Cordova Design: A Father and Son Venture in #PDX

This father/son duo plan to expand their studio to include a showroom, shifting their focus from crafting for trade and other stores to more retail, and you will probably be able to find their booth at a few upcoming First Thursdays.

by avery•baglio

Q: How did you get started in jewelry making?

I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My parents got into jewelry making briefly when I was twelve. That’s how I started learning how to do it, working on silver and turquoise, which was really popular back then. My mother and stepfather knew a guy down the street who was a jewelry maker, and they learned from him. They got some of the basic equipment, and they eventually had a little jewelry store in old town.

When I was thirteen, I got my first job jewelry making. By then I had made like twelve rings. I had a job at an amusement park, which didn’t last very long. I took those twelve rings to old town and I sold all the rings that I had and got like $100. Back then, that was pretty good. So, I quit my job at the amusement park and decided to just continue making jewelry.

My friend’s father had a jewelry shop. That summer, I got a job polishing jewelry in that shop. In high school, they had a program where you could leave early and go to work, and they would give you credit for it. So, that’s what I did. I would have half a day of classes, then go to work. From then on, that’s the only job I’ve ever had. Since 1972, Christopher Cordova has been making jewelry. Since 2010, this master jeweler has been working for himself at Cordova Design in the Willamette Building in downtown Portland.

Working alongside him now is his son, 22-year old Joseph Cordova.

“Since I was little I’ve always made things, soldered things, and sculpted things with wax; but the past few years I have been working more seriously and apprenticing with my dad. I’ve learned a lot from him,” says Joseph with obvious respect and admiration.  I’ve worked at lots of different places over the years. In every place I learned something new. I would usually last about two or three years and move on for one reason or another; sometimes, I just got bored. One place that I was at for five years, I left because I wanted to learn to make gold jewelry instead of the silver. So, I moved on to a place called The Gold Works. I was probably 19 or 20 at the time.

Q: So what brought you to Portland?

I was tired of Albuquerque. I had 2 young sons,1 and 3 years old, and I was raising them myself. I had family in Salem, my mother, so I decided to just come up here and check it out. She

was going to help me out a little bit. I got an apartment there and I started commuting to Portland to get to work. In 1985, I moved to Portland.

Joseph on the process:

Q: Could you explain the general process of the way you make your jewelry?

Most things are going to start out as wax, which is sculpted. After that is done, you start the next phase, investing, where you basically encase the wax in plaster. The wax melts out, which leaves you with this cavity. Then you begin to cast it, which is when you put the molten metal into the cavity, it’s called throwing it in. It fills the space, and you have this rough piece of metal that you have to make pretty; everything starts out ugly. After the casting, you do finishing. You clean up the casting, do the polishing.

Then, if there are stones, you would set them. You start that by drilling the holes, then seating the stones. After all of that is done it is still pretty rough looking, so you finish everything and smooth it all out. I made all of that sound a lot simpler than it really is, but you get the idea. It really takes so much work and time for every single piece.

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