Each woman in this book is a treasure.
This book is dedicated to my husband Tom Turner and children, Daniella, Hannah, Adam and Wesley and all the hard working women out there creating fine works of art and being courageous innovators in their field.
This book is MY hallmark on the world of jewelry design.
The drawer would open and inside were immeasurable treasures. Hundreds of pins and rings and necklaces would sparkle and glitter before my eyes. Even though I was only 4 to be allowed into this drawer was a great privilege and I took the responsibility solemnly. I loved this dresser drawer of treasures.
The rain would pour down on those cold New England days in Western Massachusetts, the smell of leaves on the ground mixed with the aroma of faint perfume from past days and parties, and the cedarwood of the dresser would float upward as I opened each drawer with great anticipation.
Time and time again, performing this ritual, I knew what piece of jewelry was in every jewelry box, and I would remove the lid, respond emotionally and critically to the piece of jewelry, carefully examine it making my case for that judgment and put it carefully back for the next rainy day. My heart would beat faster as I opened some of the boxes, tops all worn away, cotton all torn up where the piece nested inside. There were pins sparkling with hundreds of paste glass gemstones, rings with rubies and seed pearls, pearls so tiny my mind could not fathom how they were made, glowing moonscapes trapped under glass. Then there was ‘the good jewelry’ These boxes I took forever to go through, spending as much time as I could looking at each one. You could always tell the ‘good stuff’ from the fake by the the weight of it, the unique sparkle to each gemstone, the rich colors of the gems.
The ritual would begin by creating the time and space to go through all the boxes, taking a few hours. Rainy days were my favorite as the damp chill in the air would add to the shivering excitement of going through these bureau drawers.
My adopted mother had all the jewelry in one place, a holy shrine to these fascinating objects. My eyes would critically analyze each piece of jewelry and I had incredibly strong reactions to the various styles, materials shapes, designs.
Looking back now as a custom jewelry designer I still bring that critical eye to my work. The smaller the detail, the more fascinated I am by its presence and its impact on the design. Sometimes I would not like a piece, and I would study it even further, as my disdain was equal partner to my delight.
When a piece came from one of the relatives or a person I didn’t approve of, the piece of jewelry seemed to harbor their spirit and so I usually did not like their piece of jewelry. Even though the design was pleasing, the person’s spirit was so strongly inherent in the piece of jewelry that I found the jewelry repugnant. I would give the jewelry piece its due diligence and then gently pack it up into it’s box with disdain.
I handled every piece so carefully even as a small child, so lovingly like some children would a doll, picking it up from the cradle, holding it in their arms, and tucking it back into its little bed with so much care. I affixed the pins to the cotton in the box, so that they would not move around inside the box and get damaged, and with that I learned how to fasten pins as a very young child. I would examine the hinge, peering into its construction trying to fathom how it worked, pulling the pin up over and over setting it into its hook or fastener. Sometimes the pin would not move easily and I would make note of that. The next time I looked at the pin I would see if somehow it moved any easier that time as if an elf fixed it in the middle of the night. It never did, but I would resolve in my mind the problem of why it did not work as well, the hinged was pinched or crooked When I handled a piece of jewelry that worked really well, this pleased me and spoke to me of some type of quality, even it was a fake, I still gave it credit for working beautifully.
If I really did not like a piece of jewelry I was examining, I would make a case for why, and the next time I opened the box would see if I felt any differently about it. Mostly I never did. My exploration was not about style or fashion when I was a child, but my immediate response to the piece of jewelry. I would sniff it to see if there was any perfume left, I would look at the pearls to see if they were fake, I held each piece in my hands for its weight. Anything plastic and light I innately knew was of no value, anything too heavy I knew was also fake metal. I could see on the edges of the fake pearls the coating would be coming off, and the links connecting always revealed if the metal was real, as you could see the discoloration between the pieces revealing the truth about its contents.
Almost every piece of jewelry came with a story. “ Oh that belonged to Aunt Elizabeth, she always wore that with her special black dress” or “That was the only piece of jewelry I ever got from my mother, she did not have much jewelry because they could not afford it, and we split up all the pieces between the siblings when she died”
Not only would the design of the piece be a component of my criteria for approval, but the backstory was also essential for my approval. “Oh I never liked her”. At that moment I did not like the jewelry they wore either. The feeling towards the family member that wore that piece of jewelry set the precedent for how I felt about it.. That necklace belonged to your Uncle’s wife “she loved you so much!” I was much more likely to love this piece.
Being adopted into this family, I never felt connected to anyone, but here in the quiet privacy of my thoughts, I was connected to a whole family of strangers each piece evoking a story about the owner and the mystery of their life. This was someone I had never had, and would never get to meet. Their jewelry was the talisman that spoke to me of their life.
After I found my birth family one of the most haunting things was to not have ever had a piece of my birth mother’s jewelry. I longed for this as if somehow it tied me to her, to touch a piece of jewelry she owned, would be like touching her again one more time. I revisited my birth family and was given a bracelet that my mother had worn. Later that day, I went to the graveyard to visit my birth father’s grave and my brother found a Syrian turquoise cross buried in the ground next to his marker. We extracted the cross from the pungent earth. I ran through the perfectly manicured grass to the truck and grabbed a pair of pliers, and in the very graveyard my parents are both buried, I made a piece of jewelry that came from my birth mother and father. Here in this beautiful multi strand glowing amber beads, with a bright blue turquoise cross in silver, I reunited my mother and father together again, in a single piece of jewelry. The value of this bracelet is not the dollar value of this piece of jewelry, but the value it had for me, reuniting my family together was a priceless act.
The jewelry industry today is a rapidly changing art form. With the advent of Computer Aided Drawing the process is no longer at the bench, but rather a manifestation of the mind of the artist. When I began my career in the 70’s everything was handmade or cast by a wax that was handmade.Now an idea can become manifest in just a few days with less struggle, waste, and manufacturing difficulties.
I was always a woman in the man’s world. When I sat at the bench, all the men jewelers I had studied with had acquired all this skill at the bench and having the technique to manufacture the designs in their imagination. I had some wonderful instructors, mentors in the arts of fabrication, and some not so much, humiliating me because I did not know as much or was so young I was not skilled enough to handle the job. I never felt ‘good enough’ about my work. In retrospect I realized I had never been formally trained and this had held me back with developing my design concepts.
The struggle/discussion of Fine Art and Craft was also present in the development of my work.
I received a BA in Product and Industrial Design with a focus on jewelry, and then received a MFA from Fine Art Photography. Many of the jewelry design programs or institutions do not have metalsmithing programs. Having gone through Industrial Design program at MSU, I learned art making techniques but nothing about functional techniques like resizing a ring or resetting stones. It was as if learning the trade was frowned upon in the fine arts community and the bench jewelers I knew scoffed at my art back round as they saw no value to it.
This book is a document of the women of jewelry that are artists, bench jewelers making a living for their family, and the rising stars of the industry who came into their own by creating a style, a line, a philosophy and the desire to create a product that millions of people would want. My curation and selection of the women I feature (Volume I) does not see the end result as fine art or craft. This book seeks to honor the path of that woman in her journey to become a success with her brand and design. Each woman brings a different quality of skill design and craftspersonship to their jewelry design. I hope to show the next generation of women jewelers this path, the struggles, the successes, the pitfalls and the great moments of the journey they have chosen to embark on.
Each woman in this book is a treasure. Her story, her work, her struggle to become accomplished and her path to her success. Every woman’s story is profoundly different. I want to present that story of each woman’s path, to the reader. This book is an homage to each individual woman, and focuses on her unique story of what she encountered walking the path to her success as a designer, an artist, and a craftsperson. What inspired her? At what point was this path her career? What was it like on the path to her successful brand? What were the steps she took to get there, and where does she go from here? I uncovered each woman of jewelry’s story as I uncovered each piece of jewelry in that dresser so many years ago, her luster, her essence, and her legacy to the world today and future of jewelry design.