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John S. Brana Jewelry

Tasteful Flair for Wear

The impending arrival of Mother’s Day may have you scratching your head for gift ideas. You’ve worn out the flower arrangements and already gone the spa gift certificate route (which, by the way, never really gets old). Of course, gifts are not necessary to express regard for those near and dear to you, but a thoughtful gift may serve as a touching reminder of appreciation. If the woman in your life finds joy in distinctive style, fine art and beauty in nature, you will want to explore the jewelry of local designer and craftsman John S. Brana.

With six collections of finely crafted bracelets, earrings, necklaces, pendants, pins and rings, there are numerous options to suit varying shades of the style spectrum, as well as spending capacities. Each collection stands on its own apart from the others with a decidedly unique look.

Brana is a relative newcomer to the designer scene; his collections entered the market only seven months ago. But his education in the arts began years before under the tutelage of his father, an accomplished artist and teacher with expertise in metal and resin casting, fabrication and woodworking. Brana quickly fell in love with ceramics but in the name of practicality obtained an MBA in Finance from the University of Michigan.

Relocating to San Francisco, he worked his way up the ranks to VP of the Charles Schwab Corp. It was the passing of his father in 2003 that prompted him to reevaluate his priorities and rekindled his childhood passion for artisan crafts and jewelry. Leaving his corporate life behind, Brana embarked on his jewelry career with an exploration into precious metal clay (PMC): microscopic particles of silver or gold suspended in an organic binder to create a pliable material similar in consistency to modeling clay. After firing, PMC becomes either 22K yellow gold or fine silver (99.9% pure vs sterling silver, 92.5% pure).

Experimenting with PMC, Brana began creating rings. This later evolved into beadwork, and he supplemented and perfected his technique with classes at The Bead Shop in downtown Palo Alto. It was in these classes that he built his knowledge of color combinations and beading patterns and construction.

Last October Brana launched his website, johnsbrana.com, with his first collection: Barbary Coast. “This collection is very ornate, with gold and silver,” Brana said. “It’s very textured, very rich.” The aptly named collection recalls “the feverish exuberance of the Gold Rush era.” Brana’s impeccable use of color and unique bead shapes and combinations results in a spectacular feast for the eyes.

After learning how to fuse, Brana then developed a more contemporary line, which he dubbed “SoMa”. With names like “Monterey”, “Sea Cliff” and “Sonoma”, Brana conveys his inspirations for these collections and his love for the Bay Area. For the more frugal shopper, try the SoMa collection, which also happens to be the most popular for women. Built around silver pieces, Brana has also recently introduced copper into this collection. Pricing for SoMa pieces starts at $35 for a pair of copper earrings and can run up to $700 for more ornate pieces incorporating gemstones.

At the other end of the price range is the Pacific Heights collection. In these opulent pieces you will find large faceted gemstones (citrine, richly colored quartzes, amethyst, blue topaz and garnet) wrapped in swirls of gold and silver. Pieces from this collection run $300 to $3,000 depending on the materials used.

Average pricing for earrings across the collections with the exception of Pacific Heights runs $65-$135, and Brana is open to offering special pricing for purchases of sets (think earrings, necklace and bracelet). Also note that a large portion of Brana’s pieces are gold filled and that these pieces have a lifespan of up to 35 years with proper care, so these gifts will be durable and long-lasting.

While the most recent additions to Brana’s lines are the copper pieces in the SoMa collection and some larger earrings in the Monterey collection, the popular choice of the moment seems to be the pure silver necklace, bracelet and matching earrings of the SoMa collection.

On a whim, Brana designed the Anemone rings for his Seacliff collection and discovered a unique market of whose existence he had never known -- professors and marine biologists. These rings have turned out to be a huge hit.

Reminiscent of lush grape clusters, Brana’s Sonoma collection features golds, greens, purple hued beads, pearls and 14K gold-filled chainmail. In pale lilacs and aquas and incorporating Italian mesh metal ribbon, the Monterey collection is beautifully feminine in unique textures and shapes that evoke coral and jelly fish. The Seacliff collection encompasses some bolder pieces in bright reds, as well as pearls and seahorses. I count the seahorse pins (large: $325, small: $245) among my favorites. The sapphire eye accent adds an extra twinkle.

Also among my favorite pieces are the jellyfish hoops with pink freshwater pearls in the Seacliff collection ($67), the hand carved carnelian flower earrings belonging to the Barbary Coast collection ($90), and the chased copper earrings with Amazonite ($125).

Brana’s devoted, detailed craftsmanship creates textures that liven even the monochrome pieces; the Chasing technique used to groove, furrow, channel and indent metal, for example, adds visual interest and catches the light. He is currently experimenting with copper and the Japanese process of Shibuichi, employed during the Samurai period to create decorative pieces for Samurai swords.

It is obvious from a viewing of Brana’s collections the pride and passion he takes from crafting exquisite jewelry that sets his portfolio apart from the masses. He is currently developing a new collection for Winter: Cathedral Hill, for women. This collection will feature black, white, gold, silver and crystal. For next year he envisions another collection named Muir Woods, which will have an organic feel, mimicking elements one would find in the namesake.

Because Brana uses some very unique findings, some of the pieces are one of a kind or quite limited, so don’t lag. He will be hosting his first promotion ever May 1-13 in honor of Mother’s Day, during which time select collections will be 20 percent off. But men shouldn’t feel left out either; Brana also has several collections for men, the most popular items being silver cufflinks.

Cufflinks from the Redwood collection for men bear a distinctive texture reminiscent of redwood tree bark. With the Rawhide, Reptile, Sierra, Silver Screen, Tonga and Wave collections, men can accessorize with jewelry that is in no way feminine.

You can purchase Brana’s work locally at RAG and Porcelynne in San Francisco, or Marlowe & Company Jewellers in St. Helena. Tahill Galleries in Hillsdale Shopping Center currently carries the most extensive array of Brana’s jewelry.