I started formally apprenticing in the jewelry trade in 1987, working under the guidance of several very talented master goldsmiths and knowledgeable dealers who specialized in vintage and antique jewelry. Through mastering the art and science of restoring these antique pieces, I developed a great appreciation for the sophisticated designs and quality craftsmanship inherent in period pieces coming from first and second wave Industrial Age manufacturers of Providence, Rhode Island. I was regularly encountering sophisticated, solidly built, beautifully designed pieces of vintage filigree jewelry, and they set the standard for what I would regard as aspirational examples of the kind of work I wanted to do. Years later, I opened my own trade shop and, in 1993, visited Providence for the first time.
Providence revealed itself to me through a feature in the travel section of The Washington Post. Described as an important contributor to American culture, a foodie’s delight and extremely friendly to tourists, it became that year’s summer vacation destination. The article also mentioned the Providence Jewelry Museum and the Jewelry District. Unbeknownst to me, this museum and it's fonnder were destined to influence everything.
Armed with a tourist map and an interest in exploring some of Providence’s historic Jewelry District, I ended up making a field trip to a dealer in factory-scale jewelry manufacturing machinery. I was rummaging around in this old warehouse complex when I noticed workers dumping broken boxes of steel parts into a dump truck to be sold for scrap metal. As they were loading, one of the boxes broke open and pieces spilled out on the ground. While I didn’t have a true understanding of what I was looking at, I knew intuitively that it contained very important jewelry designs. As the truck pulled away I quickly excused myself and hopped in my car to speed after the dump truck, finally flagging down the driver at a stoplight and convincing him to sell me some of the “scrap” on the back of the truck.
It took almost a year of researching and picking the brains of numerous folks in the jewelry industry before I started to fully understand what I had stumbled across and what it was used for: The pieces I had salvaged from the scrapyard were exquisitely crafted “hubs,” actual size, three-dimensional, hand-engraved carvings of a piece of jewelry executed in tool steel. Much of this work was created in the early 1800’s.
From this abrupt introduction to an unknown way of making came a series of ideas about how I could cobble together a sophisticated group of artisans in the perfect space with things I imagined were out there just waiting for me to find. More than 20 years later, we’re still at it.
Back then, I couldn't help but think about how I needed to intervene in any number of truckloads carting “mini-Michelangelo's” to the scrapyard. I was hooked on the subject, fascinated by the workmanship and determined to find and collect every loved and unloved treasure I could. Looking for hubs led to the discovery of countless other artistic treasures used in the ornament and jewelry design industry. A few hundred hubs led to thousands more hubs, die sets and rolls. These treasures led to screw presses and drop hammers. They led to complete workstations and sometimes complete factories. For 20 years, we collected, cataloged and assembled whatever we could find that I felt would be useful in building a factory that could bring back into production not just great designs but the great quality of Providence’s die struck jewelry—especially the filigree pieces.