Buzzy L.A. Jewelry Brand HOWL is Old School

"I've always had a deep obsession with jewelry and accessories," says Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Tini Courtney, founder of HOWL a buzzy fine jewelry brand that pairs rich 18k gold with gemstones and carved Venetian glass to create luxe, chunky designs with a vintage flair. 

But though the designer had been dabbling in jewelry-making for the better part of a decade, it wasn't until in 2019 that she found her crafting method of choice: wax carving. Courtney hand-carves every HOWL piece in wax, which is the first step in an ancient jewelry fabrication process called lost wax casting. In short, a mold is built around a wax model, the wax is melted out, and the metal flows in. 

That Courtney uses a roughly 6,000-year-old fabrication process to create her collection makes perfect sense, considering the fact that HOWL (an acronym for Handle Only With Love) draws inspiration from history, "capturing the whispers of ancient wisdom and the echoes of bygone eras," according to the brand's website. 

HOWL Candice Venetian glass pendant in 18k gold with handmade chain, $17,800

“Carving waxes is how I can physically manifest my imagination, knowing my best work comes when I can stay in the flow and not try to control the final product,” she explains. “The precious materials I work with are mesmerizing to me, and provide their own source of inspiration that plays into my work. They have such a rich history, and stand as a cultural symbol which moves me to create and continue the craft for our future civilizations to discover.” 

We caught up with the designer to chat about how she got her start, her signature designs, and what she loves most about jewelry. 

Gem + Jewel: How did you get started in jewelry design? And, more specifically, wax carving?

Tini Courtney: It wasn’t until college that I found myself exploring the jewelry creation process. In 2010 a girlfriend of mine who made jewelry came to stay with me and brought some of her tools, wires and stones to work on a few pieces while she was at my house. She handed me a bunch of wire and a big pyrite stone and taught me how to make a chunky wire-wrapped ring. With a fire immediately lit, I moved from wire wrapping to beading to soldering and then more recently, wax carving. 

In terms of carving, I had dabbled a bit, but in 2018 my process really shifted after getting pregnant. Although I had always been super excited by the instant gratification that came with soldering and one-of-a-kinds, I felt like my work environment was toxic due to all the chemicals, gases and solutions I was inhaling during the process. Once I knew I needed to make a change in the way I was creating, I became really excited about honing in on my carving skills. It was a whole new world for me with endless possibilities. 

How does being a wax carver inform your designs, in your opinion?

It really forces me to get out of my head and truly create from an internal source of inspiration. Sometimes I draw a very rough two-dimensional sketch of a shape or silhouette, but that’s as far as I’ll go with a sketch. I can get much more dimensional with a small sculpture that I’m carving rather than a drawing so I’ve surrendered to that. The magic really happens when I’m carving. 

There are so many ancient hallmarks in your designs — how and when did your love of antiquities begin?

To be honest, I wouldn’t say that it is intentional. I do find myself much more attracted to vintage and antique jewelry rather than anything contemporary. I am a very visual person so I feel like I have stored lots of shapes, silhouettes, patterns and forms in my mind that are [perhaps] subconsciously referenced as I’m creating. 

Your jewelry is genderless—was this intentional from the get-go? 

Not at all. I didn’t think much about who I was creating for, I just made what I loved and I think that’s what people feel the most.  

A peridot Howl ring.
HOWL Vilkin peridot and 18k gold ring, ular price$6,400

There's so much romance in your designs. Do you consider yourself a romantic?

I would say so. I find that people generally get so much pleasure in finding the perfect piece that they love, and that is very romantic to me. Time deepens the relationship to some jewelry, which strengthens the sentimental value of these heirlooms. I think gold, precious stones, and diamonds...harness a romantic energy. And then composing them into something hand-carved and made with love—it’s a recipe for success. 

Do you have a signature design? If so, what is it and how did you first come to create it?

The Metropolis Necklace is one of my favorite signature designs. It’s a chain with all different hand-carved links. I wanted to explore making a chain because I was working on a few pendants and couldn’t find the perfect gold chain to put them on and it didn’t feel right to use something that I didn’t make myself. So I started carving a few links, and my husband said ‘don’t stop until you get to twenty, they’re just getting better and better!' I cast all twenty to make a sample so I could see how they looked, all connected, in gold. It turned out to be the most amazing chain that I’ve never taken off to this day. I will never sell the original one.

What do you love most about designing jewelry and being in the jewelry world?

I am absolutely obsessed with jewelry, so I feel very fortunate that this is my path. I love that I get to work with Mother Nature's finest treasures as my medium. The world of stones is fascinating and is an endless source of inspiration. The sentimental and passionate nature of jewelry collectors allows for really interesting connections with people all over the globe.

Top: Designer Tini Courtney, founder of HOWL, in her brand's jewelry (all images courtesy HOWL)

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