How Did You Begin Your Jewelry-Making Journey? See How Our Authors and Designers Got Their Start

Today is National Jewelry Day, and that got me thinking about this jewelry-making passion we enjoy. Have you ever wondered how the jewelry artists you see in our books, magazines, and videos got their start making jewelry? So did we, so we asked them to tell the stories behind their jewelry-making passion. It's interesting to learn how they began and encouraging to see how far they've come!

 
Jeff making his first bracelet

How I Got this Way by Jeff Fulkerson

When I was 16, I started making jewelry because I wanted a big silver and turquoise Navajo bracelet like my cousin had. However, they cost $250 and I was working in a hobby shop for $1.45/hr. I got a little booklet that showed how to make a ring with a cabochon. Looking back, it actually was a rather difficult project, as it had a bezel with twisted wire around it and the shank was two pieces of 16 gauge wire soldered together in the middle and split on the ends. It took me four hours, but when it was finished, it looked like a ring! I was hooked. I remember I sold it to a girl for $15.

Then I bought W. Ben Hunt's book, Indian Silversmithing, which really got me going! I made another ring, for me (which I still wear!), and then I made a bracelet, which I gave to my girlfriend. Then I finally made my bracelet, which I also still have. Since I was self-taught, I didn't know what was hard and what I shouldn't try, so I just made what I wanted. But I must confess, I had a LOT of raindrops fall off!

I already had most of the tools I needed, including a Dremel and a jeweler's saw, because I built models. I had to buy a ring mandrel, rawhide mallet, asbestos soldering ring, silver solder, and pickle. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I had a great time. I finally took a class about 12 years ago to find out what I'd been doing all these years.

  
Roger's Chimera cuff

Out of This World Jewelry by Roger Halas

My odyssey began in the third grade when, during an art lesson, everyone drew fish and I drew a nuclear submarine. That was me, always thinking outside the box. Or, dousing the box with gasoline and lighting it on fire. Metaphorically speaking, of course. And speaking of fire, junior high school metal shop was where my world took an even more interesting turn. Against an anvil, hot steel was forged, and I constructed a pair of barbecue tongs that my father still uses today. That fall, those simple tongs set me on a path from which I have never deviated.

And then there is science fiction, the creative life force that runs through my veins like electricity through a cyborg. With the help of a few books, I taught myself how to solder, cut stones, work with precious metals, and then assemble it all into something that could fit into this wild and imaginary sci-fi universe; which explains why many of my jewelry designs look like something out of a Star Wars film or a Giger painting.

 
Lexi's first piece!

No Bronze in the Bronze Age by Lexi Erickson

I don't know what I was thinking at the time when I started in jewelry making. All I wanted to do was to be an archaeologist, but I wanted to know more about metals, too, because I was so interested in the Bronze Age. So I took a jewelry class to learn about bronze (which ultimately was never mentioned in my studies about the Bronze Age). I remember going to the university jewelry studio, seeing all the torches (they seemed scary!) and tools, and being totally overwhelmed. Then I was told to go buy a piece of silver and a stone.

I had no clue what to get; it wasn't really explained to us, but I purchased a 4"x6" piece of 16-gauge silver, and it was $45!!! I thought, "I'm not spending any more money on this class! After all, I'm only taking it once." I had a few river rocks I had picked up in a stream in New Mexico, so I took those to class as my stones to set! Well, they were wrong, because I needed cabs, and I didn't know what a cab was. So back to the supply store where I bought five 8x10mm oval hematite stones because they were cheap, 25 cents each. I was only going to take this class once. Riiiiiiiight!

I didn't expect it, but I fell in love with metal. I loved the way it shined so much that I constantly polished my first piece on the tripoli polishing machine every time I got a scratch or fingerprint on it. So what started out as a 16-gauge piece of silver ended up as a 22-gauge piece. But I learned a lot and learned to love metal. I made an "A" in the class, I'm sure from sheer perseverance, and signed up for a second class. I still have my first pieces. Don't ever sell your first pieces, they help define you and make you the jeweler you are. And I'm still in love with metal!

The pearl ring that started it all for Denise, by Amy Hudon.

A Maker from Way Back by Denise Peck

I have always enjoyed "making" things, since I was a little girl. My mother was a maker and taught my sisters and me how to sew. Plus we all were always jumping into the next craft trend–quilting, crewel embroidery, crystal-covered foam fruit, hooked rugs. We tried our hand at Pysanky egg dyeing and paper quilling. We were always making things!

It was at a craft show when I first realized that you could actually make jewelry. And not just string beads, but form the metal! I saw artisans who bent metal into bangles, weave fabric from thin sheet for focals, and set stones in metal, above metal, even around metal. But I'll never forget the ring that made me decide I had to learn metalsmithing. It was a beautiful gold ring where the artist had set the pearl under the shank. Yes, it was attached to the underside of the narrow shank resting on your finger! Wow, the things you could execute if you knew the basics. I had to learn.

My first metal jewelry class was an adult education class in my then-hometown of Brookline, MA. Fifteen years later, I quit my newspaper job and went full-time to metalsmithing school. I am so lucky to have been able to combine both my vocation and avocation in my work here at Interweave.

 

Helen is still using buttons and fabric in her latest work, like this brooch, which also includes recycled metal–just like the metal of her mom's old button tin from her childhood.

From Sewing to Metalsmithing by Helen Driggs

My earliest crafty memory is from when I was about 5. I remember spending lots of quiet time sewing buttons from my mom's button tin on strips of fabric scrap–for necklaces. I would festoon my dolls with gingham strip necklaces, having the tiny little buttons precisely placed on the grid. The obsessive jeweler trait begins early it seems.

Then, in middle school, my neighbor taught me how to crochet granny squares, and I also learned macramé. I made hundreds of micro-macramé bracelets with puka shells for my classmates in high school, and in my art classes, I learned enameling on copper around the same time from my fantastic and favorite teacher, Mr. Chauncey.

My best early craft memory, though, was the fateful day I bought a jumbo-sized peanut butter jar full of 1920s Czech glass beads at a flea market for the princely sum of $4. I wiped out my babysitting money on that purchase, but I later sold some of those beads to a collector–for much more money than I paid for the entire jar.

 
Michael's sawing expertise in fine silver spirals

Cowboy Metalsmithing by Michael David Sturlin

Growing up on a horse ranch in Wilson, Wyoming, I had an early start working with tools and manipulating materials. Although the majority of my work as a lad involved making and maintaining utilitarian and purposeful things, I also made decorative items like belts and bracelets from leather, horse hair and macramé, which I sold at the Jackson Hole Summer Arts Fair in the 1960s.

I started working with metal in high school, making silver jewelry. I was self taught; the first techniques I learned were sawing, piercing, filing, bending and forming, and soldering. I worked at various jobs all through school to finance buying tools and silver and continued developing my skills. By the time I graduated in 1973, I was supporting myself through my jewelry work.

My first formal education in goldsmithing occurred in the middle 1980s, when I took instruction at the Revere Academy in San Francisco and met my mentor and friend Alan Revere. I realized in the first workshop I took that I learned more in five days of expert instruction than I had in the previous five years of working on my own. In 2005, Alan invited me to join the Revere Faculty, and I have devoted the majority of the past decade to teaching, writing and consulting, with the goal of assisting others in avoiding the long, arduous path of self education.

I have also practiced other crafts; I was a potter and made wheel-thrown ceramics in porcelain and stoneware. I've blown glass and worked in a bronze foundry, but my primary engagement has always been working with precious metals, making jewelry-scale objects.

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So much talent in this crew! How did you get your start making jewelry? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

P.S. Bead Fest Spring (April 9-12 in Oaks, PA) is a great place to see some of these fab jewelry artists along with dozens of others. Don't miss your chance to take classes with them live, in person!

 

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