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Jewelry

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Aaron Ruff

July 3, 2012

Situated above a Brooklyn art gallery, in a space shared by artists of varying mediums, Aaron Ruff’s single room looked more like a museum at first glance than a jewelry studio. The creator of Digby & Iona and his four-legged friend, Nuki, took me in for the morning to chat about the creation of his new collection, how the price of commodities has impacted his business and how history plays a role in keeping him inspired.

What are your most essential tools?
The hammer and the foredom.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m a big collector, so the entire space is inspiration. I’m constantly rearranging and dragging in new stuff, so the space is constantly evolving.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It’s embarrassing to say, but just the basics of running a legit business were the hardest skills to master. Terms like W9 or EIN still make my head spin a little.

Does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Does Pinterest count as downtime? We think so!

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Invest in silver! This is my main material and it has gone crazy in the last 5 years. Then it was $13 an ounce and earlier this year it was almost $40. I definitely miss the days when I could cast absurdly huge pieces in silver without blinking and eye. It’s changed the way I design quite a bit, I don’t want to have to raise my prices significantly so I have to be a lot more conscious about designing lighter pieces.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m terrible at meeting the deadlines I set for myself, so I generally set yearly goals and hope all goes to plan.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m my own toughest critic, so celebration requires a pretty massive win.

What quote keeps you motivated?
I use historical quotes in my work quite a lot, most recently, ‘Don’t give up the ship’ which is a quote from Lee Hazard Perry during the War of 1812 (also the name of the collection). It’s pretty self-explanatory; it’s my version of the ‘hang in there’ kitten poster.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel as much as possible.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I generally collaborate with illustrators; my drawing skills are terrible, so I really enjoy turning 2d into 3d and vice versa.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’ve just come out with an engagement band collection, so I’ve had a recent crash course on diamonds and precious gems.

Aaron will be a judge in our Jewelry Design Challenge. Call for entries ends July 12th.

Gift Guides

Finding the Perfect Wedding Gift for a Special Couple

June 8, 2012

Someone very important to me is getting married. Weddings are a big deal, and I’m thrilled, but I’m also a bit overwhelmed. Why am I overwhelmed when it isn’t my wedding? Because I’m now tasked with finding the PERFECT wedding gift.

Finding that gift that says it all shouldn’t be that hard, right? After all, I have known the guy his whole life. So before I get into the details of my quest to find that best-wedding-gift-ever gift, here’s a little background info.

Beau (soon-to-be groom), Cassie (me), and Luke (baby brother) sometime in the late ’80s

When I was almost 3 years old, my life changed–big time. I went from being an only child to the proud owner of my very own little brother. Luckily, since I’d only been on the planet a few short years, I hadn’t gotten too used too cozy in that only child role.

Growing up with a brother not much younger than me was great. We went to the same school, share friends, have similar interests, and–on account of the whole same parents thing–can really relate to each other. Somewhere along the way, we even got another little bro to share.

Fast-forward 20-something years. Now I have a husband my own and my brother, Beau, has a smart, charismatic, funny fiance. This wedding gift has to show Beau how much I care, that I’m happy for him, and that I can’t wait for Bobbi to be a part of our family.

Beau and Bobbi

First I made a list of things they like, in hopes of getting gifting inspiration. They both love fishing (they’re actually having a fishing-themed wedding) and other outdoor sports. They also both love cooking. Beau loves history and archaeology and he works for the railroad. Bobbi works in financial management and she loves crafting and DIY projects.

Vases for the candy buffet (fill with Swedish Fish, gummy worms, and Goldfish crackers) / Inspiration for the theme / Card basket and photo for the gift table/ Cattails for the centerpieces. Photos by Bobbi Dahnke

Starting with their professions, I thought Beau might like the Railroad Date Nail Cufflinks, and I could pair them with a necklace for Bobbi, like the Cymbal of Love Pendant or the Links of Love necklace.
Next, there’s Bobbi’s specialty. I could just give them a wad of cash with a nice card and a joke about how she’s in charge of the money. But, on second thought, while they might enjoy the dough, it’s probably not right for this special occasion.They do both like cooking, so something like the Artisanal Bamboo Salt Chest, an Elevate Carousel Utensil Set, or a Recipe Box and Card Kit, while not extremely personal, would be much-used by my brother and sister-in-law.

If I really wanted to focus on “personal” I could make them something myself. I would love to put together a scrapbook, create a quilt (if I knew how to quilt, of course), or paint their portrait (again with the “if I could do that sort of thing” thing). Unfortunately, me creating a beautiful handmade gift probably isn’t going to happen.

The next best thing is finding a lovely handmade gift handmade by someone else, but expressing what I want to say. Something that really says, “Welcome to the family.” A Wedding Wishes Vase is a great choice, because it’s a way for me to share how I feel about the happy couple and let others do the same. I also love the Personalized Tree Anniversary Plate and the tree fits nicely with their outdoorsy wedding theme. Another of my custom favorites is the Personalized Photo Wall Art. Since she’s choosing to change her last name, it would be a fun way to say “Now you’re a part of team Tweten.”

So, which of these wonderful gifts did I decide is perfect for my brother and his beautiful bride-to-be? I can’t say, because the wedding hasn’t happened yet (and because, to be honest, there’s a wee possibility that I haven’t decided). All stressing aside, though, I know they will love the gift no matter which product I choose, because it’s coming from me. (Not in a weird “I’m so great they’ll love anything I pick” way, but in the way that you hang indecipherable drawings from children on the fridge because they were made with love.)

I’m looking forward to celebrating their special day with them, wearing a fancy bridesmaid’s dress, and–like I watched my little brother grow up–watching two people in love grow old together.

Maker Stories

Building a Totem Necklace with Ana Sheldon

April 9, 2012


Ana Sheldon is the artist behind the Custom Totem Necklace, a collection of stones that is intended to be a play on physical and spiritual balance. Each necklace is unique with a set of hand-picked stones that represent different qualities. Creating a Totem Necklace for yourself or a loved one is a special and personal process so I asked Ana to share her inspiration behind the piece and how she would create a Totem Necklace for the women in her life.

How did the Totem Necklace come about?

Totem was one of my first designs. Really Totem is just about using different shapes and colors stacked up together to create a visually pleasing composition. I wanted to create a cool way to wear a “stack” of beads that I liked to look at together.

Erin, the UncommonGoods head jewelry buyer, saw Totem on a website and approached me with the idea of doing custom pieces with meanings. I chose some stones that I work with often and did the research on what they mean. I hope when people wear a Totem that they have created or someone has created for them that they remember what it represents. To have something that reminds someone of their strengths or that a friend believes in them is a powerful thing.

What stones would you choose when building a Totem Necklace for the women in your life?

If I were to create a Totem Necklace for my sister Rene, I would choose Amethyst for clarity and Blue Lace Agate for calming. She has a lot going on in her life-hectic career, active family, and many people who depend on her-so clarity for her in her day to day and a sense of calm at the end of the day. Rene has a great way of accepting an unavoidable obstacle and being proactive in creating a solution without wallowing in it so I would add Apatite for acceptance and Onyx for strength. Rene is also an artist so I would choose Picture Jasper for creativity.


Ana and Rene in center

For my mom I would choose Moonstone for emotional balance. She is always striving for balance in all aspects of her life and I admire that. Rose Quartz is for love and my mom shows me unconditional love always. I would add Amazonite for hope because she has a positive outlook on what could come to be in every situation. Garnet is for devotion. I appreciate how devoted she is to me and my husband and kids. She would do anything for us and it is apparent. Last I would add Green Adventurine for confidence. I would hope it would bring my mom the knowledge of all the great qualities that I listed above!

Anna and her mom

Lastly, for myself I would choose Picture Jasper for creativity, Yellow Jade for inner peace and Green Adventurine for confidence. Being a wife, mom, artist and small business owner I can use all the focus in the world so White Jade would be useful. That being said, I am living a life that I love so I would add Ocean Jasper for appreciation.

Design

Designs that Shine: Uncommon Design Challenge Winners

February 20, 2012

There’s only one more week before our 2012 design challenges begin. Before we announce the next big call for entries, we’re taking a moment to share a few of the success stories from our 2011 challenges!

Although we could only award the grand prize to one winner in each challenge, many finalists also became uncommon goods. The Uncommon Jewelry Design Challenge help us discover some fantastic designers.

Wesla Bay Weller’s Cymbal of Love Pendant received more votes from our community than any other entry and was chosen by our judges to receive the grand prize. Made from recycled cymbals and guitar strings, and hung from a gold-plated bronze chain, the pendant is a great gift for music lovers and musicians.

Voters–and our judges–loved the recycled materials story, the combination of textures, and simple but meaningful design. Now available for purchase, Wesla’s piece is a hit. One reviewer told us, “I am a drummer and received this necklace as a gift. It’s very well-made with adequate length and can be worn with a variety of outfits. I get many compliments every time I wear it.”

The necklace is on it’s way to becoming a best seller. In fact, Wesla’s design has been such a hit, a whole page of our latest catalog is devoted to her story!

And the jewelry design challenge runners up that became uncommon goods? Maryann Dolzani’s Custom I Am…Pendant is inspiring women to be true to themselves (we also recently decided to feature additional charms, since customers pointed out that “I am” often more than one thing), Deb Soromenho’s Heart and Arrow Lariat makes a great gift for someone you love, Tina Tang’s Customized Name Necklace and Bracelet let you celebrate your name or a word with special meaning to you, and Irene Cheung’s Teardrop Stacking Rings are a unique take on the double-band look.

Lee from NH loves her I Am necklace so much she told us, “I absolutely love it! I haven’t taken it off since. I like the sound it makes when it jingles…Came really fast and in a little brown sack. I think it’s beautiful and very meaningful. I bought a couple extra charms to put on it.”

Our first design challenge winner from 2011 is also getting some great feedback. We teamed up with City Harvest, a non-profit organization that helps to feed New York City’s hungry and asked illustrators to help us create a new Plate with a Purpose.

Graphic designer Michael White’s winning plate design was called a “Very cool design. Great gift for charitable minded and design minded people who like to entertain,”by Dinah in Atlanta. Mo in Washington, DC said, “Great design, lovely color and it makes a great gift.”

Michael’s modern skyline design is a warm depiction of city living. His clean lines, creativity, and message won over our community and our judges. Now $5 of every City Harvest Plate with a Purpose directly benefits New York’s hungry men, women, and children and Michael’s design continues to get five star reviews.

Our Ceramics Design Challenge winner is also getting some wonderful feedback.

Tasha McKelvey’s petite stoneware Birdie Mini Dish was chosen to win for its functionality, unique design, and craftsmanship. To create the little bowls, Tasha presses the clay against a century-old barn door to give it a texture imitating the grain of aged wood.

This dish makes a great gift for many occasions. And it’s not just limited to a jewelry holder. The little tray can also be used as a spoon holder after stirring coffee or tea.

“My wife could not believe that her husband could find something so neat for her,” a customer told us. “Great find!”

We loved the Birdie Dish so much we also decided to carry Tasha’s Tiny Mushroom Ring Dish.

Tasha wasn’t the only designer to find success through the pottery challenge,either. Semi-finalist Mitzi Davis’ Bird and Cloud Dinnerware Set was chosen for the unique shape, imaginative imagery, and off-beat practicality of the bowl and plate.

Another set, Kathy Gorg’s Calla Lily Pitcher and Cups also entered our assortment. We love the symbolism of the calla lily (purity and innocence), and that the set makes a great wedding gift.

From gorgeous handmade jewelry, to fun plates for a good cause, to creative ceramics, we found some great new products through our 2011 design challenges. We’re also thrilled to welcome such talented designers into our family of artists!

Will your unique design be our next uncommon good? Stay tuned for our next call for entries!

Design

Uncommon New Designs: Pick a Place

December 23, 2011

Maybe it’s the recent popularity of the History Channel’s How the States Got Their Shapes, or maybe it’s the thrill that goes along with your city being featured on any sort of top cities list, but goods depicting geographical locations are definitely in style.

We’re loving state love, and our buyers were thrilled to find this gorgeous, handmade Heart Strings State Love Wall Art, now up in our community voting app.

For those who would rather wear their state love than hang it on the wall, results on the State Quarter Rings are coming soon.

But, the location love isn’t just home state pride. There’s a bundle of band new city love at UncommonGoods, too.

From Dave Marcoullier’s City Skyline Wooding Routings (now available for LA, San Francisco, and New York) to Patrick Chirico’s Brooklyn Bridge Pillow Cases, hometown love is warming our hearts.

Of course, we don’t want to exclude those who see home as where they rest their head. And, gifts for travelers are always in style.

Whether you’re a true rambler or a world traveler at heart, our new Hobo Charms and I Am…Pendants help you celebrate free spirit and whimsy.

Will your hometown always be close to your heart? Is wanderlust your guide? Or have you adopted a new place to call home?

Design

Comments of the Week

December 2, 2011

With the gift-giving season booming, UncommonGoods has been bustling! We’re answering customer questions, helping people find great gifts, and taking, packing, and shipping orders. But don’t worry, through all of the holiday shopping fun, we haven’t forgotten to find great new products for our community voting app. We’re happy to see that our community is able to take a break from baking Christmas cookies and writing letters to Santa to share votes and comments with us!

Some of our favorite feedback this week comes from commenters who’ll zip it when it comes to headphones, want to leave a lasting impression, and are excited about open discussion.

Many commenters love the fun design of the i-Slide Zipper Headphones, but Maggie pointed out that they’re also practical.



Good point, Maggie! We agree that the tangle-free aspect is a definite bonus.

Another fashion accessory in the lineup this week isn’t quite as bold as the bright orange headphones. Inner Message Rings make their mark subtlety. The raised letters and symbols on the inside of each ring actually leave imprints in your skin.

ER questioned whether the ring would be a good fit, but Stephanie and Ranel are convinced that this design could be a comfy, everyday piece.

Ranel’s favorite product this week isn’t the only fun modern design getting buzz. The Modern Bottle Opener is getting noticed for it’s unusual size and shape.

Do you agree with Laura that this modern design could get the conversation flowing? Are you like Roberta and have a bartender friend in mind? We’d love to hear your feedback on this, and all of the great uncommon designs up for voting this week!

Gift Guides

How to find a gift for your best friend

November 23, 2011

When Twitter Giveaway Winner Jodie Evans received her $500 gift certificate, she knew just what to get her best friend. And that’s how best friends are. When you know someone so closely, it’s easy to find that perfect gift.

So rather than let me tell you what you should get your best friend, let me call out 8 of our favorite gifts that symbolize what a great friendship is all about.

face Mug— for the friend you can talk to anytime

birth month flower necklaces— for the friend who doesn’t need Facebook to remember your birthday

7 deadly sins glasses— for the friend who forgives you all your flaws and shortcomings

attitude vase– and the friend who doesn’t let you get away

corkcicle– for the friend who’s always ready to celebrate

level necklace– for the friend who keeps you level headed

fortune keeper chain– for the friend who shares your dreams

sari scarf– for the friend who lets your true colors fly

What makes your best friend the greatest?

P.S. I know you’re probably crushed you missed our Twitter Giveaway, but you can still tweet at us or leave a comment below for personal shopping recommendations. We’re happy to help!

Gift Guides

Holiday Gifts Your Teen Will Love

November 22, 2011

The holiday season is is in full swing, and we’re pouring through our assortment selecting great gifts for everyone on your shopping list! Many of our picks are inspired by our Twitter contest winner, Jodie. She won a $500 UncommonGoods shopping spree earlier this year, and we’ve had a ton of fun helping her choose the perfect gifts for her favorite people.

After creating guides for babies and kids based on Jodies’ nephews, age 8 months to 6 years, we realized that although Jodie doesn’t have a teen on her shopping list, many parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents (to name just a few) do. With this in mind, we picked a few of our favorite gifts for teens.

Remote Control SUV Kit- It may not be time to hand over the keys to a new car, but you can hand over this cool kit. The Remote Control SUV kit starts out as a puzzle and snaps together to become a motorized vehicle.

Bike Bells- A great stocking stuffer, these hand-painted bike bells are functional, funny, and stylish.

Guitar String Bracelets- Whether the teen in your life is a musician, music-lover, or just likes to look good, these unisex accessories are chart toppers.

Sneaker Customization Kit- Designer shoes are expensive, but this kit, which includes sneaker wipes, paints, and a high-quality paint brush, makes it easy for your favorite teen to create their own.

Dancing Lion Speaker- Plug an iPod or another music device up to this lively lion and he dances and sings along. Check out our video to see the King of the Jungle boogy.

Recycled Cotton Animal Mittens- Trendy, but still uncommon, these cozy, cute mittens are made from yarn spun from leftover fabric from upholstery factories that would have otherwise been discarded. They’re also available in mink and skunk.

Black Cat Headphones- More comfortable than earbuds, these hand-crocheted headphones have a vintage feel that still appeals to modern teens.

Big Grips iPad Case- Available in blue or green, these grippy foam covers make your teen’s favorite electronic sidekick easier to hold on to.

From fashionable accessories and beautiful jewelry to techie gadgets and fun games, we’ve got all kinds of great gifts for teens. Stay tuned for more gift guides to find perfect presents for everyone in your life this season!

Need a gift recommendation for a hard-to-shop for teen? Leave a comment below.

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