Artisan Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design: From the Bench to the Show Floor

Or, A Funny Thing Happened at AGTA…

Every year when I attend the Tucson gem, jewelry, mineral, etc. shows, I focus on the stones. Well, honestly, I focus on pearls, then catching up with industry friends and colleagues, and finding what's new in the jewelry-making industry, and stones. Plus the pearls.

Todd Reed's palladium cuff bracelet won AGTA's "Best in Show" in 2011 and first place in the Best Daywear/Business category. (May/June 2011 Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist)

But every year, either in Tucson or at Bead Fest, I come across a designer or a few designers who are doing something so eye-catching, so fun, so new, so amazing or outrageous or gorgeous or skillful that it just makes my creativity soar. It was self-taught metalsmith and jeweler Todd Reed at AGTA a few years ago–and look at him now!

Kim Edwards glass chain maille beads

I'll never forget the first time I saw Kim Edwards' amazing lampwork glass chain maille at Bead Fest in Philly (yes, she makes jump rings in glass and builds a new ring onto the last one IN THE FLAME to create the chain-maille weave–amazing!). A couple of years ago at the JOGS show, I was really impressed by the feminine, nature-inspired cast jewelry and found object designs from sister jewelry artists Carol Ryerson and Valerie Boles of Urban Organics Designs. Our friend Eleanor Macnish is a talented lampwork glass artist whose fun display of cupcake glass beads caught my eye in Tucson a few years back–and then I learned what an incredibly talented metalsmith she is as well.

It's hard to share the work of these talented designers with you because photos aren't really allowed on the show floor. You can get permission sometimes but most designers don't want to allow photos, for fear of their designs being copied, which I completely understand. So at AGTA this year, I thought I'd just walk through the designer area and the Preview Promenade for new jewelry designers to see if any trends in general caught my eye to share with you, or if any designers stood out that I could mention for you to check out–such as Elyria Jewels by Elisa Browsh. I love her use of pearls (you know it!) with darkened metal, bold gems and gem slices, and geometric shapes, all in very modern, industrial styles that normally wouldn't appeal to this girlie girl personally, but hers still had just enough of the pretty factor to win me over. Take a look at

So I'm walking along, being awed by the colorful creations by Paula Crevoshay and Erica Courtney, when a designer greets me and says, "You look familiar . . ."

I hear that pretty often at jewelry shows, of course, but not in the fine-jewelry and fine-gem realm of AGTA! Then she said, "Don't you write a jewelry making blog?" Whoa.


I confessed that I did and, honestly friends, I wasn't sure what to say next. Turns out she teaches jewelry design and metalsmithing at William C. Holland and she shares my Jewelry Making Daily posts with her students. She prints them out even–that just made my day! Her name is Brenda Smith, by the way, and her work is gorgeous–she had these spectacular large, spinning, dangling earrings with pearls, or black diamonds (above her in the pic), or colored stones that look like (and were inspired by) fireworks, some gorgeous pearl rings (because it always comes back to the pearls), and pearl "Jellyfish" earrings with pearl bodies and dangling stick-pearl "tentacles." I'd just bought a bag of small keshi stick-shaped pearls moments before, not knowing what to do with them. Hmm…

Brenda was introducing her new Jewelry of Faith "Pearl of Great Price" collection, designed with symbolic components of a pearl (representing you), an amethyst (representing royalty), and a vine motif (representing life). She even has jewelry designs that don't include pearls, too. Ha! Learn more at

In addition to being a huge treat to walk the shows and see some of the latest and greatest jewelry artisans, it's also inspiring to see all the fresh work, fresh jewelry-making designs and metalsmithing ideas from jewelry artists who are new-to-the-scene or the ones who finally took the leap to bring their passion to the public. And many of them started out just like we did, trying to learn to solder, being afraid of a "big" torch, and breaking saw blades! There's a wealth of creativity in what they do, whether they're using old tools in inventive new ways, mixing seemingly incongruous materials into fabulous jewelry art, or taking metal and other materials beyond their usual applications to their utmost potential.

Speaking of taking metal beyond the norm, mokume gane is metal in one of its show-off-iest forms. Whether you're making the billets themselves, laying different metals and going through the love- and labor-intensive processes of heating and forging, adapting purchased billets into your own unique mokume gane sheet, or using pre-made mokume gane sheet to create gorgeous jewelry–there's something so singular and artistic about mokume gane. It's arguably the most artistic of all metalsmithing applications, but not many people use it, possibly because of the intimidation factor. Don't be intimidated! Chris Ploof is another jewelry designer who made the leap from beginner to award-winner, and he's sharing his process for making a mokume gane pendant in his latest video, Mokume Gane Jewelry: Make a Pillow Pendant. (And if you're feeling really creative, you can get his first video and learn to make your own mokume gane!)

Remember to catch up with all my Tucson gem show adventures on the blog!

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