Next month, we’re hosting an Uncommon Jewelry Challenge, with an open call for jewelry from designers across the US. This month we’re highlighting our favorite jewelry makers. Find out more about our design challenges and learn how you can become UncommonGoods’ next favorite jewelry or accessory designer.
Artist Rhonda Wyman has always had a “do it yourself” attitude when it comes to jewelry design. The same year she graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, she married her husband, Elijah (who she calls an indie-folk singer-songwriting superhero) and they started selling Rhonda’s pieces through the independent craft scene. Although the popularity of Rhonda’s work continues to grow over the years– her Nestling Bird Necklaces being some of UncommonGoods best selling jewelry items– she still makes each piece by hand and is always finding inspiration for bold new designs.
“I wanted to be a blacksmith, but I wasn’t physically strong enough,” Rhonda explains. “I hated having to rely on other people’s schedules to help me out. Light Metal-Smithing was the closest thing offered at RISD. I truly fell in love with metal work, though, during a semester in Florence, Italy where I came up with many of the themes and shapes we still sell today.”
Each new design starts as a prototype. Using a laser-cutter, Rhonda makes a wooden version of her latest sketch before it becomes wearable art. “It’s amazing how many times you can re-design something to be simpler and more efficient to make,” she says. “We make a lot of prototypes and styles of the same thing…we talk about our ideas with friends and peers, and show off our samples to see which people like best before we ever try to sell them.”
The designs that go over well get a chance to live in precious metal, usually oxidized sterling silver. Rhonda says she chose this medium because it seems safer and more natural than traditional silver, which some designers treat, scrub and polish to shine. “At the time [we started working in oxidized silver] not too many people were using it. We’re always trying to make something that stands out without shouting. Also, polished silver is such a hassle. You have to clean it to keep it looking nice, and the chemicals you use to get that shimmer are gross. The patina we use is non-toxic. There aren’t any scary warnings on the bottle, and I don’t get those bad headaches anymore.”
From sketch, to cutout, to prototype, to the finished piece–creating an outstanding product requires a great deal of time and effort. But Rhonda and Elijah don’t stop working just because they’ve completed one amazing design. “We are always super busy, so the only vacation we ever had was our honeymoon seven years ago,” Rhonda shares. “Now we take ‘work’ vacations in fun places during their off season while we’re traveling for shows. My favorite was Orcas Island. We stayed in a B & B in the winter. We were the only people there. We hiked in mittens and coats, sat in front of a wood stove and sketched and planned as we watched the sunset. It’s so much easier for me to think clearly in places like that.”
According to Rhonda, the key to creating great pieces is originality. “Our most successful pieces weren’t created because we were trying to follow a trend and certainly never because we were copying someone else’s work, which seems to be more and more prevalent. We try our hardest to make goods that we would get excited to purchase ourselves and it’s worked out great so far!”
She says that even though the jewelery business can be stressful, it’s also great. She loves working with her husband, who handles many of the administrative tasks that go along with having any business, and she’s glad she’s using the skills she learned in college. “Lots of people in my life thought it was absolutely ridiculous that I was getting a degree in Jewelry and Metals, which may be the reason I worked so hard at it. But here I am, doing what I had hoped and dreamed about for so long! I’m pretty much the luckiest gal alive.”