinois Artisans Program at the State Street Gallery of Robert Morris College 401 S. State Street in Chicago, IL. The closing reception is Thursday, June 25th from 5-7pm.

If you find yourself downtown looking for a unique gift, please make a stop at the shop at Thompson Center, it’s really a treasure in the heart of the city!

Before & After – Star Sapphire Remount

Since recycling is such an important aspect our lives, we wanted to introduce a series in which we highlight the ways that jewelry can be recycled!  Many people have boxes of inherited jewelry that they realize will just never be worn: earrings with missing partners, broken necklaces, or seriously out-dated styles.  But there can be a lot of great material in that box, and with a little love and creativity, can begin a whole new life as something you’ll cherish and love to wear!

banda star sapphire

Rebecca met with a couple at the One Of A Kind Show at the Merchandise Mart this past December who wanted to update their father’s mid-century modern star sapphire ring to become a special piece for their daughter.  The couple had come to Rebecca before for pieces from her Collections and wanted to work with together to adapt one of her designs to suit their stone.  Together, it was decided that a Nebula Pendant would be the perfect way to showcase the stunning star sapphire for their daughter.

(I think we should take a minute to discuss how cool star sapphires are!  These stones exhibit a naturally occurring phenomenon known as asterism, exemplified when the stone is cut and polished into the jelly-bean smooth cabuchon shape (instead of faceted).  When light is directed to the stone, it displays a six-legged star which is actually a reflection of impurities within the stone.  Star sapphires with bolder blue color are more rare than grey-blue star sapphires as there is a greater demand for faceted blue sapphires.)

Rebecca carefully removed the star sapphire from its mounting in the original ring and bezel set the stone within the hammered sterling silver Nebula pendant.  In addition to remounting the old stone into a new piece of jewelry, Rebecca was able to recycle the 10k white gold ring and the value of the refined metal was credited to the couple.

If you are interested in working with Rebecca to breathe new life into your old jewelry, please do not hesitate to contact us and start the brainstorming and design process!

Metals – Gold-Plated

We are continuing our metals series with gold-plated, a metal that we are slowly starting to incorporate into some of our design. As you might know we mainly work with precious metals such as sterling silver, gold-filled and 14K gold. We work with those metals because first of all, we can forge them and move them into the designs we want and secondly, because they are known for its value and longevity. Gold-plated is a metal used mostly for costume jewelry, which is often mass produced and not meant to last forever.

That being said, gold-plated can be a very affordable solution for people who are not looking to spend big bucks on 14K gold or the less expensive gold-filled. We recently gold-plated several of our items for people who were looking for that gold-look yet didn’t want to place a heavy investment. The result was beautiful, and while it may rub off after some time, you can always get it redone.

So with that in mind, what exactly is gold-plated? As you might already know from our gold-filled blog post, gold-plated is a thin layer of gold around a base metal. The base metal can be sterling silver, but is most commonly a less expensive metal such as copper, rhodium, or brass. To create gold-plated, the base metal has to go through several processes with its final one being dipped into a bath of electroplating solution which contains gold. Then when an electric current is applied, an electrochemical reaction occurs and a thin layer of gold is deposited onto the base metal. As you might have already guessed, this layer is a lot thinner than the layer of gold on gold-filled items, making gold-plated less valuable and more affordable. Take a look at the image below to get a better idea of what gold-plated looks like compared to gold-filled and solid 14K gold.

The differences between gold-filled, gold-plated and solid gold.

The differences between gold-filled, gold-plated and solid gold.

The image above says that the layer of gold on the gold-plated piece is 14K gold. However, this is not always the case. While 14K gold and gold-filled are metals regulated by the government, gold-plated is not. That means that there is no necessary standard, which can lead to very poor quality gold, worth a lot less than 14K gold-plated.

When it comes to cleaning your gold-plated jewelry, you should treat it like you would your solid gold jewelry. Simply use a mild soap and water solution and a toothbrush to get rid off any dirt or oil films left on the jewelry. Also try not to wear your gold-plated jewelry when you are using household cleaners as those can damage the jewelry very easily.

Metals – Gold-filled

Hi Everyone!

Today we are continuing our metal series with gold-filled, a cheaper alternative to solid gold. While gold-filled is not as valuable as solid gold, it should not be confused with gold-plated, as the two are very different. Gold-filled items are 50 to 100,000 times thicker than most gold-plated items, making them much more valuable and resistant to tarnish. Unlike gold-plated items, gold-filled items will not rub off or turn colors either.

So what exactly is gold-filled? Gold filled items are made from solid gold (ranging from 10K to 14K) and filled with other alloys such as rhodium, brass, or sterling silver, making gold-filled a more affordable alternative to solid gold. Gold-filled consists of several mechanically bonded layers, which are created when the base metal is put through a process of mechanically bonding and heating the gold to the base metal.

The differences between gold-filled, gold-plated and solid gold.

The differences between gold-filled, gold-plated and solid gold.

Even though gold-filled is not as well-known as other metals, it has played an important role in the jewelry industry for over 150 years. It was originally developed to help reduce costs of jewelry and other “gold” items without sacrificing durability.

Like most metals, gold-filled items are regulated by the government. (On the other hand, gold-plated items are not regulated and therefore much less valuable). In the jewelry industry the quantity of gold must be at least 1/20th by weight of the total product.

Since gold-filled has an actual layer of solid gold, it looks and wears just like “real” gold. Gold-filled is strong and durable yet only costs a fraction of solid gold jewelry. Since your gold-filled jewelry does not tarnish, it is also very easy to clean. All you need is a mild soap and water solution and a soft polishing cloth.

While we use gold-filled to make many of our necklaces and earrings, we cannot use it to make our engagement rings and wedding bands, since we use the lost wax casting technique to hand make all of our commitment jewelry. The lost wax casting technique requires us to melt down the metal to its liquid state, and since gold-filled is made out of gold and another alloy the two would melt together.

Metals – Fine Silver

Hi Everyone!

Today we are continuing our metals blog series with a post about fine silver. In case you missed it, in our previous post we discussed sterling silver, which is an alloy of fine silver.

Fine silver is 99.9% pure silver, compared to sterling silver which is only 92.5% pure silver. Fine silver is very soft, making it more prone to scratches and dents. On the bright side, its softness is the reason fine silver pieces tend to mend themselves to your body and can be very comfortable to wear. It also does not tarnish, which is great if you are not too big on cleaning your jewelry.

Meteor Cuff: Hammered Fine Silver

Meteor Cuff: Hammered Fine Silver

While fine silver can definitely be used for jewelry, most people prefer sterling silver, as it is a little bit more resistant. We do have a few pieces in fine silver, for example our meteor cuff. We chose to make the meteor cuff in fine silver, because it makes the cuff “softer” and more comfortable to wear. It also doesn’t tarnish, making this a very low-maintenance piece of jewelry.

We suggest to store your fine silver like all your other jewelry in a dark and dry place. While fine silver is not very prone to tarnish, it does get scratches very easily so it should be separated from other jewelry. If you ever do feel the need to clean your fine silver jewelry we suggest a polishing cloth. NEVER use a paper towel or a tissue paper because the fibers in those products can scratch the metal.

Metals – Sterling Silver

Hi Everyone!

This is our new blog series about metals. We decided that this would be an interesting topic for all you jewelry fanatics, so if you are interested in learning more about the metals we use for our jewelry, then you should definitely keep reading!

Today we will be talking about sterling silver, which is our most used metal, and a favorite of many. Sterling silver is an alloy containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, mainly copper. The 7.5% can be any metal depending on preference, but time has proven copper to be the best addition to the pure silver. Why do we add “cheaper” metals to the pure silver? Simply because it makes the silver more resistant. Also – and this isn’t so great – makes the silver more prone to tarnish.

Sterling silver has been used for centuries for many different things. It is an obvious choice for jewelry, but has also been used for decorations and even tools such as forks, knives and buckets. Especially in the Victorian times, when eating with your fingers was a big no-no, cutlery was very important. Even today people still use silver cutlery for important occasions, however it is much less common and many people rather melt down the silver to create a piece of jewelry from it.

Sterling silver is a metal we use very frequently for our jewelry. Silver looks good on every skin tone and goes with all colors of clothing, making it a very versatile metal. When it comes to engagement rings, we tend to stay away from sterling silver as it is much softer than gold. This means it is more prone to scratches and dents and doesn’t usually hold stones as well as gold would.

Since sterling silver does contain some copper it will tarnish over time. The best way to prevent this as much as possible is by storing your silver jewelry in a dark and dry place. We always recommend storing your jewelry in a little plastic baggie, because that will prevent it from tarnishing as well as getting scratches or dents from other jewelry. Also in order to preserve your jewelry, don’t wear sterling silver in chlorinated water or when working with household chemicals, as these will damage the jewelry.

No matter how well you store it, after some time your sterling silver jewelry will tarnish. To clean sterling silver jewelry we recommend using a polishing cloth or a mild soap and water solution. For stubborn spots simply apply a little bit of silver cleaner with a cotton swab, and follow by brushing your jewelry with a baking soda and soap paste.

Make sure to NEVER clean your sterling silver jewelry with tissue paper or paper towels because those can cause scratches because of the fibers in these products. Also, be careful with sterling silver dips, as those can damage gemstones by taking off their color and polish.