Jewelry is more than just shiny bobbles on display. It is wearable art. It is a repurposed heirloom. It is a symbol of love, loss, or something in between. In short, it is meaningful. In that spirit, we spotlight a few local designers who enjoy creating their own art as much as creating meaningful custom pieces for their clients.
Gabe Bratton spends her time giving a second life to vintage fabrics in the form of luxurious metal jewelry. From earrings to necklaces to men’s cufflinks, she is able to turn the details of classic fabric into a piece that can last a lifetime.
“I am mostly inspired by the fabrics that I am working with,” says Bratton. “Antique lace, and the detail and intricacy that the fabric has, will often lead the way of my designs. I try to maintain the integrity of the original material, but give it a new, modern spin that makes it wearable for the contemporary woman.”
By creating a piece that can be worn every day and everywhere, Bratton is able to produce heirlooms from heirlooms, continuing the tradition of generational gifting.
“I really enjoy special custom projects,” says Bratton. “For instance, taking the veil from one generation of a family and using that lace to create a wedding piece for another generation. It creates an instant heirloom, and I’m always so honored and touched to be able to do that for people.”
Although Bratton is currently living in San Francisco, she still has a strong presence in her native Raleigh and comes back every chance she can for shows: “I am from Raleigh, so it was a logical place for me to really foster and grow my business. The art and design world is really exploding right now.”
Bratton has been working on a Collar Collection for a while now and is also very excited about her new spring/summer earrings, which she describes as big, dramatic pieces. With a demand that has been steadily growing every year, Bratton says she has a good system in place between her studio in San Francisco and her assistant in the Triangle to keep everything together, as well as ensuring retail and website items are stocked at all times.
As far as her time split between custom jewelry and her own line, Bratton says the balance shifts back and forth.
“There are definitely times when my focus is more on one than the other,” says Bratton. “For example, spring and fall are big for weddings so I’m often working more on custom wedding pieces during those periods. When I’m not working on custom, my favorite thing to do is have ‘playtime’ in the studio where I turn on some music, pull out some lace and my scissors and play around with new designs and ideas.”
A native of Taiwan, Hsiang-Ting Yen grew up fascinated by jewelry. She played with it as a child, collected it through adulthood, and since 2013, has sold it from her store in Raleigh.
Yen’s collections have grown from various influences including sculpture, geo
metric shapes, and bold colors. Looking at her portfolio, you can see her work shift as she is exposed to new muses, letting her “artistic gut” take over.
Imagine hand-crafted pieces made from sterling silver, electro-formed copper, enamel and 24k gold vermeil. Triangles cascade down her earrings, large ovals dangle from her necklaces, and her rings jump from traditional to her Black & Gold Armor Statement Ring, a warrior-like piece worthy of a superhero.
“I love earrings,” says Yen. “When I create a new collection, I start with earrings. They are my best sellers at shows. A lot of times I have to remind myself to make more than earrings to create a full collection.”
Her collection is both wearable and bold at the same time, designed for confident and unique women.For Yen, jewelry design has a dual purpose. There is her vision, and then there is her client’s. “For custom pieces, I help individualize the jewelry and help people create a piece that tells their own story,” says Yen.
Custom pieces range from wedding rings to men’s accessories, and sometimes even include heirlooms. A past client, for example, has hired Yen to make a ring repurposed from her great-grandmother’s pendant. In terms of custom pieces, Yen says that rings are her favorite to make.
Yen admits that her custom portfolio may seem “all over the place” because of the individual attention she must pay to each client. “My customer is my inspiration,” says Yen.
Yen started her business with a studio space and also attending craft shows all over the country. While Yen has had to cut down on her show attendance to focus on custom work, she still loves the shows and can be seen occasionally from San Francisco to Atlanta.
Lauren Ramirez is not attracted to trends, but instead believes that jewelry should be passed on from generation to generation. In its fourth year of business, her store at 201 S. Salisbury Street showcases Ramirez’s talent for encapsulating timeless events into wearable art.
“I’ve had a fascination with personal adornments since I was a child,” says Ramirez. “My mother had a few really beautiful gold pieces she wore every day. I continue to design and fabricate jewelry because I want to improve my skill. I’m also fixated on creating work that will far outlive myself and the original recipient.”
Ramirez learned the basics of jewelry making in Boston during her late teens, then focused on traditional goldsmithing and diamond setting in San Francisco.
“I was able to embed myself in a community rich with talented jewelers,” says Ramirez. “I slowly honed my skills working for various fine jewelry designers as well as established diamond wholesale businesses.”
Now in Raleigh, Ramirez says that about 75 percent of her work is custom engagement and wedding rings. She designs two small lines per year to be sold at Quercus Studio, her website, and a few handpicked shops across the United States. “I prefer working on custom designs with clients to celebrate union, accomplishments and milestones.” she says.
Of the remainder her work, her most popular design is her pair of Phoenix Earrings, an exquisite winged display of oxidized sterling silver, pierced by conflict-free white diamond centers, hung on 18k gold ear wires. They are also available with ruby centers or in 18k gold. Created as one of her first projects out of school, Ramirez says they still sell very well more than 10 years later.
Other jewelry pieces of interest at Quercus include her colorful Sliced Tourmaline Necklace, her sophisticated Diamond Empire Cuff in yellow gold, and her Black Diamond Mazza Ring, a heavily textured sterling silver ring with a 2mm black diamond.
Ramirez takes her inspiration from architecture, plants, vintage textiles, old wallpaper and lots and lots of coffee. She spends her days in her shop with her dog Alfred by her side.