The Spaces Between Things – Josh Warner of Good Art

We caught up with Josh Warner to discuss founding of Good Art; who in their right mind earth makes a $1200 AirPod case; and what he values the most.

Only a pirate has the moxie to trade a fortune for a trinket, and that’s the sort who’ll squeeze pleasure from the finest details of life. This statement, part of the Good Art manifesto entitled “My Best Friends Are Pirates” best captures the ideology driving Good Art HLYWD. It takes a special kind of mind to dream-up a Sterling Silver ball chain with a locking mechanism as complex as a Swiss watch and Josh Warner is just the man for the job.

Inherited from an equally curious father, Warner’s infatuation with mechanical objects started early as he saw all types of curiosities pass through the family garage. “I would go to the Rosebowl Flea Market with my dad. He was there picking up old slot machine parts and he’d let me pick something—pocket knives, gadgets and whatnot”. As the youngest sibling a decade removed from his older brothers, a young Josh would often find himself home alone. His father’s penchant for trade stimulators — early gambling devices pre-dating slot machines — sparked an interest in kinetic mechanisms. “My dad used to work on them for months. Growing up in the early days of sit-down video games like Galaga and Robotron it was incredible to see this machine working with no electricity. I learned about the engineering and it stuck with me”.

Like all good things, it was a chance encounter which acted as the catalyst for Josh’s foray into jewellery. As a young man he was a talented painter, supporting himself by working in a kitchen through the week. One day in 1989, a restaurant customer’s earrings caught Warner’s eye. They were made of a technicolour metal called niobium. A few questions later he was referred to a shop called The Gauntlet in North Hollywood. After his shift, a bright-eyed Warner hopped in his bombed-out Datsun station wagon — hard-earned cash in hand — to make a 40 minute drive up town. Things however, didn’t go how Warner expected, “They treated me like shit! I walked out of there flipping them off”.

What happened next set the wheels in motion, “As I was driving home I thought to myself, why am I this upset over a piece of metal? So I stopped at a jewellery supply place and I spent every cent I had on silver wire, beads and some tools”. It was Warner’s frustration which lead him to—in his own words—“figure it out”. Within a few days Josh had made himself a few pieces which he unceremoniously jammed into his lobes. Back at work the next day his friends were curious where he’d gotten these new earrings. When he told them the story, they of course wanted their own.

To support his new hobby, Josh would make sandwiches during the day and then come home to make earrings. Eventually he’d made a pendant and before too long a small pile of pieces began to form on his workbench. “I gathered them up and took them to a store I liked, to my surprise the guy wanted all of them!”. When the owner asked what his brand was called, Josh reached into a pocket and pulled out a business card from his days as a painter. It was made for him by a restaurant customer, “He was a graphic designer at Marvel and liked my paintings, so he offered to design a business card for me”. That first card read “Josh Warner — Good Art” a concise title which in that moment became the name for his new jewellery brand. In June of 1990, Josh packed away the paintbrushes and paint to solely focus on his jewellery.

What started as a way to prove a point evolved into the brand today. Good Art’s workshop and showroom — which they call the Family Room — are located under same roof in Hollywood. This is important to Josh for two reasons, it allows him to be close to everything, from the design and manufacturing facilities to his ’47 Harley in the showroom, but it also helps illustrate the extreme level of control Good Art has over every step.

The jewellery trade is traditionally shrouded in secrecy. Hidden behind a facade of highly-produced ad campaigns and glittering shop displays is an industry which can at times feel far from the high-society image it projects. In many ways jewellery is a hermit industry, closed-off from outsiders. For Josh there’s no secrets, he’s always looking for a chance to show people how it all works. “Once a week I’ll grab someone from the store and drag them wide-eyed, through the workshop. I notice some people try to sneak photos of the equipment — I’ll give you the model and phone number of the guy who sells it!” This approach is echoed in his openness to help fledgling designers who ask for advice — “I’m immediately suspicious of people keeping secrets—if there’s something I can do to help someone I’m always happy to share what I know.”

For Josh the goal is to produce the finest, most beautiful objects and everything in the manufacturing process contributes to that. Whether it’s the century-old wax pots casting moulds or the state-of-the-art 3D printers which create moulds seemingly out of thin air. This symphony of old-meets-new is common throughout the workshop, upholding the adage if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s the final object which comes from this complex process which matters the most. “I’ve got to be sure that we’ve hit the hallmarks, regardless of the feedback. For me it’s not about selling this-or-that, it’s about making something that’s good enough” Warner says earnestly.

After thirty years, Good Art is more than just Josh Warner. What started as a personal vendetta now involves a team of 35. Collectively they do everything from start-to-finish. This ranges from design and metallurgy from their in-house foundry, all the way through to finished product. “What we have here is a facility that is, by all measures, a state-of-the-art precious metal foundry”. As you pass between the departments there’s a distinct pace, one which could never be described as frenetic. This slower approach is intentional. “We’re in the business of aesthetics, and that takes time. We don’t operate like the bottom-line driven brands – you can’t make beautiful things if people are uncomfortable” as Warner puts it.

For Josh the people are the most important part — each piece is touched by at least eight sets of hands throughout the production process. Some of the staff have worked with him for decades. The most notable being his right-hand-man and best friend Oso, who has worked with him going-on three decades. “From almost day one, I had someone who was learning alongside me…We’ve achieved a lot of our dreams together”. It’s clear that it’s not the machinery which makes Good Art, it’s the skills of every person involved in the creation of these fine objects.

Much like the old Trade Stimulators his father restored, entertainment and mechanics feature in many Good Art creations — from the way a Poplock clasp clicks as it engages, to the hand-tuned fit of a B&T clasp. Josh removes a prototype from around his neck – “I’ve been working on this thing for over two years, trying to fine-tune the sound it makes. I wanted the perfect mechanical noise”. It’s pointless attempting to describe the sound, but for those familiar with operating a vintage camera or the sounds of a mechanical watch – it’s similarly tactile. Josh explains that the cord it’s attached to is woven from vintage bandanas, split and woven in a process that takes him five minutes to describe. But why go this far? “The people who buy our pieces trust that we go further than anyone else — we do things nobody in their right minds would do! There’s things most people will never know or even appreciate, but we do them because it’s the only way we know”.

It’s this attitude which guides Josh and the whole Good Art team. The items they make are of the finest quality, with the most beautifully complex features, imbuing them with a sense of wonder. Just as he did with the first pieces he ever made, Josh Warner wants to create things he wants, “I deal in the spaces between things. I like to take something pedestrian and make an exceptional version of it”. As he simply puts it, with Good Art he wants to make the world “a little better than the way it was before”. It’s hard to argue against that…