For at least three thousand years, people have been adorning their bodies with decorative articles made from rare and beautiful metals, stones, and other riches. Today, perhaps more than ever, jewelry can be an expression of one’s sense of self, in visual, tactile, three-dimensional form.
The Wood River Valley is home to a number of artists involved in the process of making jewelry available for others to wear and enjoy. Several of these locals have chosen to stay actively involved on every level—designing, crafting, and finding buyers—some, through their own retail store. All of these talented jewelry artists bring a unique story, and a particular talent, to their trade.
Christina Healy’s jewelry reflects a blend of the two worlds of her childhood: the cosmopolitan sophistication of time spent in Los Angeles, and the strong work ethic she learned in her grandfather’s Greek restaurant in Pocatello. Evocative of the determination and independence she saw in the immigrant women who mentored her, Healy’s designs feel like solid, sturdy “comfort jewelry”; yet, in a nod to L.A., each piece is imbued with a beauty that makes its wearer feel like a celebrity.
Healy is involved in every step of the crafting of her one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces, but turns to other jewelers to fabricate designs for her more affordable collections. A self-denoted “part artist and part mad scientist,” she has just patented and trademarked Etruscan Vermeil, a gold-plating process perfected over the past six years.
Healy says that turning her hobby into a business was the hardest thing she has ever done, and attributes at least part of her success to a group of influential women who taught her how to be a good businesswoman. As a way of “paying forward” the kindness and support shown her by these women, some of whom are still clients thirty-one years later, Healy mentors other women jewelry makers in the area.
Michele Black spent last winter designing jewelry in the Arizona desert north of Sonora, Mexico, camped miles away from another person. Using a gasoline-powered generator to run her tools, and working in a tiny camper that had been gutted and converted into a studio and living area, Black found that her jewelry making thrived in an isolated environment devoid of external influences. Extensive solitary time allowed for experimentation with new processes and ideas: the invention of a magnetic clasp that effectively withstands the weight of larger pieces, for instance. She also moved into uncharted areas in her work with high-karat gold, unusual beads, and fine gems.
However, when she discovered her love for metal work, there was no wanderlust. As she says, “It was like coming home: I absolutely love it!”
Kary Kjesbo is another artisan involved in every step of the jewelry-making process. For her, the most rewarding aspect of the jewelry making process is having the chance to create a unique piece, one that perfectly suits a particular person. Before beginning a design, Kjesbo meets with her client and gets to know, and be inspired by, the individual’s personality.
For a client seeking the perfect accessory for a favorite turquoise silk dress, Kjesbo crafted a necklace of crystal and two-tone blue apatite in shades ideally complementing the garment. For another, who wanted to give a loved one a particularly special wedding gift, antique jade was transformed into a unique and stunning necklace. Clients often ask Kjesbo to design and craft new jewelry using favorite family heirlooms such as antique lockets or pendants. Pearls are a constant in her work, and solid 18-karat gold from India is another material this artist loves to use.
Linda Bushell’s beautiful jewelry grew out of a grief only a mother can know. Soon after a car accident claimed the life of her only child, Bushell turned back to the hobby she had loved her entire life. Her need to stay busy and creative—and simply keep going—gradually led her to realize that if you’re passionate about something, you can make a living from it. Her jewelry business had begun.
Working from a studio in her home, Bushell designs and crafts her pieces, keeping her hands on every creation from start to finish. A love of versatility within her jewelry often inspires her to mix favorite materials: handcrafted sterling silver, turquoise, handmade beads from Bali, fine gold, gemstones, and pearls. Bushell marvels that years are required to form a pearl, yet its qualities are a complete surprise until the oyster is finally opened. >>>
Christine Gurney’s jewelry is designed and built by a true Westerner. Born and raised in Nevada, Gurney moseyed up to Idaho in 1974. Her life in the rugged, wide-open West has clearly defined her work as a silversmith. And years as a ski tuner, plus six months at the California Institute of Jewelry Training, have lent her an ease and familiarity with tools—the “paintbrushes” of her business,?Sun Valley?Silver Company.
Gurney’s specialties are twofold. A lifetime of long winters has resulted in the creation of a unique series of sterling silver snowflakes, used most frequently on necklaces. A familiarity with rodeos and ranches led to Gurney’s other specialty, silver belt buckles. Treating them as her silversmith’s canvas, Gurney has created trophy buckles to be used as awards in local athletic competitions. She also crafts buckles for local business owners, including ranchers, who often want their brand incorporated into the design.
Tamara Kordahl moved to Idaho five years ago and began designing and making jewelry as a way to get through the long winter days. Kordahl’s escape quickly became her passion, and she made the decision two years ago to sell her pieces.
This artisan is fascinated with vintage beads, particularly those from faraway places such as Tibet, where she recently developed a relationship with a company that supplies her with the beads she now uses for her coordinating necklaces and earrings. Although she often crafts custom pieces, Kordahl especially enjoys designing pieces she personally loves. She has found fulfillment and passion in her new field, which, she claims, isn’t all that different from her previous work as an accountant. “I went from counting beans,” she quips, “to counting beads.”
Sara Berquist makes all her pieces locally in her studio showroom, Zyla Jewelry. Although she has enjoyed what could be considered a rugged lifestyle, from fishing in Alaska to living in the Idaho mountains for over twenty years, Berquist’s jewelry best reflects her love for Asia.
This artist designs and crafts pieces using high-karat gold and naturally grown keshi pearls. She also imports jewelry and statues from Indonesia, China,?Bali,?and?Thailand. Berquist made jewelry as a teen, working alongside her father as he crafted stained glass. Maintaining that her success is proof that you can turn your passion into a business, she believes wholeheartedly that clients can recognize and feel this passion, and appreciate it when a jewelry artist has poured love and expression into each piece.
Sharon Ikaunieks may have the most unusual setting of any jewelry artist. Having spent over twenty years helping local women look beautiful, her move into jewelry design naturally complements her hairstyling skills. As her shop fills with women every day, Ikaunieks learns from them exactly how today’s woman wants her hair and jewelry to look.
Her salon provides immediate feedback—an unusual opportunity for a jewelry maker. An Idaho native, Ikaunieks studied jewelry in college and has taken art classes, but is self-taught in other areas of her craft. Her love of jewelry making began with simple strings of beadsmarketed from a display case in her shop. She then moved on to applying gold leaf to shells and leaves, but now prefers using gold, silver, copper, and semiprecious gemstones.
Susan Reinstein, jewelry designer and goldsmith, and her partner, gem trader Brian Ross, moved to Idaho and made a rather bold decision: not to sell their jewelry locally. Desiring their “own private Idaho,” they chose to design their jewelry here, but sell it through galleries and retail stores around the world. Their work is also sold through two Reinstein/Ross stores in New York City, and it is from a workshop in one of the stores that all of Reinstein’s designs are hand-fabricated.
The couple travels to Asia frequently to collect gemstones and precious beads. Enhanced with sapphires, diamonds, emeralds, platinum, and custom blends of high-karat gold, Reinstein’s designs skillfully blend a modern woman’s taste with ancient Etruscan and Egyptian influences.
Reinstein believes that it’s the designer’s rare ability to envision, conceptualize, and set trends that sets a line of jewelry apart. A trendsetter for decades, she opened a jewelry school in New York City in the mid-1970s, followed a few years later by a jewelry gallery. It was there that she met her partner, Brian, a marine biologist who had learned an appreciation for gemstones during a three-year bicycle trip through Europe and the Middle and Far East. Reinstein and Ross paired up, combining their talents as designer and gem trader into the business they now enjoy from their home in Idaho.
Marshall Robbins of Lone Coyote Production and Design adds an unusual fourth step to the jewelry-making equation: he not only designs, crafts and sells his jewelry, but also mines the stones himself. A background in geology, combined with a passion for jewelry design, led Robbins to wonder about how gemstones look when they come out of the ground. Eventually, he ended up in the mines.
By trading his carpentry skills for mining rights, Robbins has dug quartz from the Rocky Bar area of Idaho, amethyst from Montana, sunstone from Oregon, turquoise from Nevada, and Himalayan tourmaline from California. In exchange, he has completed construction projects at various mining sites: building ladders, shoring up walls, and repairing wear and tear in hundred-year-old mines.
A goldsmith and silversmith for thirty years, Robbins uses the stones he finds to create pendants, rings, earrings, and bracelets. His jewelry art includes sterling silver pedestal stands, patterned after those used with Fabergé eggs, to display the larger crystals he has mined.
Several local jewelry artists have opted to open retail stores in order to sell their creations, as well as those of other jewelry makers. Most of these local shops also contain workshops where busy jewelers practice their craft.
Rosemary Sheffer is one of them. Years ago, while studying metal sculpture in college, she made a dramatic change after crafting several large objects and realizing that such sizable art wasn’t a good fit for a small person. The result has been a thirty-year career as a jeweler, the past fifteen spent at Expressions in Gold, the Ketchum retail store and workshop she and her husband, Mike, own.
Sheffer particularly loves transforming a customer’s ideas and tastes into a handcrafted, keepsake piece. Enguaged in each step of the design and fabrication of each piece of jewelry, Sheffer is the only person who touches the items she crafts. Many of her pieces are influenced by Idaho, and she has spent twenty years perfecting the face on her Sun Valley sun earrings, pendants, charms, and accessories.
Chris Roebuck of Christopher & Co. takes pride in saying, “We do it all!” He inherited this all-inclusive business attitude while working in his stepfather’s jewelry store. Of all the aspects involved, however, building relationships with people has always been Roebuck’s favorite part—and that is his focus when designing and crafting one-of-a-kind pieces for customers.
Roebuck listens carefully and encourages dialogue, keeping the client involved. He also plays the role of educator, helping people learn how their ideas can best be transformed into gems and precious metal. Whether designing, casting, fabricating, or setting stones, Roebuck works side-by-side with the client, who often becomes a friend in the process.
Theresa Jensen the owner of Jensen Stern, was born with a gift. She’s not certain where it comes from, but she senses trends before they happen. As a jewelry designer, that makes her a natural.
Jensen designs in two ways: from scratch, or by altering existing artifacts. She once transformed an old Russian icon found on her travels by imbedding it with diamonds. Adding gemstones or gold allows her to combine art and jewelry, adding her unique personal stamp.
She is equally enthused by looking at a chunk of gold and envisioning a hand-carved ring. Artisans in India hand-fabricate her designs, using traditional methods that are rapidly vanishing in the United States.
Ezmaralda Gordon, whose Ketchum store bears her name, has a history as eclectic as her retail space. She sold her first piece of jewelry in Thailand in the 1970s, when a passerby bought the piece Gordon had designed and was wearing down the street. Since then she has been a wholesaler, designer, jewelry maker, and mass manufacturer with a factory employing sixty jewelers. She also holds a degree from the Gemological Institute of America and has taught design at UCLA.
Gordon’s pieces, which range in price and style, often include colored stones, diamonds, or pearls. Her work takes her around the globe, but Gordon is thrilled to call Idaho home. She appreciates its sophisticated personality, tempered by a less hectic pace. After a long business trip, she always welcomes the return to her shop and to the beautiful terrain.
Four local stores include jewelers with long local histories: Hughes Jewel Gallery, Towne and Parke Jewelry Store, Barry Peterson Jewelers and Hamilton Jewelers.
It would be something of an understatement to say the Hughes Jewel Gallery is a family business: Owners Vint and Linda Hughes met at a jewelry trade show. Vint’s parents owned a jewelry store in Oregon for forty-five years, where their son crafted his first pieces at age eleven. The couple’s ten-year-old daughter is now making a line of jewelry, and is taking special orders.
Vint Hughes, who has been in the area since his late teens, is known for his goldsmith skills and has received national recognition and awards for his work. He has a hand in every step of the creation of the pieces sold in the store, from designing, carving the wax and casting, to cutting and setting the stone. Linda, who is a professional pearl knotter, often collaborates with her husband on one-of-a-kind creations.
It seems only natural, then, that the couple would work side-by-side on one of their specialties—custom-designed wedding collections. The process, which begins long before the bride’s special day, culminates when she, her bridesmaids and flower girls, and the mothers of the bride and groom all grace the wedding wearing specially designed, coordinating jewelry.
When Tom Keenan bought Towne and Parke Jewelry eighteen years ago, he also inherited its goldsmith, Bruce West. Tossed into the purchase were hundreds of jewelry molds from past trends. The shop still makes occasional use of these historical forms, but is better known for its updated, fresh designs, particularly the Sun Valley sunshine jewelry.
Keenan’s training focused on horology, the study of time and time measurement, with a specialty in watch making and repair. He defers to West for the custom jewelry work, which is crafted from a customer’s photo or sketch. Both men hold degrees in gemology.
West brings the history: he grew up here and, as a young man, pumped gasoline at a local station. It was during that time that he first stepped into Ben Goldberg’s jewelry store, to see if they could fix his wire-rimmed glasses. He watched intently as the repairs were made. The next day, Goldberg stopped at the station and said, “I can’t see you pumping gas your whole life. How would you like to learn my trade?” That began a long series of local apprenticeships, during which West worked with jewelers from many foreign countries. He still views early local jeweler Art Pine as “the master”: Pine taught him, among other things, that making a mold for a ring was no more than simply “taking away the wax parts that aren’t the ring and aren’t supposed to be there.”
Over the past 32 years, Barry Peterson has gained an international reputation while creating and running his all-inclusive local store. Several jewelers work in the store, creating Peterson’s collections as well as the custom designs he and his customers formulate. This summer the workshop team will assemble his new collection, featuring gemstones he has been collecting for years.
Life was not always this busy, and Peterson still loves returning to the jeweler’s bench, where he can simplify his focus and get back to basics. Having grown up in a Rexburg family that enjoyed jewelry making and rock hounding, Peterson developed his first jewelry line as a teen. He opened his local store just after turning twenty-one. He chuckles, recalling his early jewelry: the peace rings he crafted in the late 1960s and the astrology pieces featured in his first national advertisement are now back in style.
For Peterson, ethics is the most important element of the jewelry business. As taught by local mentors Art Pine and Ben Goldberg, he believes strongly in honesty, integrity, and fine quality.
Another important element in his life, personally and professionally, is the ability to live and work in the Wood River Valley. He remembers how right it felt the day he moved here—and it still does. Barry views the area as unique in the world, and says that the Valley offers the additional advantage of lowering his blood pressure.
Peter Westergard, manager and designer at Hamilton Jewelers Sun Valley, grew up watching his mother make turquoise and silver jewelry. After studying jewelry design in high school, the Newport Beach, California, native received jewelry manufacturing arts and graduate gemologist degrees from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Santa Monica, California. For three years following graduation, he worked in the Institute’s laboratory, where he graded more than 35,000 loose diamonds.
After Westergard landed in Sun Valley in the summer of 1992, he began working with Barry Peterson, which is “where I got a lot of my design experience,” he says. Thirteen years under Peterson’s tutelage gave him the skills he needed to branch out on his own. At Hamilton Jewelers Sun Valley, which opened in December 2003, he specializes in custom design work. After making a sketch, Westergard develops a Computer Assisted Design (CAD), which he then sends to a jeweler in Beverly Hills to create. “We can make almost any piece that a customer desires, from basic wedding sets to elaborate necklaces and broaches,” explains Westergard, adding that he enjoys seeing the jewelry go from being a doodle on a piece of paper to a computer image to the finished product.
Marcia Mode-Stavros grew up in northern Wisconsin. She now helps coordinate two annual conferences in Sun Valley and spends any spare time writing, hiking and enjoying her husband, Leo Stavros.