'@SteveWest liked your photo' keeps popping up on our feed. Not only that, we keep seeing his name tagged on every other feed we follow. He's everywhere. Who the hell is this guy? A motorcycle enthusiast? A photographer? Jewelry-maker? We wanted to know. A little less than a year ago we got our answer which was D. All of the above. Our official run in with Steve West, aka Silver Piston, came at the 6th Annual 1 Moto Show in Portland, OR. Since then we've had the opportunity to share some miles and late night whiskey sessions with this impressively-bearded man of many talents. He invited us into his small studio situated right above a workshop in Atlanta's Southeast neighborhood of Chosewood where he cranks out his 'kick-ass jewelry for people who kick ass', for a little show and tell. -GSCo.
Steve West Of Silver Piston
Interview and Images: Chris Logsdon
For those who don't already know you, introduce yourself.
SW: I’m Steve West, I have a little company called Silver Piston and I make kick-ass jewelry for people who kick ass. I just finished my first year doing the jewelry full-time. Before that I was a graphic designer who’d worked ad agencies, marketing companies, corporate in-house and freelance contracting.
In the summer of 2009 I started taking jewelry making classes at a local studio. I was wanting to do something creative with my hands that didn’t involve a computer or a client. I took several months of classes and started buying my own tools. I was just doing basic stuff from the beginning jewelry books and loving it. As I learned more, I started adding my own twist to things. After a while I’d had a couple of designs and sold some to co-workers, as well as gave to family.
SW: A couple of years ago I was making a half inch wide band for a friends wedding when I cut out an indian head from a nickel and soldered that onto a ring. It was a very serious holy shit moment. I then spent a few hours looking on Etsy and googling Indian head rings to see if I’d just done something someone else was doing. I couldn’t find anything else like it so the next time I was in the studio I cut out the buffalo and mounted it on a ring. That was the beginning of Silver Piston as it is today.
SW: A few months after that I partnered up with Shane Hunter, an engraver out of Toledo, Ohio. He’s the man behind all the engraving of my stuff. I had posted a picture of a ring I’d made using a hobo nickel I’d bought a couple of years before off eBay. A fellow named, Mark Lee, in the UK said I should look up Shane on eBay to check out his hobos. I put a bid one for $75 max and in 5 hours I was already out bid. So I emailed him about buying some hobos from him. I sent pictures of the indian head ring as well as the hobo ring I’d done and a deal was worked out for me to be able to get them from him. A few months later I sent him a sketch of a helmet on the hobo with the feather sticking out and those were soon being offered. As for the one I was bidding on, it sold for a bit over $200.
You recently took to the road and put an impressive amount of miles underneath you. What was the purpose of that trip?
SW: That was such a great trip. The year before I went to the Brooklyn Invitational for the first time and this year I wanted to ride up to it and to hit the Motorcycle Film Festivalthe following weekend. Buz from Seattle Speedometer and I collaborated on a couple of trophies for the film fest so I just made sense to go to both. Since I was going to have about a week in between the events I rode around New England to see it for the first time since I’d gotten out of the Navy in Rhode Island in 1992. I took the opportunity to meet some people I’d been following on the internet. I had breakfast with Rian from Papa Wolf, checked out the new Choppahead store in E. Freetown, hung out at Walk Siegl’s shop and then spent a few days in Vermont with the crew at Vintage Steele. It was also a good opportunity to take my new camera out and shoot pictures of places I’d never seen before.
Your background is in Advertising/Design. How did you go from that to making jewelry?
SW: I started taking jewelry making classes to do something creative with my hands that didn’t involve a computer. For way too long I’d been trying to do something creative for clients but that just never worked out because at the end of the day, they tend to want to do what they hired you to do and the work either gets watered down or just dismissed. It’s a very frustrating process. With the jewelry, if it’s round, looks like what they saw on my site and it fits, then we’re done.
What’s really been great is taking what I learned from those years in advertising/marketing and applying it to something I make and sell. I love the freedom to say what I want to say or show it the way I want it to be seen without anyone second guessing it. In a way it’s been a nice fuck you to all the people along the way telling me I wasn’t going to make it in advertising because I didn’t understand marketing. Because at the end of the day, I created a cool product that I love and built a brand on the internet using a free photo app on my phone.
Describe the process of making the rings. How long does it take?
SW: That’s a pretty broad question. Some take longer than others and it’s a pretty straight forward process once you understand how it works.
Looking forward to the new year, what other projects are you thinking of tackling?
SW: This year I’m working on a couple of ideas on new ways to do a couple of my rings, I’m also bringing back one of my early rings with some changes. A great thing about doing this, I’m not held down to projections of making numbers or any of that other “business” stuff. I just work with what I’m doing and if I have an idea about something, I pursue it. If I can make it and people like it, cool. If not, meh, move on, it’s not the end of the world as I know it.
This year I’m also going to be offering a wedding band workshop. Couples will be able to come over for the afternoon and make their wedding bands. It’ll be very hands on from start to end with couples leaving with rings they made for their wedding.
SW: I’m also wanting to do some more road trips and hit some of my favorite motorcycle shows. Right now I’m trying to work out riding from the One Moto Show in Portland to Yosemite. I’ve never been there and to see it in winter seems like an amazing way to experience if for the first time. I’d also like to do some riding in Montana and the Dakotas this year because I’ve not seen that part of the country either.