Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director
Your jewelry often has significance and meaning. Just take a moment to look at the jewelry you are wearing right now. Does it make you think of a special memory or loved one? Maybe you simply have a connection with it. I am looking down at my wedding band as I write this, which makes me think of my husband and our beautiful, big day. Jewelry can be sentimental in so many ways, however it came into your life: there is always a story. Artist Rachelle Davis takes this notion to another level, and that’s an understatement! Not only is she purposeful with her craftmanship, but she is also intentional with her designs. For her, IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS. This week, we are beyond excited to talk shop with Rachelle and let her talents shine!
I have always loved jewelry ever since I was little. I remember finding the hidden key to my mom’s jewelry box when I was young enough to know where it was, and old enough to climb in the closet to get it! I would put on all of my mom’s gold jewelry with so much mischief and joy. Needless to say, my mom was not thrilled with my antics.
I grew up in Fort Wayne, and when I was in high school I usually had jewelry on layaway at local Fairfield’s Rare Coins or another jewelry store. I saved my money to buy solid 14K gold jewelry rather than clothes or other teenage treasures. Several jewelry stores knew me by name back then. Sometimes folks would joke and call me “Mrs. T” in high school… because of course I would wear all of my gold jewelry at once! Granted this is back when gold was around $250 an ounce.
When I went to college at IPFW (originally for mechanical engineering), I complemented a guy at the IPFW bookstore on his ring. He told me he made it! I looked at him wide-eyed and asked wheeeere?! He said he took a metalsmithing class with Les Motz in the art building. I freaked out and signed up for metalsmithing that semester! I took metals every year the rest of college to keep my sanity with all those engineering courses. I could be found in the metalsmithing shop most days into the wee hours of the morning. I used to joke that I didn’t know many of the art teachers by name, but I knew the janitor! At that time I tried to create anything I could out of metal and my teacher, Les Motz, let me… bending, forming, sawing, soldering, melting, cussing a lot during “learning experiences”, and just making stuff out of silver, gold, and copper for fun. I owe so much to Les for letting me follow my newly found passion uninhibited. I think he saw my potential and independence and let me learn on my own. Which is really the only way to figure it all out…someone can show you over and over how to saw and solder, but really, you’ve gotta break a lot of blades and melt a lot of stuff before you get it!
After engineering for several years, in 1999 at age 27, I decided instead to see if I could make my passion for metalsmithing and jewelry come to fruition. The Fort Wayne Museum of Art began carrying my work, and I participated in the Covington Art Fair as well as the Three Rivers Festival’s Art in the Park for the first time. I have been self-employed as a silversmith ever since. And following my heart’s longing for the mountains, I packed up my car (AKA Zachery) with all my metalsmithing tools, and whatever else would fit, and headed West! I camped out in the Rocky Mountains outside Denver until it snowed and eventually found my way into housing, community, art shows, galleries, new friends, and good breweries! I lived in Denver for three years and then ol’ Zach and I moved to the smaller town of Durango for seven years. I then moved to Santa Fe for 5 years, yet another beautiful place surrounded by jewelry and a lot of art. However, over the years I still came back to Fort Wayne to participate in the Covington Art Fair and often Art in the Park as well.
In 2015, I decided to head back to the land of my ancestors in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Zachery wasn’t sure about crossing the Mississippi again, but we made it just fine. I missed water, I missed green grass, and it’s also easier to get back to good ol’ Fort Wayne to visit family and friends.
I have been creating jewelry from my sanctuary I call home in Asheville, North Carolina the last 5 years. I make my mocha in the morning and head to my jeweler’s bench around sun up…and quite often I’m still there at sundown. And you’ll be happy to know that after 30 years my car Zachery continues to take me around town, we just don’t go on long road trips anymore. Nowadays, I wear mostly silver jewelry and that gold sits in a safe deposit box. I have been known to still enjoy a good brewery and a good cuss word here and there. But, besides my love of horses, jewelry is my passion and I will keep creating to fulfill my heart and soul…in hopes of inspiring others to become more of who they are through my work. Life’s not too bad for “retiring” at age 27! I absolutely love what I do and I enjoy sharing it with others through silver and gold.
My pendants with stones are all one-of-a-kind and my favorite things to create. I myself fabricate and form each component by hand. I start by bending fine silver bezel wire around the stone, cutting it to length and carefully soldering it together. I then file, sand, and prep the bezel for soldering to the base. I feel as though “I download from Spirit” the design of each piece. It is then up to me to create it with the utmost craftsmanship that I can… to gratify Spirit and my teacher, Les, who now watches over me from above.
After sketching the overall piece onto a sheet of fine silver, I saw out the pendant with a handheld jeweler’s saw. I then file the edges and polish the piece. It is important to get any scratches out of the silver at this stage so clean up is easier after the bezel is soldered in place.
After applying flux to the silver and positioning the bezel, I place tiny bits of solder along the inside edge of the bezel. I then heat the piece from below with an acetylene torch. I’m still using those engineering skills, just on a much smaller scale!
After the bezel is soldered in place, I have that area within the bezel to saw out designs. In many cases the designs are inspired by the stone… either the type of stone, the color, or the shape. I literally draw on the silver with a fine point sharpie and drill a hole within each design.
Then for the fun part! I just love sawing, for me it is quite meditative and rewarding. Although many folks, and even other jewelers, think what I do is crazy, I just love it! I first slip the sawblade through the tiny hole and reattach the blade to the jeweler’s saw frame. I can then carefully saw out each design by hand. The most time consuming part of my process is actually filing all the intricate designs on the back of the pendants. This is not what I consider a fun time, but I think a necessary step in achieving a beautifully finished pendant with this small attention to detail.
I have always admired hidden meaning in art, and that is what initially inspired me to saw out designs on the back… although most pendants can be worn either way. I also love putting as much meaning as possible into my work. I use a lot of Native American symbols as well as symbols from other cultures. Each pendant has a unique title and theme, then the wearer can incorporate their own story into the piece!
Buffing the piece is the next step. Once the pendant is polished, I am able to do my secret hidden engraving under the stone! To me, this is like a prayer within the piece. You can’t see the engraving anymore, but you know it’s there. A picture of the engraving comes with each pendant. The engraving is done by hand with an electric engraver. (This particular pendant is a custom order… I have engraved names, initials, birthdays, verses, and all kinds of meaningful things under stones.)
After I photograph the hidden engraving, I am ready to set the stone! I literally push the bezel over the stone to hold it in place. I protect the front surface of the pendant with masking tape during this process, and leave the tape in place when I polish the bezel. Most of my pendants have an overall matte finish with a high shine on the bezel.
I then engrave the back of the pendant, attach the jumpring bail, and low and behold I am all done! And sheesh, time to visit one of those breweries I was talking about!
To see these pieces, or more of Rachelle Davis’ jewelry, come visit us the Paradigm Gallery! Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm