“I’ve always been attracted to working in different kinds of mediums,” says Robin Cottle. Trained as a graphic designer in the CalArts MFA program, Cottle’s diverse portfolio includes books, music-industry packaging, brand identities and film advertising. Her current passion for jewelry, however, happened almost by accident.
Cottle is married to Ron Radziner, who founded the multidisciplinary architecture, design and building practice Marmol Radziner with Leo Marmol in 1989. “In 2010 Ron asked someone from the metal shop—guys who make big doors and gates and work with large pieces—if they could make him a cuff, which was styled like a piece of rusty metal that he had found years ago and used to wear,” she recalls. Thanks to the firm’s extensive fabrication resources at its El Segundo facility, tinkering on this smaller scale was entirely feasible.
The modest-yet-edgy piece caught the eye of a Marmol Radziner client, who requested one. Cottle hadn’t even noticed the wrist wear on her husband when she spotted the item on his client, and she immediately wanted a brass cuff fashioned for herself. She also started thinking about other industrial metals used to make all sorts of architectural hardware—from door handles to building siding to furniture—and how remnants and fresh sheets could be manipulated into artful ornamentation for the body. An uncharted pathway opened up and something entirely fresh was born—Marmol Radziner Jewelry.
“Ron considered the jewelry a side hobby, but I was serious about it,” Cottle says. Intense research and development—plus support from taste-making friends like Larry Schaffer, owner of the West Third Street and Silver Lake OK boutiques—meant that Marmol Radziner Jewelry was becoming a real business. Incentive for a proper collection launch came from Christina Kim of the clothing and housewares brand Dosa, who invited Cottle to show at her DTLA space in spring 2012.
Despite all the in-house knowledge at her fingertips, Cottle never pursued jewelry because it was easy. “I love the limitations of the materials and being challenged by what we can do to make them wearable, light and comfortable,” she explains over the din of whirring equipment at the El Segundo factory. During quieter moments, the clinking of her own decked-out wrists creates a distinctive soundtrack. For Cottle and her team, which includes jewelry maker Emily Hunziker, crafting jewelry from non-precious metals fits with Marmol Radziner’s ethos of, “Oh, we can make this, and what else can we do?”
Cottle began collaborating with the company’s metal workers to prototype bronze and brass pieces, playing with patinas, torched effects and other finishes and developing the brand’s signature subtle perforations, which Ron introduced. Eventually earrings, rings, pendants and necklaces became part of the expanding line.
The team spent years working with metal sheets of varying thicknesses to get particular shapes and contoured fittings. The process—using “this old metalsmithing technique”—is an ideal marriage of art and industry. Cottle pares down the steps to making a cuff, for instance, as “cut, torch, hammer,” and even the mandrels used to shape one are made on-site. Waste is minimal. “These are pretty heavy-duty,” she says, demonstrating the heft of bronze and brass items with a bobbing hand. Unlike, say, a sterling-silver bracelet, once these pieces are done, “they can’t be manipulated.”
“We’re not traditional jewelers,” Cottle is quick to point out. “The whole thing has been very experimental for us.” Clean, geometric profiles—combined with risk-taking and elements of surprise—keep the project aligned with Marmol Radziner’s disciplined contemporary aesthetic.
Cottle's experiences going through the soup-to-nuts process of building the three houses Radziner has designed for the family (the couple’s children are now teenagers) provided some additional context. She describes the sand-cast brass cabinet and drawer pulls installed throughout their current residence in Brentwood as “part of the jewelry of a house,” which includes a shiny brass stairway handrail that helps “put in a little sparkle.” There's also an expansive glass-topped custom-made jewelry case in Cottle’s closet that showcases her work.
Jewelry is another vehicle Cottle uses to challenge fashion and design conventions while tenaciously pursuing a specific vision. The wide Two Way Circle Ring, for example, contains multiple openings and options for wearing, some of which she describes as counterintuitive. With this piece, “the palm of the hand is adorned, and that’s not something we really think about,” she says, placing the accessory in different positions and considering it from various angles. “Rings can be so boring. We’re only thinking about how they’re perceived on top.”
For the Stone Collection, Cottle has been deepening her interest in visually dramatic natural materials, including chrysocolla, gem silica and free-form faceted gems, all of which she prizes for their one-of-a-kind qualities. In the case of rutilated quartz, design possibilities have parallels in architectural schemes that reveal rather than mask the underlying structure. For these rings, she decided to make “how the stone is adhered to the metal a visual focus.”
As for what’s next, “the hunt continues to find the right stones, and those become inspirations,” Cottle says. That journey has taken her to local gem shows and as far away as India. Then the questions flow and ideas germinate: “What’s the best Marmol Radziner Jewelry design for this particular stone?”
Making these objects is a surprising yet entirely logical next step for both Cottle’s unconventional creative route and for Marmol Radziner as a whole, which has grown from its beginnings in architecture to developing expertise in all areas of design, construction and building. (In fact, Cottle’s most recent graphic design project is the book SITE: Marmol Radziner in the Landscape, published by Princeton Architectural Press this spring.) This DIY philosophy “seems to be a theme at Marmol Radziner,” Cottle reflects. “It’s almost like everything we want to do, we wind up doing ourselves.”