Nicholas Potash, founder of NPotash, is a designer, fine jeweler, and metalsmith who takes fine jewelry to the next level. His designs are described as “sentimental heirlooms” and are intricate pieces of art that you would be proud to put on display or wear daily. His jewelry, watches, sculptures, knives, and more are all 100% sculpted from scratch using traditional techniques. They’re hand-made by Nick himself, from start to finish using the finest ethically sourced raw materials, without any use of the latest technologies, like CAD or 3-D printers.
In our latest Jeweler Spotlight, we spoke with Nicholas about how he became a fine jeweler, his inspirations, and his methods.
What drew you to making jewelry?
From an early age, I’ve been fascinated by sentimental little things of detail. I used to get in trouble for going through my grandma’s jewelry box. I loved the little fraternal order pins she had from my uncles and the engagement ring with a tiny bird hidden in the setting. I knew how much each piece in that jewelry box meant to her and how she treasured each for their own reasons. I would always personalize my most valued possessions with my initials and secret symbolism. I suppose I’m doing the same thing these days.
Could you talk about how you went from being interested in making things with your hands to a maker of bespoke heirlooms?
The development of skills and techniques reveals new possibilities. My creations are limited by my skill set. The goal is always to progress my skills so that I can make the things I see in my mind. As my capability grew so did my ambition to make more complex work. I think people connect with the meaning I imbue each piece through symbolism and highly personal elements. This kinda naturally led to me being asked to make pieces for special occasions. My work is solitary and can be very lonely at times but the connection I make with my clients through working on their very intimate projects and getting to know them, this is a big joy of my occupation. I really love to be a part of people’s most special moments and I put my heart and soul into these projects.
If you could talk to a younger version of yourself just starting on this journey, what would you say?
Keep your head down and do the work. It’s all I’ve ever done and still doing today. I have never been good at self-promotion, never had a publicist or gallery representation. I’ve always been an island, population one. This has kept me free to follow my creative whims and not get trapped in expectations and business.
You’ve developed such a unique style that seems to draw from various sources ranging from classical art, classic Americana tattoos, and local vegetation like ginkgo leaves. How would you describe your style? Do you have methods for tapping into inspiration?
I really appreciate when people recognize my work or say that I have a signature style. I’ve never consciously defined this style but I suppose everything I do is filtered through my head and is bound to come out a certain way. Maybe the thing that makes my style stand out is that I never received any formal jewelry schooling, outside of learning hand engraving from a few very choice mentors, I am completely self-taught. I think this has freed my work from expectations and allowed me to play and approach each piece from a very non-traditional angle. I try to always make something I would want for myself. When a client commissions me I believe they chose me because they connect with this intangible element, which is me.
Your “Allegory of Impermanence” ring is really striking. Ideas of permanence have been intertwined with jewelry – especially rings – for millennia. To build an allegory of impermanence into a gold ring feels unexpected if not playful and irreverent. What was your inspiration for that piece?
Oooo good question! I’m so glad you were drawn to that piece. The story behind it is so crazy if it didn’t happen to me I wouldn’t believe it. About 10 years ago my workshop was an outside garage of a house I was renting in the countryside. It was so hot in the summer and my house was so remote that I would leave all the doors and windows open all the time. I was working on a number of custom commissions and had the various elements of each piece organized on my bench, but one day I began to notice pieces missing. A single sapphire gone, an antique gold swivel gone, but I was sure they were there before, am I really that absent-minded? What was going on? This would keep me up at night, I felt like I was losing my mind, was the heat finally getting to me? had I boiled my brain in that little studio? This persisted for months and eventually a small bag of a client’s heirloom diamonds was gone. This couldn’t be ignored and I had to figure out what was happening.
I tore that little garage apart, literally everything was removed piece by piece until I came across the culprit… Behind an antique travel trunk in the very darkest corner of the garage, I found a little mountain, a pile of ransacked treasures, the sapphires, the gold swivel, the diamonds, they were all there. And on top of the treasure heap… a dead rat, perched atop his hoard, perfectly preserved on his pile of riches. This image stuck with me, and haunted me, for years and I always knew I would make a piece dedicated to this perfect allegory or impermanence.
Does the well of inspiration ever run dry? How do you replenish it or push through those times?
I think of inspiration more like a river than a well. A well implies a fixed point, while a river is a constantly flowing and ever-changing force of nature. My river is always rerouting itself to my interests and fascinations. I work in many mediums besides fine jewelry. I am always working on larger sculptures, paintings, and even furniture these days. These outlets keep the creative energy excited and alive. If I’m feeling stuck I switch modes to something I’m fired up on. Everything I do outside of jewelry inevitably influences the jewelry work in unexpected ways and always makes it better.
Could you speak to why you’re drawn to traditional jewelry-making techniques rather than CAD or 3D printing?
I worked for many years on a computer doing graphic design in my early 20’s. This was soul-sucking work that left me dry creatively. I would get home from work and have nothing left in the tank to work on personal projects. I think those years made me develop an indisposition to computer work. I see some pretty amazing things being made on CAD or 3D printed but to me it always felt like a shortcut or kinda cheating but that is my own personal bias. Regardless of my distaste for the method, I do believe that this work lacks something, a feeling hard to articulate but impossible to ignore for me.
What are your three favorite bench tools right now?
My GRS ball vise, Lindsay Airgraver, and my handmade jewelers saw from Seth Gould.