Cape Cod native Michael Baksa had always known he wanted to become a jeweler and started pursuing his dream at just 17-years-old. After graduating from high school, Baksa worked as an apprentice to a local goldsmith for four years before feeling confident enough to strike out on his own. He started by selling pieces at wholesale craft shows before eventually opening his own retail store in Dennis Village in 1982.
Through his apprenticeship and over the 40 years following that he has dedicated to his craft, Baksa’s style has evolved and distilled down to the clear lines and geometric patterns that make his jewelry stand out. Baksa works exclusively with 14 karat yellow gold. “It makes for very clean bezels and polishes well as opposed to 18 and 24 karat which are much softer,” he explains. “Part of my design style is a crushed gold look, and it works very well for that.” Nothing is wasted; anything that needs to be reworked goes back into the refinery to become something new.
While he works with only 14 karat yellow gold, Baksa doesn’t limit himself when it comes to gemstones. He works with gem dealers from all over the world to find one-of-a-kind stones to fit his one-of-a-kind jewelry. He tries to get as close to the source as possible which means working with dealers from Brazil, Afghanistan and Australia to name just a few places. Having a lifetime appreciation for gemstones and minerals makes picking a favorite hard for Baksa, but Tourmaline has a special place in his heart. “I use color in the same way a painter uses color,” he says, explaining that Tourmaline comes in a wide array of shades making it the perfect stone for a jeweler who loves color.
The gemstones Baksa uses are special not only for their various hues but also for their “interior worlds,” as Baksa puts it. He describes the gems as having their “own little universe inside. It’s a miniature of what you would see in the outer world going on within that gemstone.” Referring to a stunning quartz pendant, Baksa points out the features of the stones. The triangular clear quartz on the upper portion of the pendant is littered with small, dark flecks that Baksa identifies as Pyrite crystals. The circular earthy green quartz that completes the piece has forest-like markings created by Tourmaline crystals. These features are created by the elements cooling at different rates, a phenomenon that ensures no two gemstones are exactly the same.
When it comes to the process of creating his pieces, Baksa describes himself as “strictly old school.” For every piece Baksa envisions, he first sketches it by hand and sets aside the materials he needs to bring his idea to life.
One of the things he loves most about the craft is working hands on with metal, which means he avoids using casting techniques that have become so common in jewelry making. He explains that making pieces is like figuring out a puzzle; things don’t always work out exactly the way he thought, but he appreciates the surprises. Casting eliminates this problem solving factor and while it might be more efficient, it would take away from the sheer uniqueness of Baksa’s jewelry.
Baksa is unique not only in what he makes and how he makes it, but also in where he makes it. After closing his retail store that also housed his studio in 2014, Baksa had to move his studio somewhere new. Rather than adding a studio or shed addition to his property, Baksa took the plunge and decided to repurpose an abandoned cabin cruiser. The boat’s cabin, now Baksa’s studio, is glass all the way around and stands two stories above the ground making it a drastic change from Baksa’s previous dim and cramped studio. It took him awhile to get used to the quietness that comes with this new space but it was a welcome change, and Baksa finds more inspiration everyday in this new environment.
Closing his store not only moved his studio home, but it also moved his retail business online. Opening an online store was a leap that Baksa took without looking back, and it proved worthwhile especially given the COVID-19 pandemic. This online store paired with numerous gallery showings across the country allows Baksa’s art to reach people far and wide. Locally, Baksa works with the Left Bank Gallery in Orleans and Wellfleet but has also been fortunate enough to secure spots at galleries as far as North Carolina, Michigan and even San Francisco and internationally on Artsy with Miller White Fine Arts.
Even after 45 years creating jewelry, Baksa doesn’t regret the decision he made at seventeen. He recognizes that a profession like his is sometimes a struggle, but maintains that it wouldn’t be as interesting without those ups and downs. When asked if it’s worthwhile, he says that the satisfaction an artist has with their art makes all the difference. – Emma Ryan