Good As Gold -August 2011

by: Hana Schuster

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Nantucket is a jewelry-lover’s mecca.

With an abundance of glittering accessories filling up the display windows of numerous downtown storefronts, it can be hard for island jewelry designers to stand out from the pack and make it big on the island. But some have managed to make names for themselves, thanks to their inspired designs and Nantucket-themed collections.

Designer Heidi Weddendorf does not have a store of her own, yet still produces some of the island’s most popular accessories, which can be found at Erica Wilson and the Artists Association of Nantucket. She is best known for her trademarked design, the Nantucket Knot, which adorns many of her bracelets.

While she believes the design is universally appealing for its simple, classic look, there is no denying the nautical silver and gold square knots are the perfect island accessory.

The Nantucket Knot was Weddendorf ’s first design, which she created while still in school at the Jewelry Arts Institute in New York City. There she learned about ancient jewelry-making techniques like granulation, a process said to have originated in ancient Sumeria, which she uses on her Nantucket Knot pieces.

Granulation is a goldsmithing technique that involves the careful application of delicate spherical grains of gold to smooth jewelry surfaces.

“It was fascinating to learn about and I knew I wanted to experiment with that method,” Weddendorf said of granulation, which she first used over 20 years ago. “But it’s also a painstaking process. If I did this technique by hand, it would take a lot longer to make each bracelet,” she said, which already take up to five hours each.

Instead, Weddendorf uses wax-casting to create the same effect as hand-granulation, which look like barnacles on her Nantucket Knots, making each one unique.

Many of Weddendorf ’s designs feature fresh-water pearls, which adorn everything from lariat necklaces to Turk’s head knot bracelets. “Everyone loves the Turk’s head bracelets because it looks like that ratty rope bracelet you had when you were young,” said Weddendorf, though hers have a refined twist, making them universally wearable but elegant.

A long-time customer favorite is Weddendorf ’s everyday pearl necklace, which features a dime-sized fresh-water pearl hanging from a simple silver chain. This is the perfect day-to-day accessory that Weddendorf said her customers have been wearing for years. “People love them. They don’t take them off. It’s that essential staple accessory that you can wear every single day and never have to fuss with,” she said.

The designer allows customers to choose their own fresh-water pearls to include on lariats or simple silver chains, giving each piece a person- alized touch. Custom orders are also possible, which Weddendorf said she loves to work on, since, she added, they often provide inspiration for new pieces.

While Weddendorf ’s jewelry is certainly suited to island tastes, nothing says “Nantucket” like Gary and Kelli Trainor’s creations at Jewel of the Isle.

The Trainors moved to their current Straight Wharf location in 1996, where they feature several Nantucket-themed collections inspired by different elements of life on the island.

The Cisco and Surfside collections feature jewelry that evokes the waves of Nantucket’s south shore through curved lines and smooth, rolling surfaces, while the Cobblestone collection features rough, hand-pounded surfaces inspired by the island’s historic cobbled streets.

“We’ve always tried to keep our designs unique to Nantucket,” said Gary, who, after developing an extensive collection of Nantucket-themed charms in the 1980s, realized that visitors loved taking home memories of the island.

The very popular Nantucket lightship-basket charms were first created in 1983, followed by scallop and clam shells, daffodils, starfish, whale’s tails, sand dollars, sailboats and Nantucket maps, all cast in sterling silver or 14- or 18-karat gold, which adorn many of the store’s pieces, from necklaces to bangles.

“We’ve continued making the charms and kept everything related to Nantucket – I think that’s what sets us apart,” Gary said. “People really value having a personal memory of their time here that they can wear every day.”

Until a debilitating automobile accident, Gary worked as a music teacher on Nantucket for grades four to 12, teaching theory and composition and, of course, fixing the students’ instruments. After injuring his leg in the accident, he realized he could no longer be on his feet for hours a day teaching, but hoped to find an occupation that would still allow him to work with his hands.

He decided to attend a Boston vocational school for watch and jewelry repair, and opened a small business on Old South Road. There, he met his match in Kelli, a college student in New Hampshire who spent summers on Nantucket.

Kelli spent a little over a year in Santa Monica, Calif., where she studied jewelry design. She joined Gary at the Old South Road store in 1991 and the two were married a year later. “We decided to commit to each other and commit to the business,” said Gary, “and everything fell into place after that.”

Though both Gary and Kelli contribute to Jewel of the Isle’s designs, Kelli makes most of the jewelry today and created the unique hammered surfaces of the popular Surfside collection, mimicking the ocean waves.

“We split responsibilities pretty evenly. I think Kelli and I really complement each other. That’s why we’re such a great team,” said Gary, who handles the business end and the majority of the store’s repairs. According to him, customers have brought in everything from broken fishing poles to cracked silver platters looking for him to work his magic and make them like new.

While some stop at the store to browse the jewelry and others drop off their broken Tiffany lamps for some careful repair work, almost 70 percent of the store’s business is from custom jewelry orders, Gary said. “Ultimately, we do this for our customers,” he said. “We want to make them happy. And (Kelli and I) love working with them to create something really special, something completely unique, just for them.”

To demonstrate their commitment to their customers and to their creations, the Trainors even offer patrons a lifetime guarantee for every piece of jewelry purchased. “If someone buys a necklace here and wears it every day for 10 years, it will probably have some wear and tear. So we’ll fix it or replace it if anything happens to it,” Gary said. “We want our customers to know that we stand by everything we make, and that we’ll stand by them, too.” 

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