Jeff Brock, Sergio Juarez and Rocket Heads Jewelry
Sergio Juarez works on a lathe
Jeff Brock buffs a new rocket
A Rocket Heads bracelet on display at the Pop Gallery in Santa Fe
Brock (left) and Juarez at work in the Rocket Heads studio
A variety of rocket charms
Juarez using steel wool to polish a new rocket charm
Brock holds two heart-shaped rock bolo ties
Story and photos by Bob Eckert
Present day, Española
Behind the old theater building on Paseo de Oñate in Española is the Rocket Heads jewelry studio/workshop.
You walk in the door, pass through what might be described as a showroom, and encounter Sergio Juarez working at a metal lathe.
Juarez and Jeff Brock are Rocket Heads Studio. You may be familiar with their names because these are the same two guys who took “Bombshell Betty” to the Bonneville Salt Flats and set a number of land speed records.
You walk over to where Juarez is working and see him holding two fingers against a small aircraft grade aluminum rocket that he has just started working on. It’s as if he is feeling for a pulse in the metal. It’s a light and sensitive touch. He’s feeling how thick it is and also how smooth. He pulls out some steel wool and holds it against the side of the rocket to buff a bit.
“I shape it out and then when I want to smooth it out I go with a file and then I use different grades of paper here.” He said as he gestures to a couple of pieces of sandpaper.
As he touches the newly formed, and yet unfinished, rocket, it seems as if he is actually communicating with it.
“It just comes to: maybe a little bit longer or thicker or smoother.” Juarez explained this “communication” with the rocket. “The nose, it depends: ‘No, it looks too short or too stubby.’ I’ll figure it out little by little until I get the shape I want.”
Back a number of years to Flint, Mich., where Jeff Brock grew up.
To help explain how Brock and Juarez came to be making small, metal rockets for jewelry, you need to understand a bit of Brock’s history.
“I was always attracted to the flaming heart. It was a curiosity thing to me. In history and religion — being a design-minded person, when you are exposed to things in life and you see something like a flaming heart of Mary or Jesus, well I was just drawn to that.” Brock explained. “I did my first sacred hearts when I was about 12. I carved them out of wood. I did it in high school. I love stone but I grew up in Flint, Mich., where they teach you to weld when you are learning the alphabet.”
So artists weren’t necessarily held in the highest regard.
“To be an artist in Flint, my mentors were all about get a job, you’re a good craftsman, get a job. It was a robotic mentality. ‘When are you going to get a job, I taught you how to weld when you were 10?’” Brock laughs. “So I got away from it. A couple of things happened when I was a kid playing with stones. I was insulted for it. And that happening at that pre-adult, adolescent stage, everything hits you like a brick. I would still make gifts for people out of wood.”
Brock jumps forward in time to when he had moved to New Mexico.
“When I started to do stonework again here, it (the sacred heart) was revisited. I always appreciated it and played around with it in different formats. It goes back to the 1500s. The images started back in that era with a female author who coined the phrase, the sacred heart of Jesus.”
Brock took a breath and then continued.
“When I do something that entails spirituality, I don’t give all rights to one individual. So I came with a desire to share with people the knowledge of their own sacred hearts. We all have the right to think of our hearts as being sacred, that everyone’s heart is special and sacred,” Brock said. “When I started making my stone pieces in 2000 I started to do the line of sacred hearts. I was primarily doing commissions. People would come into my studio and pick the stone combinations that they favored and that called to them. It was really beautiful because they felt like they were part of the process (as opposed to just purchasing something from him).
“A lot of the designs that I do are inspired by all of our ancestors. I started to find arrowheads out in the desert and it started me looking at what my ancestors made for stone tools (If you think about it, arrowheads look a bit like the rocket shape). That made me realize how very much alike we are as far as where the artisans in our culture and our tribes come from. I was excited to study the Mesopotamians and some of their tools and stoneworks of some of the primitive cultures that are 5000 BC.”
OK, so he obviously was heavily invested in these heart-shaped pieces and you wonder what transpired to move him into rocket jewelry.
“One day I found this beautiful, white agate arrowhead out in the desert. Three miles out in the desert, the size of a dime, a small white spot in an arroyo near Abiquiú caught my attention and I jumped off my horse and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever found. A very spiritual moment for me. The shape and the feel of it was very inspiring to me. The energy of it, number one, but the feel of that shape, real bell-shaped (he pulls out a tray of stones and shows a couple with a similar shape), in studying my own culture from Norway and Scotland…” Brock explains.
Arrowheads, hearts… OK, make the jump here… rockets.
The shape was already in place. He had done work that was inspired by it… subconsciously (human genetic memory perhaps?). It’s not like he had an epiphany moment and said “I’m going to go make heart-shaped things.” He was already doing that.
“I’ve always been into conceptual value with my art,” He said. “There is a lot of ‘read between the lines’ things even with my rockets. So I was finding this path — through a natural process — of my style. I was wanting to become an artist, so, how do you become an artist and have recognizable work? You have to earn it. You have to go through that process. So for me, when I realized that this shape, that I was already carving in stone, and ivory and wood, through my life, represented — perhaps loosely — the heart, but yet as a weapon to protect your family or to provide for your family in the shape of an arrowhead or spear point. And that so much of that conceptual value was in these stylized hearts that I was making, and had lots of hidden meanings.”
Tying it together — stone hearts to rockets…
“I was the house jeweler at Rancho de San Juan on the way to Ojo Caliente.” Brock explained. “That was a resort and they had an art gallery in front. I did that for eight years. It’s closed now. They retired. But that’s what happened and set me on the path I’m on now. It was a great run. I saw it coming (“it” being the closing of Rancho de San Juan). They did it slowly and carefully. So I made the choice. I built Bombshell Betty and I had a land speed record or two and I was really inspired by everything aerodynamic, realizing, just like I did when I held that arrowhead in my hand, that these car builders on the Salt Flats — 600 racers with their hand-built products out there on the salt — are all artists. They can’t help it. You want to make something go faster in the wind, you better be sculptural. You better start thinking about how to make this thing like a bird. (or a rocket)”
The design elements of that experience were kind of infiltrating Brock’s head and he actually thought about doing something like “Sacred Heart Racing” to tie that in, but the whole appreciation of the infinite design elements available with the shape of a rocket, with aerodynamic aspects — fast fine art he and Sergio call it — hit him the same way as the arrowhead/heart thing hit him.
“It was like, ‘I’m going to go down this path.’” Brock said. “What you are seeing right now is me making a conscious decision to stop playing with stone and to produce metal, to produce gold, silver, stainless, aircraft aluminum and jewel bronze rockets.”
“We don’t make good money on the one of a kind originals.” Brock admitted. This is due to the fact that a one-off piece takes about 12 hours to make and they really can’t charge for all that time and still make the pieces affordable. So the one-of-a-kind pieces are good bargains for an astute buyer.
“We cast 12 different pieces (nine are shown in the leather ‘portfolio’ case) that we chose out of 32 pieces that were done by hand.”
The cast pieces are pieces that they thought would satisfy a wide range of interests and that are offered in different metals. Since they are working with new, innovative metals they find that there are interesting responses from shoppers — you don’t go into a jewelry store and expect to find pieces made from aircraft aluminum.
At some point, Brock said, the plan is to start to incorporate stone into the metal pieces and then those two worlds that Brock is quite familiar with will come together. Sort of a full circle kind of thing going on.
While Brock works on a rocket bracelet, Juarez is finishing up a single rocket, its use to be determined at a future time. It might end up as a charm, a bracelet or a necklace.
“Yeah, it’s cool. I like doing it. It keeps the mind busy, creative, active… all that good stuff.” Juarez said when asked if he likes what he is doing. “You create things that other people enjoy wearing. It’s nice to put your mind into something that someone is going to like wearing for a special event.”
Rocket Heads jewelry is fun, a bit retro, aerodynamic, lowbrow and somewhat pop and punk. It’s cool and sophisticated. If you are looking for something that is impeccably crafted and a little bit on the edgy side, then this is the kind of jewelry you’ve been looking for.
Juarez inspects rocket shape at lathe
Jeff Brock (seated) and Sergio Juarez outside Rocket Heads jewelry studio in Espanola, New Mexico