Inspired gemstone jewelry for the inspired woman.
Inspired gemstone jewelry for the inspired woman.
THE SECRET GARDEN STORY
by Angela Campbell O’Neil, Owner
In my former professional life, I worked as a web designer for almost 20 years. I had my own company and some really wonderful clients, but a few years ago, I started to realize that I was yearning to do something else.
Then one morning I was out working in my garden, my knees sinking into the cool, wet grass of early spring, my hands in the dirt, preparing my flower beds for planting; and I was struck by the authenticity of the pure simple work and how good it felt to do something with my hands other than typing on a keyboard. And from there, a seed was sown in my mind… I knew I had spent enough time in front of a screen: I wanted to do something with my hands and create something tangible.
Around the same time, I discovered Etsy for the first time, and it really blew my mind. How could I have not known before about this wonderful thing?? My lifelong romance with all things creative became renewed, and I felt my spirit blossoming as I clicked through page after page of these beautiful things that people had made. I was obsessed.
Eventually, I honed in on looking mostly at jewelry, another lifelong love of mine and something I collect passionately. I bought a few nice things on Etsy along the way, but mostly I found myself on the site looking closely at how things were made and what kind of beads people used, until it got to the point where I had to ask myself, “Why am I so fascinated with this?” And then it came to me: this is what I want to do! I wanted to make jewelry!
Prior to becoming a web designer, I had a number of jobs ranging from group therapist (I have my Master’s in Psychology) to sage smudger at a crystal store in Greenwich Village (no lie). One of the longest jobs I stuck with, however, was when I worked for a wholesale bead company, and through that experience I learned a lot about jewelry components, jewelry designers, and the jewelry design process. I also designed a line of jewelry for that company (as well as wearing many other hats there over the years). So, I did have some prior experience with jewelry making.
I also once lived briefly on an Indian Reservation, and some kindly women there taught me to make jewelry with seed beads; which, let me tell you, is a real lesson in patience (but that is a story for another time).
I am a sensitive sort, so healing stones have long been a part of my arsenal against the unpleasantries in life. As I mentioned above, I once worked in a crystal store. That was when I was 18, and it was probably my first introduction to the concept that rocks could be interesting. Later in life, I worked at a metaphysical bookstore that also sold crystals and healing stones, and I learned a lot more about them. So, considering all of this, deciding now to work with gemstone beads was a natural choice.
In terms of jewelry for myself, I’ve always been more into silver than gold, so I knew I would want to work in sterling or fine silver. Also I knew I would only want to work with the real deal, not silver-plate or nickel or any other cheaper option. I only wanted sterling or fine silver. Anything less would be a disrespect to the gemstones.
Then one day when I was looking on Etsy, I found these wonderful silver beads and charms made by the Karen Hill Tribe in Northern Thailand. I was impressed by the craftsmanship and the level of attention to detail; and the rustic, ethnic feel of the beads appealed to my bohemian proclivities. I knew right away that I wanted to include them in my work. The Hill Tribe beads actually contain a higher percentage of silver than sterling silver. Sterling silver is, by definition, 92.5% pure silver, while the Hill Tribe silver is 98-99.9% pure. To me, I find the color is slightly less shiny and softer looking than sterling, which gives the beads a bit of a vintage or antique look. It feels wonderful and special to the touch.
After I started buying the silver Hill Tribe beads, I discovered that they also sell gold vermeil beads, which are made by dipping their silver beads in 24K gold. They were so beautiful that I decided I should branch out and make some pieces with gold. The results were stunning. 24K gold has a deeper color than 14K gold, and it paired so well with some of the darker stones, like rubies, garnets, and black spinel. I definitely look forward to working with the gold vermeil even more.
I then decided to try some pieces in 14K too. In line with my feelings about wanting to work with only real silver, I also wanted to work with real gold. But, wow, it is really expensive! So here, I decided to compromise and use gold-filled beads because they are much more affordable, and truly, they look like the real thing. The lighter color of 14K looks nice with some of the lighter color stones, like citrine or moonstone; and as I realize that some people primarily wear gold the way that I primarily wear silver, the 14K gold-fill pieces really helped to round out this year’s collection.
Someday, I may make some pieces in solid gold, if I think there is interest, but that will have to wait until my business gets off the ground and I start to make a little moolah!
The next question I had was, what do I use to string all of these beautiful beads? Wire was the logical choice, but although I had prior experience with making jewelry, I had never before worked with wire. It had to be very thin to fit through the tiny holes in the gemstones, yet substantial enough to be sturdy. After some research and trial, the beading wire that I settled upon is fantastic... it is so thin, but it is actually comprised of 49 separate strands, which makes it very strong. Also, it comes in real sterling silver, which I love, though for some of my heavier pieces, I use sterling silver-plated stainless steel because it is stronger. Gold is a softer metal than silver, which as a wire is not necessarily a good thing. So for the gold pieces, I use the same 49-strand wire, but instead of solid gold, I use gold-plated wire or stainless steel wire with a gold finish. So far, I have been really happy with all the wire that I use. I think it seems at least as strong, if not stronger, than a silver chain, i.e., it would have to snag pretty hard on something to break.
So, by this point, I had found the wire and all the beads and findings and whatnot I needed to get started. My sweetheart gave me a wonderful tool kit, and I took a deep breath and bought everything else that I needed online. I still didn’t really know what I was doing, but strangely I wasn’t that worried about it; and now after the financial investment, I was committed. So I sat down and watched some YouTube videos, read some tutorials, and taught myself how to make the things I wanted to make. I practiced until I was good at it. It was exhilarating! Everything was coming together and the jewelry was looking really good! And most importantly, I was really excited about what I was doing, which is something I hadn’t felt in some time.
I set up my studio in my dining room, which is a really lovely place to work. I work at a long mahogany table surrounded by comfy upholstered chairs in shades of burgundy, olive, and gold. A large rectangular wrought iron chandelier hangs over the table. Medieval tapestries and pictures of flowers in ornate gold frames adorn the walls behind me. I like to burn Nag Champa and listen to jazz while I work.
Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: the room is lined with windows that overlook my beautiful garden, the garden where the seed of this whole idea started as I plunged my hands into the fertile earth.
The garden is nestled in a hemlock grove and contains mostly shade plants due to the arboreal canopy. An old New England stone wall, draped with ivy, rambles by a hill on one side of the garden, where at one point, primitive rock steps lead to a clearing, where two perfectly-positioned trees anchor a cozy rope hammock, the perfect spot for a lazy summer afternoon. My garden is a special place, and as it is hidden from the dirt road I live on, my friends have come to refer to it as the “Secret Garden,” hence the name I chose for my studio. A sense of magic lingers there in the cool, damp shade and fragrant earth, making one feel like anything is possible.
We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.
- Joni Mitchell
When I am not making jewelry, I enjoy writing, music, and mindful conversation. I live in the Boston area with my husband and teenage son.
FOR THE LOVE OF JEWELRY:
Why Jewelry is Awesome
by Angela Campbell O'Neil, Owner
Humans have been making and wearing jewelry for a very long time. Some estimate that the first jewelry was made as many as 80,000 to 100,000 years ago! And since that time, jewelry has played an important part in human life and history. Leaders have worn jewelry to symbolize their wealth and power. Healers have worn jewelry to enhance their skills. Some have believed in the healing properties of certain jewelry and have worn it for their health. Others have fashioned amulets using jewels and spells believed to provide them protection. In some cultures, beads were so important; they were actually used as currency!
Today, aside from the simple appreciation of its beauty and its aesthetic place in the world of fashion, we mostly use jewelry to symbolize love. The most obvious examples, of course, are engagement and wedding rings, which are traditionally exchanged in many cultures worldwide. However, even when not involved with the marriage ritual, jewelry remains a personal, special gift, usually reserved only for those that we love very much; and we feel love when we give it. We feel this love the first time we bring our mom home a macaroni necklace from kindergarten. She puts it on, and we beam with pride. Her eyes well with tears because she’s so touched, and she says it’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
Buying jewelry for oneself is also a loving gesture. What a wonderful feeling it is to finally save up for that incredible piece that you’ve had your eye on and to finally treat yourself! How exciting to walk out of that jewelry store wearing your new favorite accessory! Or, if you order online, it's the joy you feel when that much-awaited package finally arrives and you dig through the packing tissue to find that sweet little box inside that holds your sparkling new treasure! Don’t forget to treat yourself occasionally to this lovely experience of one of life’s small pleasures. A new piece of jewelry can be as uplifting as a day at the spa!
All of this being said, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy making these tiny baubles that I know will be purchased and given and received in the spirit of love. Gemstones and precious metals are timeless materials that hold their value well, and I do my best to seek out products of the very best quality to construct my designs. I also like to collect and provide information about the metaphysical properties of the stones I use, because I feel it makes my pieces more substantial in the intellectual or psychological sense. Overall, however, what I really want is for you (or whoever you’re buying something for) to feel good when you wear my designs. Wearing a piece of jewelry that you love should make you feel special and give you a sense of well-being. I put a lot of love into my work, and I think that comes through in the finished product.
Finally, people are at their best when they are giving to others, truly and freely from the heart, whether the gift be tangible or immaterial. Here and there on my site, I say, “Be your best self,” because I think it is a nice reminder. Not only is it nice to give jewelry to others (or yourself) in the spirit of love, it is nice to do everything in the spirit of love.
Be your best self!
A NOTE ABOUT GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY
I like my pieces to have a flare for the exotic, so I buy my beads and jewelry components from all over the world, often trying to get as close as possible to the source of the mines or local artisans, or whatever the case may be; and because I buy most of my materials through Etsy, I am able to do this in a way that is responsible to the planet.
Through Etsy, I am able to practice fair trade with individuals and businesses in developing nations, ensuring that people are paid fairly in the global market regardless of where they’re from.
Also, many people don’t know this but Etsy offsets 100% of the carbon emissions incurred by shipping. Isn’t that amazing? So almost all the materials I work with are “environmentally clean.” For more info, check out: https://www.etsy.com/impact.
Birdbath in a garden