How Our Tirana Edition Came Together
The story (and people) behind the Victorian Governess Cuff.
The journey of one of Graciela Fuentes’s clock-gear necklaces and key rings doesn’t start and stop with her: The Brooklyn-based jeweler relies on a dedicated network of artisans along the way. Here’s a peek inside the who, what, and where of our so-rad edition. —jackie varriano
“My inspiration for this cuff is a pair of scissors from a Victorian doll house that I found in England. I started by working with a bunch of brass replicas of the original pair, bending them and soldering them together at different angles.”
“Once I’m satisfied with a composition, the metal is hammered into a cuff shape. The cuff and I then leave my Brooklyn studio and head to the Jewelry District in the center of Manhattan.”
“My first stop is the studio of Mr. Alex Pugachevsky, a hand-engraver who learned his trade from his brother at the age of 14 in his native Kiev. Alex used a microscope and his own handmade tools to engrave the word ‘Tirana’ on the inside of the cuff.”
“Next stop is Taba, a family-run, environmentally friendly company that makes a mold of the cuff and uses the ancient technique of lost wax to cast each piece using post-consumer recycled brass.”
“Waxes are delicately grouped together in trees from which a second mold is made. Molten, recycled brass is poured into this mold, which is then destroyed to get the pieces out after the metal hardens. The process was repeated seven times to make the cuffs for this edition.”
“Back in my studio, each cuff is lovingly inspected, cleaned, filed, and polished by me. Afterward, I head back to the Jewelry District to have each piece plated in gold by the expert father-and-son team at Europea Polishing. And voilà—the cuffs are ready!”
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Five Tirana-Approved NYC Mexican Joints
Graciela Fuentes helps you fill your belly.
The storied guac from La Superior.
Newsflash: Mexicans don’t eat chimichangas. In fact, Graciela Fuentes, of the nostalgically industrial line Tirana Jewelry, had never even heard of one until she moved to the U.S. for college. And since then, she’s done a stellar job avoiding them, instead unearthing the best, most legit Mexican food NYC has to offer. —jackie varriano
“One of the owners Felipe (a.k.a. Sonido Discoayacan) and I used to DJ at the same parties many years ago. He has an amazing selection of Mexican music, and the food and décor are super authentic—I really feel at-home when I go. Whenever someone visits from Mexico and is feeling homesick, I’ll take them there. I love their guacamole. I think is one of the best in town!”
“Ok, this place is not fully Mexican, but that’s what makes is great. This super-cute restaurant-bar serves French-slash-Mexican food. I was a bit skeptical the first time I went, but after my first bite of the Mexican steak tartare—hand-cut beef, shallots, cornichons, cilantro, and pico de gallo—I had no more doubts.”
“Bushwick has a big Mexican population, so there are a lot of taquerias and restaurants to choose from in the neighborhood. I’ve tried a lot of them, and I always go back to Mally’s, which is actually a deli and grocery store with a tiny kitchen in the back. In Northern Mexico where I’m from, we eat a lot of carne asada, and one of my favorite carna asada dishes is alambre, which typically involves beef, bacon, onions, and bell peppers on a skewer with melted cheese on top. At Mally’s you can get it with either bacon or chorizo! Yeah!”
“It’s definitely unexpected to find this Mexican lounge in the middle of Chinatown among Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants. This place is better known for their pulque-based drinks, but my favorite things here are the enchiladas suizas. The super-rich tomatillo sauce gives them a delicious, citrusy taste.”
“Whenever I find myself in Spanish Harlem, I always make my way to El Paso. They have delicious elote—corn on the cob covered in mayo, cotija cheese, lime, and chile piquin. Mexicans will find a way to add chile to everything. I like to sneak a travel-size container of chile powder in when I go to the movies so I can pour it over my popcorn.”
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We’re not saying that naming your line after yourself is a bad thing. We’re just noting that if you have an un-ironic DJ name you once used while spinning cheesy music from the eighties, that’s a pretty honeyed alternative. Meet Graciela Fuentes—formerly known as La Tirana, Spanish for “female tyrant”—who, even during her beat-droppin’ days, always knew she would be an artist. After earning a BFA from Word University in Texas, landing an MFA from NYU, and dabbling in photography and video production, she found herself drawn to more industrial vibe—one that recalls the backdrop of her hometown, Monterrey, Mexico. “It’s a bit of nostalgia for seeing these machines—you can look at them and see how they work. Looking at my iPhone, I have no idea how I’m even talking on it,” Graciela explains.
After a few years working primarily on computers with digital media arts, Graciela yearned to create something physical. One carved alabaster ring later, the creative spark caught fire, laying the groundwork for Tirana Jewelry. Her favorite part of her process: Sourcing antique pieces from flea markets the world over. Those scores, kept in a sacred drawer in her Williamsburg studio, are then molded and cast in recycled silver, gold, and bronze to be sculpted and soldered into brand new pieces—for a line that’s romantic, steampunk, and tough all at once. “I like the idea of a female tyrant because I don’t think it has a bad historic connotation like the male tyrant,” Graciela says. “A female tyrant is a little bit more of a woman in power, a woman that knows what she wants, a woman that can get her way.” —jackie varriano