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Jewelry

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Sharon Hitchcock

April 30, 2013
Sharon Hitchcock, UncommonGoods Buyer – Jewelry & Accessories

My hometown is…
Hmmm….well, let’s see, I was born in Manhattan so I guess I am a New Yorker, but I lived in Austin, Texas for 9 years (Hook ‘em Horns!), and have also resided in Seattle, Washington, DC, and London. Now I call Brooklyn home.

I’m on the lookout for… 

Jewelry and accessories that are beautifully made with thought and care. Pieces and collections that use materials in a distinctly different way, and have a strong point of view.

I’m inspired by…
People-watching in NYC.

My guilty pleasure is…
Can I have two guilty pleasures? ’80s music is a definite. And, flea markets! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a good flea market.

An uncommon fact about me…
Although I have never considered myself to be very musically inclined, I have taught myself to play the ukulele, which I think is the happiest of all instruments.

My favorite place to eat in New York City is…
For fancy-pants food I love Balthazar. I always feel French glam when I go there. To get my Mexican food fix, I head to La Esquina.

My style is…
Hard to define! After a phase of wearing all black every day, I now embrace colors and patterns. Anything with stripes has been a recent favorite. I also collect vintage jewelry and try to wear something from my collection each day.

Since working at UncommonGoods I’ve learned…
So much! I truly do learn something new each day. I love the collaborative environment here, and how supportive the team is of different ideas and points of view.

With a pile of stuff in front of me I would make…
(You’re given paperclips, yarn, cheesecloth, markers, and plastic beads.)

I would make a mini, colorful, and fabulous Eiffel Tower sculpture.

Maker Stories

Meet Susan, Winner of the Upcycling Design Challenge

December 11, 2012

Earlier this month, our Upcycling Design Challenge judges met at UncommonGoods headquarters, some in person and others via Skype, to pick a winner from the top five voted designs. After and hour of discussing five unique designs made of reclaimed materials, the judges decided Susan Harbourt’s Forget Me Not Necklace made of recycled copper was the best choice to join our collection of upcycled goods. Meet Susan and help us welcome her to the UncommonGoods artist family.

How did you first get into designing?
As fate would have it, my husband had an amazing opportunity to move half way across the county. This meant leaving my engineering career behind and beginning what I thought was a new chapter in my life, little did I realize it was actually a whole new book!

We moved to Illinois and purchased a large Edwardian Era home out in the country that had not been maintained since the 1950s. It was a lovely home full of grace and charm and was in need of reviving. One fateful night, I was helping my husband update the original electrical system installed during the 1930s as a part of the Rural Electrification Act. Scattered all over the floor were piles of lovely aged copper wire that we had just removed from the walls of the old house. In an absent-minded gesture, to pass the time while waiting for the next instruction on how to help, I picked up a few scraps and wove them into a bracelet. A spark was ignited and a new passion was born in that very moment. Little did I know how much that moment would redefine the rest of my life.

What was the inspiration for the Forget Me Not Necklace?
The inspiration for my Forget-Me-Not line of jewelry actually stems from a mishap that occurred on the first Valentine’s Day my husband (then boyfriend) celebrated 20 years ago. He tried so hard to be romantic and surprise me by buying a special bouquet of flowers that were to be delivered to my dorm room. The flowers arrived, but they were three days late. He was so traumatized from that single event that he swore off buying flowers forever, so he switched to buying me jewelry instead. Now that I make jewelry, my husband no longer enjoys buying it for me. I do miss getting flowers and jewelry as gifts, so I had to do something about it! So I must admit, I designed the Forget-Me-Not jewelry line to fulfill my desire to receive flowers and jewelry again.

What is your favorite upcycling tip?
Don’t let what something was limit your mind to what something can become…

What do you enjoy about designing with materials that would otherwise be discarded?
I enjoy showing others, through my art, that there is more than one way to view the world around them and to not take things for granted because of how they seem at first or the labels placed upon them. It’s like a metaphor for life that applies both to objects and for relationships.

Is designing a full-time job or a hobby?
My official full-time job is being mommy to two very creative and inquisitive little boys. Designing jewelry started out as an accidental hobby for me. It then became something that allowed me to earn enough money to pay for the occasional babysitter and date night with the hubby. After a few years of teetering on that edge of hobby versus business I decided it was time to commit to taking my passion to the next level. I have spent the past year redefining and refining my business and vision. It is amazing to look at where I am now versus a few years ago. I am proud to tell people that I am now a full time work-at-home entrepreneur and mom!

Describe your work space.
My studio is a work space dream come true! It is a large well lit space that I set up with a great flow that allows me to be organized, efficient, creative and productive. As you enter there is an office area and bookcase full of books and items to inspire me. From there it continues into my material storage and metal prep area that is filled with some amazing tools with great history. I have a large chest of drawers that once housed geological samples in a museum at the University of Illinois and there is a variety of large industrial tools that are from the 1940s. Beside that area I have my soldering and metal forming stations followed by the area where I do my finishing and assembly work. The last stop in my studio is my shipping station that makes me feel like every day is a holiday – it’s full of ribbons and boxes and items I made that are ready to start their journey out into the world and begin their new life with someone new.

The thing I love most about my studio is that I have a well-stocked creative play area set up where both of my boys can explore their artistic minds along side of me as I work. I enjoy watching them have the freedom to create and express their individuality. My husband also has a wonderful metal and wood shop set up on the other side of the wall which has a large window in it so we can feel more like we are working together.

What challenges do you face as an artist who designs with reclaimed materials?
The big challenge that I face [is running] out of my unique materials. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of copper wire that I removed from my house. I feel like I have hardly put a dent into it. I have also found that once people realize that I like to create with reclaimed materials, they become very generous in bringing over there project scraps. That is how I came across the copper roofing materials I have started to incorporate into my work.

The other big challenge I have with my work is that some people just don’t get it. I feel that I often have to educate people about the significance of using recycled and reclaimed materials. There are always the people that feel that copper is a low end metal and don’t understand why I don’t work with gold and other designer metals. Not that I am opposed to using the other metals, and at times I do use them, it is just that I love my old copper wire!

What advice would you offer someone interested in entering an UncommonGoods Design Challenge?
The best piece of advice I can offer someone interested in entering an UncommonGoods Design Challenge is to find your own voice and perspective first and have confidence in it. It does not have to be exotic and elaborate; it just has to be uniquely yours and fresh.

Maker Stories

Natural Beauty: Nancy Nelson’s Forest-Inspired Jewelry

December 10, 2012

Take one look at Nancy Nelson’s jewelry and it’s obvious that she’s deeply inspired by nature. The organic shapes, earthy feel, and, in some cases, the actual natural elements used—such as the raw semi-precious stones in her Aquamarine Branch Ring –all celebrate Nancy’s love of the outdoors.

The ring, and her beautiful Blue Pinecone Necklace, were both featured in our community voting app, where they received some fantastic feedback from our online community. But before the designs made their way to our buying team, and even before the first pieces of brass and silver used were cast, these creations started as found objects in the forests near Nancy’s West Virginia home.

“I live in a small town 2.5 hours west of Washington DC,” Nancy told us. “It is an area filled with nature trails, state parks, and adventurous outdoor activities. Our family spends much of our time exploring the outdoors. It was during one of our adventures in the Appalachian Mountains that I spotted the twig for the Aquamarine Branch Ring.”

While the ring doesn’t actually contain this original twig, it does feature the exact likeness of it, because the sterling silver band is hand-cast by Nancy from a mold made of that very piece of wood.

Like that perfect twig, the pine cone that became the model for the Blue Pinecone Necklace was also selected on a family outing, while visiting the place Nancy’s children like to call the “Magic Forest,” Swallow Falls.

“We collected tiny pine cones from the forest floor as we hiked,” said Nancy. “With our pockets full, we took the pine cones back to my studio where we examined each one. I then selected the one I felt was the most beautiful in form, shape, and texture. When choosing the perfect pine cone, I took into consideration [its] size and weight. Since all my castings are solid, this is one of the most important aspects in choosing a good model. The pine cone had to be lightweight enough to hang comfortably from a necklace.”

Once cast, the brass incarnation of the pine cone is given a blue patina, which Nancy hand-paints. Nancy explained why she chose to add this hint of blue, “It stems from my love of lichen that grows on the trees, rocks, and fallen pine cones throughout the moist forest which is dominated by tall Hemlocks. I wanted to transform the pine cone and add color but I wanted it to be a little more controlled, which is why I decided to patina the edges.”


While these majestic hemlocks, fallen pine cones, and the other wonders of nature that surround her definitely influence Nancy’s work, she does have other muses. “Being a mom, I usually do not have to look far for inspiration,” she said. “My young children’s growing imagination and quest for exploration inspires me to think outside of the box and challenge myself to create something timeless yet interesting in form—something uncommon.”

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Vinylphile

November 16, 2012

There’s a certain breed of music lover who, when given the choice, always takes the slightly gritty sound of vinyl on a turntable over a digitally remastered CD or a quick-and-clean download. Whether they love hard, fast rock or soft, soulful sounds, the vinylphile prefers their tunes straight from the grooves of an LP. They may have specific taste when it comes to their favorite recordings, but finding the perfect present for the owner of those particular ears doesn’t have to be a pressing problem. For the record, one of these gifts for vinylphiles might just be the chart-topper they’re looking for.


Cymbal of Peace Pendant / A Vinyl Collection Puzzle / Record Star Clock / Record Tie / Guitar Glasses and Coasters / Personalized LP Record / Record Cuff Bracelet / Recycled Record Book Ends

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Smitten Couple

November 14, 2012

When they look at each other, they still get butterflies. And when you look at them, you know they’re in it for the long haul. You catch them holding hands and stealing kisses. They finish each other’s sentences. You couldn’t be happier for them, and you can’t imagine either of them with anyone else. So, how do you tell the perfect couple you’re happy they found one another? With the perfect gift. Here are a few that those love birds are sure to love.

Love Token Necklace / Squirrelly Love / Personalized Wedding Wishes Vase / Beating Heart Pillow / Love Carries All-Zlatka Paneva / Custom Animal Couple Portrait / Love is Art Kit / Wine Purse / Personalized Tree Trunk Glassware Duo

Maker Stories

Classic Collaboration: Classic Hardware & Born Free USA

October 8, 2012

Our new Royal Panda and Polar Bear cases aren’t just cute and practical. Yes, they feature original art by Kelly Vivanco. Yes, they’re made of brushed stainless steel, so they help protect your “smart” credit card data. And, yes, they are the latest design from Karyn Cantor, head designer and owner of Classic Hardware. But, they’re also helping to support Born Free USA’s mission to keep wildlife in the wild.

Kelly Vivanco & Karyn Cantor

As part of the Endangered Creatures Collection, a portion of the proceeds from the Panda and Polar Bear Cases goes to Born Free USA. According to Karyn, who founded Classic Hardware in 1995, the Born Free/Classic Hardware collaboration started with a connection through an artist.

Karyn explained: “They actually found us through one of the artists we work with, Caia Koopman. We have contributed to some of their auctions over the years and they are connected with the pop surrealist/lowbrow style art we love! I was talking with another artist about adding Endangered Creatures to the Classic Hardware collection; I knew I wanted to give a percentage of the profit to an organization that helps wildlife. I did some further research and decided they were the best match for our company on many levels. They have a great mission and they understand the modern art style and I think their donors will, too.”

Karyn then reached out to some of the artists she often collaborates with. The artist behind the Royal Panda and Polar Bear, Kelly Vivanco, was a natural choice.

“I wanted to leave it up to the artists what they wanted to draw, but I did send them all the Endangered Species official list, which is huge,” Karyn said. “With Kelly I was encouraging about adding the crowns. She often paints animals that have a lot of personality and sport cute hats, so this fell into place nicely.These animals are royal and regal and deserve a crown and caring!”

Caring for those animals that need it most is what Born Free USA is all about. “Our mission is to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife — including highly endangered species — in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally,” said said Sharie Lesniak, Creative Director at Born Free USA. “We work to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild.'”

One way the organization helps animals is through the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas. According to Sharie, the sanctuary is “home to more than 600 primates, many of whom were rescued from abusive situations in laboratories, roadside zoos and private possession. We provide a life in as natural an environment as is possible, with minimal human interference, on almost 200 acres. ”



“This kind of partnership helps contribute to the funds we need to continue doing our work to save the lives of wild animals,” Sharie said. “It helps us reach people outside of our current circle of friends and engage new supporters beyond the initial purchase with information about our organization and what they can do to help wildlife. It also provides Born Free USA with an opportunity to give current members new and different ways to support the organization.”

Sharie also explained that the this collaboration helps the organization reach a new demographic, who might not be familiar with the cause. “With the Endangered Creatures Collection, we are also able to take the unique images of endangered animals out of the galleries and into the world,” she said.”So not just the people who buy the items can be inspired, but also people who see [the Wallet Case and Business Card Case]. They can be moved to ask about the species, the artist, and the two organizations behind it: Born Free USA and Classic Hardware.”

Since the cases are compact, stylish, and can be used for a variety of small personal items, it isn’t hard to imagine taking them on the go.

Karyn said she actually uses both the Wallet Case and the Business Card Case in often in her own life. “I have a large wallet in my bag, but when I go out at night or even out for a walk or bike ride, I will take my ID and some cash and a credit card and use the Card Case or Wallet Case as my wallet,” she said. “I also keep a Card Case in my bag that keeps my business cards nice and neat. I will also use it to hold other people’s business cards that I collect. There has been some concern about identity theft via new “smart” credit cards in your regular wallet. It has been advised to use a stainless steel wallet to protect against this. I’m glad that these cases are stainless steel and it’s a great to play it safe with all the new technology constantly changing, plus they look so cool and we are donating to a great cause!”

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Emily Rothschild

September 4, 2012

Studio tours have opened up so many new views into the lives and creative minds of our artists. In visiting with Emily Rothschild last month, I learned that her jewelry line was only the tip of the artistic iceberg. A designer who is always excited to learn, Emily constantly challenges her mind with lessons and classes, expanding her talents and perspective.

We thought her well-rounded attitude would serve well on the judging panel for the Bike Lovers Design Challenge and couldn’t wait to see inside her Fort Greene home-studio.

What are your most essential tools?
A few of my most essential tools are my camera for documenting inspiration for new work as well as completed projects, a radio for constant NPR streaming, and a pair of jeweler’s pliers which always seem to come in handy. My most loved tool is a pair of glassblowing jacks. The jacks have an excellent weight, feel, and history: it’s easy to imagine the years of hard work they endured before I owned them.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I find inspiration from the objects around me all of which have a story: tools I inherited from my father, a workbench from RISD, design books and culled images, a kitchen spatula from the 1940s… I find it is important to be surrounded by loved objects.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
My two dogs remind me to step away and take a walk; they make me slow down and refresh. It’s often hard to remember to step back but it is necessary to see things from all angles: sometimes you need distance in order to get closer to a solution. I’m also settling into my new role as a mom and know that I will be spending as much time as possible with three-month-old Otto between projects. I’m often guilty of working too much but for him I’m willing to slow down and clear my head completely.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I learned that I need to push myself beyond my comfort zone, seek advice when needed, and find solutions in a variety of ways. I enjoy working in new areas of interest and with new materials which means that I have to reach out often to others. I am lucky to have found a great community of designers who work in the same way and are just as curious. Sharing information goes both ways and is key to making it on your own – it means you’re never really alone.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Love what you do. And find a community of people with similar interests and goals whom you can share ideas (and gripes) with. Community is key.


How do you set goals for yourself?
I usually have a variety of projects going on at any given time which helps me to stay focused and continue moving forward. The goals I set often seem unreachable when I first set out – I’m generally completely intimidated when starting a new project and also raring to go. The only way I can make anything happen is to dive in and take risks.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
My husband reminds me to reward myself after working hard and wrapping up a project. It’s easy to run right into the next job when you work for yourself, I’m lucky to have someone to celebrate victories with – both big and small. I try hard to remind him of the same!


What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I think about something my father always said: “Why is a duck when it spins?”. I figure if I can unlock that life mystery, I can make just about anything. My father was a great source of inspiration, information, and humor and someone who had a great hunger for investigating and learning. His wide spanning interests helped to form my curiosity about people and my perspective on design.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
This past year I took rhino, wax carving, and quilt making classes at Third Ward, Fitzjerald Jewelry, and Pins and Needles respectively. There is always some new skill I want to acquire for a project; I love learning to work with different materials and getting lost in the process.


How do you recharge your creativity?
I recharge my creativity by working on a diverse range of projects at a variety of scales – both client-based and self-generated. I work on research-based design work with my team, Hello. We Are _____., and more product-based work on my own. This combination of experiences and opportunities makes for a well balanced and never boring workweek. I also try to remember to get out of my studio often and look around – studio visits, museums, jogs, a trip out of the city, anything that keeps me looking at and talking about design.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’m lucky to have the support of an excellent design team as well as a strong local design community and access to any number of makers and manufacturers. I have been working as part of a team of designers (helloweare.com) for the past few years and we are excited to be growing our team and outreach this year. I find it is impossible to design alone.

Maker Stories

Meet Kim Jakum, Jewelry Design Challenge Winner

August 17, 2012

Each and every design challenge gives us the exciting opportunity to meet up-and-coming artists, reconnect with our favorite designers, and open our eyes to new and unique works of art. Coming off the success of the 2011 Jewelry Design Challenge, we simply could not wait to hold another call for jewelry entries. This year’s Jewelry Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and showcased the unique designs of artists, jewelry designers, and metalworkers.

Our judges worked through designs with bold patterns, fascinating stories, and unique mediums. They decided on pieces they thought would capture America’s eye with their delicate beauty and others with their intricate detail. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t take their eyes off of; they loved its concept as a keepsake to keep those you treasure close.


We simply can’t stop talking about the craftsmanship and attention to detail of Personalized Child Signature Necklace and are excited to introduce you to the designer, our Jewelry Design Challenge winner, Kim Jakum of Wisconsin. Kim thrives on designing one-of-a-kind pieces with her recently found love of PMC (precious metal clay) and she will soon be able to see those one-of-a-kind pieces being cherished by people all across the country. Here she is, Kim, the newest member to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover jewelry design?

I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 years. I first started making jewelry by just stringing beads. I was drawn to all the different shapes and colors. To this day, I’m still drawn to beautiful stones and the sparkle of crystal.

What is your favorite piece of jewelry?

My favorite piece of jewelry that I have made is my Tiger Maple and Fine Silver Cuff.

How did you realize that metalworking was your passion?

My work is primarily in PMC (precious metal clay). I love that it is made from recycled silver. About 16 years ago, while taking a traditional metal smith class, PMC was first introduced in the USA. The whole class got some and played with it. I didn’t really like it at the time, and didn’t give it any thought until about five years ago when I took a workshop just using PMC. I fell in love with it, and have not looked back since! The possibilities are endless…

What are your favorite pieces to design?

Besides the children’s signatures, I also take kids artwork, shrink it down and transfer it to fine silver pendants and key chains. I love that this makes an everlasting keepsake.

I have also recently been accepted into The Artisan Group. The Artisan Group is made up of small business artisans that gift celebrities with samples of their work. I’m having a great time designing jewelry for specific celebrities.

All in all, you could say that a lot of my work is very personalized, made specifically for the person receiving it.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I have been fortunate to take workshops from fellow jewelry artists who’s work I really admire. I find these workshops very inspiring, pushing me to continually learn a new skill and perfect what I already know.

How else do you express your creativity?

I like to pass what I know on, so I teach classes in jewelry making and PMC.

Also, if I see something I like in another medium, I usually think I can make something close to it myself, so there are a lot more projects other that jewelry making going on!

What attracted you to the UncommonGoods Jewelry Design Challenge?

I actually found out about this challenge from a fellow Artisan Group member and entered it on a whim.

What was the inspiration behind Personalized Child Signature Necklace?

The signatures on my Personalized Child Signature Necklace sample are actually my grand children’s. I have seen a lot of stamped name pendants and thought I could take that idea to a whole new level by using actual signatures! I also added a twist by texturing the back, so the necklace is reversible.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Just enter! Until this year I have NEVER entered a challenge or competition. I have entered four different challenges this year and have placed first, second or third in three of them!

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