Copper in the Arts

April 2018

La Femme Boheme: In Tune with Gems, Brass and Copper

By Jennifer Hetrick

In this labradorite cuff by Vivian Malka of La Femme Boheme, she says she loves
how she can oxidize brass and polish the raised areas to achieve depth.

Photograph courtesy of Vivian Malka. 

Vivian Malka remembers the friendship bracelets she started making at age 12 and how complex her designs had become once she entered her college years.

Always having been fascinated with jewelry, Malka took her first jewelry-making class in 2013 at the Benlolo Jewelry Studio with David Benlolo in New York City. She also studied in the city under Traiko Truhlar who initially learned jewelry and metalworking in Turnov in the Czech Republic in 1972.

And she took jewelry and wax-carving classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology between 2013 and 2014.

"Most of my instructors wanted me to learn in silver, but I insisted on working with brass and copper," she reflects. "It didn't make sense to me to start making jewelry with something as expensive as silver."'

Warmer colors of metals spoke to Malka and still do.

"I liked the look of the base metals a lot more," she adds. "In hindsight, I'm so glad I did that because brass and copper are a lot more forgiving. If you overheat them, they're a lot less likely to melt than silver due to the higher melting points."

Malka grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and also later different parts of New York.

Once her grandfather moved from Israel to where she was first raised in South America, he worked as a jewelry salesman from the 1950s through the 1990s; so jewelry has a bit of bloodline history in their family.

After leaving New York City, Malka traveled a bit before moving to Tampa, Florida. Eventually, she relocated to Grass Valley in Northern California to be with her beau, Chris, who helped her to build her jewelry studio behind their vegetable garden in view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Malka opened La Femme Boheme in 2016, paying homage to her background, and the vibe of her work. As bohemian as her pieces are in look and feel, they’re also laced with the charisma of the outside world.

“My designs are typically inspired by nature,” she says. “I love incorporating leaves, flowers, moons, trees, and branches into my jewelry.”

Gems play a major role in much of her jewelry—necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.

A lot of her jewelry is often larger in size, almost chunky and jarring but in an aesthetic way which creates its own beauty-driven appeal; gemstone focal aspects are a part of this, too.

“And almost every piece is designed around a hand-picked gemstone,” she points out. “When I'm coming up with a design, I try to find a setting that will complement the stone rather than take away from it.”

She hunts for most of her supply at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show each February.

“Gemstones add to the nature component of the jewelry—they’re Mother Nature’s art, and she can do some unbelievable things,” she says. “Sometimes I'll find a stone that is so incredible, it's hard to believe it came out of the ground.”

Malka mentions her top gemstone of choice, which frequently appears in her creations.

“My favorite gemstone is definitely turquoise,” she says. “I love the range of colors you can get, and some have really interesting matrices. My favorite turquoise is the ribbon turquoise from the Royston mine in Nevada. Ribbon turquoise is turquoise that includes a part of the host rock, so it gives you a good feel for what it looks like when it's found in the mine.”

She sources her copper and brass sheets and wire from Rio Grande since this outfit has the best selection of sizes and gauges for her work, while she orders her bezel and gallery wire is from CoolTools.

Malka sells mainly on Etsy, although she also sells at some shows in her region as well as Mama Madrone's Eco Emporium in Nevada City and Make Local Habit in Grass Valley.

On May 20th, she’ll be vending at the Nevada City Craft Fair at the Miners Foundry, a bi-annual show that brings in a lot of artisans from Northern California.

She’ll also be a part of Truckee Thursdays in June, about an hour’s drive from Grass Valley.

“I think of jewelry as a form of wearable art,” Malka concludes. “It is an expression of the self and a means through which we convey our message to the world around us. It is a statement of who the wearer is, what her message conveys, and what it means to her. It's an expression of a personal style connected to a deeper meaning.”


La Femme Boheme, Grass Valley, CA

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