Richard Chavez was born and raised in San Felipe Pueblo, one of the more conservative, traditional pueblo communities located alongside the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.
In the early 1970s, Richard worked as an architectural draftsman for Harvey S. Hoshour, who came to Albuquerque after working for renowned German architect Mies Van de Rohe. During that time, Richard attended University of New Mexico's School of Architecture and began making jewelry in his free time to supplement his income.
Richard Chavez learned how to make heishi and turquoise necklaces from his grandfather, but soon taught himself silverwork. He applied the minimalist architectural philosophy he had learned to his jewelry designs, which emphasize purity, sparseness, and balance. In 1976, Richard left his architectural career to pursue jewelry full time.
Richard uses irregular cuts of stone and carefully selected color schemes to create his contemporary, chic pieces. He uses semiprecious and precious stones with turquoise as an accent color, so his jewelry stands out from other contemporary artists.
From start to finish, each piece of jewelry has many steps involved. Richard begins with a sketch to determine the design, then solders, sands, cuts, polishes, and finishes the lapidary process. Each step is done entirely by Richard, from purchasing the raw stone to cutting and grinding it into shape, and polishing it before it is set in gold or silver. Each stone requires at least 10 steps before it is ready for its final polish and setting.
Richard Chavez has earned name recognition thanks to the high standards he sets for his jewelry. His designs have won numerous awards since his first competition in 1976. In 1990, he stopped entering judged competitions, feeling he no longer required that type of validation. Instead, he finds the positive reactions and comments from the public to be more gratifying than awards.
Of his artwork he says, “When I first got into jewelry-making, my grandfather said, ‘Your talent doesn’t come from you, it comes from some outside source, so don’t ever take it for granted. Make sure you give your thanks and you share that gift that you have.’ So that’s what I try to do.”