Creative Journey in a White/Space

Khadijah Fulton, owner and designer of White/Space, has had a busy six months. On the one hand, the small group of manufacturing artisans that helped her with large orders and busy seasons had to close for California’s stay-at-home order. She found herself filling all orders from her successful e-commerce business. Amazingly, the orders kept coming in.

On the other hand, she has two sons, ages 5 and 10, who have been home and learning online, which regularly impacts her bench time. Let’s note that Khadijah considers herself a mother first and a designer second. “All of our routines have been interrupted, and it’s just as stressful for them as it is for me. My 10 year old does pretty well, but my younger one is in kindergarten, and online classes prove challenging. He’ll sit for a while, then get up to play or come to see me.”

Khadijah Fulton, Founder and Designer, White/Space

The Beginning of White/Space Jewelry

Ironically, Khadijah was a designer long before she had her children. She graduated from Parson’s School of Design in NYC, then spent 10 hectic years in the fashion industry as a designer for brand name clothing lines. After Khadijah had her first child, she wanted to slow down her life, arranging her schedule around her child. She branched out into jewelry as a way to express her creativity.

White/Space Continuity Ring
White/Space Continuity Ring in recycled gold

She tries to keep her White/Space bestsellers in stock, making other pieces to order. Like any number of jewelers who’ve found themselves busy during COVID-19, Khadijah attributes her business growth to a couple of factors:

  • First, with travel and cruises out of the picture and dining out limited, jewelry plays an even more vital role in celebrations and feel-good moments. And when people choose a gift, they often spend more than they typically would.  
  • Second, her loyal, supportive customers who want to see her through this difficult time. “I hope a lot of jewelers have seen this. And it lifts your spirits that these customers are thinking of you when we all have so much to process. With so many people at home, they feel more conscious of their choices. They want to support local businesses and businesses that align with their values.”
  • “The Black Lives Matter movement has also helped my business grow,” Khadijah says. “It focused attention on black-owned businesses, and I saw my orders surge through June and July. It’s more settled now, but I’m still busier than I was a year ago.”

Fortunately, she connected with an artisan jeweler who lives near her home outside Los Angeles, which helped her keep up with the volume. And recently her artisan manufacturers in downtown Los Angeles re-opened, so she’s working with them again. “For several months, I had to chain myself to my bench for evenings and weekends to get my work done, so I’m grateful that I can share the load.”

White/Space Pink Pearl Swingback Earrings
White/Space Pink Pearl Swingback Earrings

Looking Ahead

Khadijah sells her designs in selective retail outlets, and she’s recently taken on new wholesale partners. But facing the future, she wants to focus on building her internal team to continue growing her direct sales alongside these wholesale relationships. 

“I want to build my brand, and I’ll need a team to help me grow,” she says. “I’m looking forward to finding great people that believe in the potential of White/Space as much as I do.”

She would like to focus on a bridal offering and take on more custom design for 2021. “By having a team in place, I’ll have more time to focus on designing more styles that my customers love and creating even more meaningful pieces for them, which I find the most rewarding parts of my job. As designers and jewelers, we get the privilege of making vessels for their sentiments, memories, and most treasured connections.”

Behind the Name

When Khadijah named her business White/Space, she thought of it in design terms: an open space that invites creativity and personal expression. In the last few years, through the BLM movement, it has taken on other connotations.

“I’ve worked in ‘white spaces’ much of my adult life in a real sense, working for larger companies where I was one of very few (or the only) Black designer on the creative team, and now in the jewelry industry, which also has the same issues,” she explains.

“But working for myself, I’m excited to be part of the change that both industries need, building a visible, distinctive, luxury brand and doing it as a Black woman. Hopefully, in the future, young creatives of color will grow up seeing even more successful designers that look like them and will feel like they would be welcomed into our industry.”

So far, this approach is leading her in the right direction.

White/Space Oona Empress Earrings
White/Space Oona Empress Earrings

Read more about Khadijah in The Holiday Issue of From the Bench

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Feature Friday – Alex Maryaskin

Simply Unique Team

Meet the Simply Unique team

I started in the jewelry business after doing restoration work to a 2000-year-old church. I was tasked with repairing a filigree box, in addition to a few more items after finishing that job. This is where my love of jewelry stemmed. In the Ukraine, you have to spend two years in the military. The choice was either being outside in -20ºF weather or working on and repairing jewelry for the generals in the warmth of indoors. I chose inside.

In our business, you will meet and overcome challenges nearly every day. We have clients come in after they’re told their items are beyond repair. Yet a few days later, they return to our store to pick up their renewed, wearable pieces of jewelry. By regularly overcoming challenges, the word has spread on how we can repair almost anything. Customers flock with belt buckles, lamp shades, purses, and more items you would never imagine. And if we can, we get it done! In the meantime, we’re able to sell them a chain, ring, or even a diamond sometimes!

My job title in the store is owner, alongside Tim Wright, another bench jeweler who shares ownership. We met when I originally tried to sell a filigree mirror I made. We opened Simply Unique Jewelry Designs together after losing creative freedom in the store where we both previously worked. Tim taught me the American way of jewelry production rather than the Ukrainian style with which I was most familiar. He opened a door for me and a bench in his home, saying, “create!” To this day, he is the business partner that pushes ahead to keep that same momentum going. As for me, I am 48 years young, and my wife is a nurse at a local hospital. I have a daughter in her second year of college, and my 12-year-old son is in middle school. I’ve been in the industry about 25 years in total.

Simply Unique Fishtank

In the store, I work on the bench more than anything else. I do custom work and repairs for our clients, despite how ridiculous they may seem. Typically, I only wait on clients when everyone else is busy or when I must discuss custom work. I also take care of a 300-gallon saltwater coral reef aquarium in our store. Visitors are taken back by the beauty of this tank when they walk in our store! It makes a wonderful babysitter for kids and especially bored husbands while mom is at the counter. This is a hobby that I enjoy, and it keeps me busy when we are not.

Simply Unique Jewelry Designs is very different than all the others in the area because we do not carry the range of designer lines. We have a few things like Citizen watches, RQC charms, and bridal from a few unnamed American manufacturers. We have our own category. But the real difference is we create 60-70% of our inventory right here. We have mentored two individuals fresh out of art school with metals backgrounds, granting them the freedom to create and make jewelry for our cases. We’ve taught them repair as they have created for us in return. We also have a couple of apprentices right now that are learning the bench; one has become quite good, especially in silver, a medium I despise.

Simply Unique Intricate MirrorIn 2014, I won a Saul Bell Design Award for the Hollowware category for a filigree mirror that I made from melted down quarters. This remains my most favorite memory. I had to pour them into an ingot mold, and then I pulled all the wire hand. From there, I created this beautiful mirror, on the right. This year I was notified that I got into finals for a chance to win another Saul Bell Award for the Discovery of Eggcellence piece. Read all about this egg-squisite piece here on

I could not imagine our business without a laser welder. This tool has changed the way we imagine projects and how we approach any piece of jewelry. We hand fabricate almost everything in our inventory. We keep everything on hand from flat stock to tubing to any gauge wire from 12g to 32g in white and yellow. While most stores carry a large inventory of designer goods, all of our stock is in wire or raw material. I am just beginning to learn CAD design, but we are still old school when it comes to wax carving. One of our mentored art students, Chels Tyler, is in Minneapolis and she still carves for us. She is amazing when it comes to carving animals and creatures – from bats to horses and mermaids to shotguns.

I was introduced to Stuller many years ago while working at another jewelry store. It was the first account we opened when Tim and I started our store, providing a blessed partnership from day one. Since opening, we have doubled our size and staff. We can attribute much of our good fortune to how we practice business, our ethics, and finally Stuller! We have made promises to our customers, and Stuller has always delivered on their promises, so we don’t let our customers down. Sustained growth in all the facets of what Stuller does has enabled our store to grow in the same manner.



Simply Unique 14k guitar pendant

14K Guitar pendant

Simply Unique Cactus Pendant

Cactus Pendant

Simply Unique 14k Opal Bracelet

14k Opal Bracelet

I base the following suggestions to those who work on in a store. If you don’t already offer in-house work, I do not think you will exist as a jewelry store 10 years from now. If your store does not have at least one laser welder (we have two), then a bench jeweler will not be able to compete with current challenges. Simply put, if one does not adapt and change, then one will cease to exist. Because of this, we are now branching into CAD design with the ever&ever® program with Stuller. I see the writing on the wall.

One of our biggest challenges remains the fight against the internet and the cheap quality sold to people as jewelry. The poor workmanship causes designs to break. But pieces made with this low-quality manufacturing methods used overseas seem to attract our clients’ attention. And when they buy, they wind up bringing their items to us for repair. The internet, free of sales tax, has forced us to lower our already dwindling margins, making it harder to exist, much less flourish. I wish the best of luck to all of us in the jewelry-making future.

Read more about Alex Maryaskin’s Discovery of Eggcellence piece here.

Barnes Jewelers Header Blog

Feature Friday – Brian Barnes

Then There Were 4

Barnes Jewelers Gholson Brothers

Cole, Bob Gholson and myself

Late in the second half of the Elite 8 game between my beloved South Carolina Gamecocks and the Florida Gators, we arrived back to the hotel from Stuller in Lafayette, LA. Tied ball game. Eight minutes left. The only thing to do was finish watching the game at the hotel bar with my now lifelong friends Bob & Cole Gholson of Gholson’s Originals in Waco, TX. The Gamecocks played their hearts out and ended up winning, advancing to the Final Four for the first time in school history! Which puts me here, right now in lovely Phoenix, AZ (my first Final Four), writing about the incredible relationship Barnes Jewelers has with Stuller.

Barnes Jewelers Storefront SpringtimeI’m Brian Barnes of Barnes Jewelers in Lexington, SC. We have done business in the Lexington area for 37 years. My father Freddie started in the jewelry industry in the mid-70s where he met my mother. He told me, “She would always come into the store to look at jewelry during her lunch hour.” After they went to a baseball game and McDonald’s on their first date, the rest is history. Together, they opened Barnes Jewelers in 1981, one block down the road from where we are now. Between the three of us and our jeweler, we run the everyday operations.

I was born into the jewelry business and I love it. It’s all I’ve ever known. The only time I wasn’t working at the jewelry store was when I moved to Myrtle Beach, SC for a couple of years to attend Coastal Carolina University (I graduated with a doctorate in surfing). Living away from the business made me realize how much I enjoyed it. So much so, I moved back and put everything into the store and haven’t looked back since.

Barnes Jewelers Gamecock Custom DesignOver the past decade, I’ve come to realize what I truly enjoy doing most — getting to work with customers one on one when designing their custom piece. The process of understanding what they want, creating it as a digital design, and finally watching their gleeful reactions when they see it for the first time — that’s the most fulfilling part of my job. My favorite custom piece to date is a diamond and garnet gamecock pendant set in 14k white gold.

But as many of you already know, owning and operating a small family business requires much more than having fun designing and bringing rings and other things to life. From changing watch batteries to trash duty, it’s all under my job description. Simply put . . .

Barnes Jewelers Everyday Tools

Technology at Barnes Jewelers

Did we ever think inventory would be our worst enemy?

After attending Stuller’s Bridge Event in August 2016 and Bench Jeweler Workshop in March 2017, I began to understand how much this industry is shifting towards “custom” pieces. We’ve all heard it: “I like this, but do you have it in two-tone? Or all yellow?” OR “This is perfect, but I need it with blue topaz and amethyst.” When you add rose gold to the mix, it increases in popularity. But even without the rose gold addition, there is no way we can stock everything on any given day. This makes the word “custom” more important than ever. And not just custom, but fast with the same great quality we expect.

Barnes Jewelers Big Screen TVOur store added CounterSketch in November 2016 and we’ve done about 20 custom jobs since, nearly one per week. On average, the time frame is two weeks and ticket sale is around $1,400. The best part? It’s easy! I’m not an I.T. guy and I surely don’t know any more about software than the average person. With that said, I practiced and taught myself the basics of the program within a few weeks. Add in tremendous support from great friends I met at the Bridge event, Fred Hornshuh & Jonathan Nobles with Carlson Brothers Jewelry in Tacoma, WA and it was easy to catch on. Don’t forget: you receive as much as you put into it. We eliminated one showcase and replaced it with a 50″ flat screen. Now, I can show a customer a simple design, gold color and gemstone specific, within minutes on the TV. And now and then in the fall, you might catch a football game on that same big screen.

During a focus group at Stuller, they asked, “How do you use technology on a day to day basis?” My answer was, “In what areas do we not use technology on a daily basis?” My personal responsibility at work is social media: Facebook page (go like our page!), Twitter (follow us!), Instagram (follow us here too!), & website (check it out!). Also, we constantly use Stuller Showcase through our website. As for front of the store technology used for repairs, we use DinoLite. This microscope presents crystal clear images of what certain repairs entail. We use our TV to broadcast the images to our customer, and suddenly, that single re-tip develops into a new head. That sizing turned into a quarter shank. The single melee replacement and reset under the microscope showed several chipped diamonds that transitioned the repair from a $ job to a $$$ job!

Making Memories at Barnes Jewelers

Barnes Jewelers Loudmouth PantsSelling an engagement ring is exciting! For others to allow you to help them with one of the most important purchases of their life is a humbling feeling. It’s a big step for customers and I mustn’t let them down. Even from behind the counter, the best memory of working in the jewelry business was purchasing an engagement ring, which my wife now wants to upgrade. (Side Note: We’ve been married 5 years) I don’t know if it was what she saw in me. It was more like what she saw on me: Jazzy Pants! I wear Loudmouth pants everywhere. It’s a part of my lifestyle that I have transitioned into the workplace. Some customers will stop by just to see what crazy pants I’m wearing. It’s always good for a quick laugh. I think people feel more relaxed in an informal setting and not interacting with someone in a 3-piece suit. Customers feel at home with us whenever they stop by, whether for a diamond, a watch battery, or to poke fun at my pants. We love seeing new faces as well as making great friends.

Barnes Jewelers Loudmouth Pants

My collection of Loudmouth pants

I am approaching 40 pairs of Loudmouth pants. From Santa to Sharks, there is a theme for anybody and every day. I still can’t talk my Dad into getting a pair, but maybe that will soon change. I know one thing that won’t change: our love for jewelry, our customers, and the South Carolina Gamecocks. #ForeverToThee #FinalFour

Brian visited this year’s Bench Jeweler Workshop. In case you missed the action, here’s a recap of the event. 

Feature Friday – Brett Weiler

Brett Weiler Decatur City Jewelers Store FrontSomeone once told me, “If you pick a job you love to do, you never really have to go to work.” I’m fortunate to have that luxury. I get to wake up and fulfill my passion each and every day. My store is a one-man show. I never wanted an empire, or a store named in my honor for that matter, but rather a humble opportunity to do what I love and love what I do. You name it, I complete all tasks at the store. By necessity, I’ve learned my skills as a bench jeweler because I always strive to sell pieces that exceed my capabilities. Besides, on a good day, I can sell three rings but I could never make three rings! My only employee is Jules, a pit bull rescue who has become part of our family and my most trusted companion.

I’ve been in the industry for over 40 years. My jewelry career began at the University of Florida, studying Architecture. My buddy, a Geology major, always had cool specimens handy which fueled my fascination with all things in stone. I followed suit and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. When searching for my dream job, I knew I wanted to work with colored stones. Looking back, it seems everything fell into place as I headed toward a career in jewelry.

In early 1979, I worked for a man named Bill Adams in my first real job in the industry. Bill promised he wasn’t as mean as he came off to be. He taught me so much about the industry and running a business. To this day, I keep a modest inventory on-hand. My showcases stay limited while the majority of my pieces remain stowed away. Instead of showing an array of product, I aim to keep my designs select and create jewelry that directly speaks to my customer’s style.

In fact, I’ve become somewhat adept at choosing jewelry for others rather quickly. After asking only a few questions and briefly assessing their desires, I’m often able to walk over to the safe, pull a piece I think matches their aura, and usually, customers immediately fall in love with the design. To me, it’s all about selecting jewelry that best compliments its wearer. I like to think of myself as more of a consultant. Instead of hardcore sales tactics and persistently trying to close, I prefer to offer customers jewelry that they actually want. Satisfying a customer’s taste and style trumps making the sale every time.
Brett Weiler Decatur City Jewelers

Upon entering my store, most customers feel drawn to our beloved dog, Jules, or the store’s warm, eccentric vibe. With its relaxed feel, bricked walls, cozy wood floor and even a hideaway loft, Instore Magazine titled the space “America’s Coolest Store” in 2002. Once a violin shop, my store now gleams with natural light and welcomes all passersby.

And as for Jules, he’s sometimes the main attraction. After our kids had outgrown our home, my wife and I found the nest a bit empty. Together we visited DeKalb County Animal Shelter where we met our sweet Jules. He grabbed our attention by standing on his hind legs and waving to us, paws flailing in the air. And he has kept our attention ever since.

A sweet, sensitive companion, Jules proves time and time again the tenderheartedness of the Pit Bull breed. I think there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Jules makes a friend wherever he goes. From the local bank to the candy shop nearby, he’s welcomed nearly everywhere in town. He loves to bask in the sun and even attracts prospective customers by simply napping on the sidewalk in front of the store!

A special memory in my career was the opportunity to use my skill to contribute to a greater cause. Once, a local bank came to me with a bag of jewelry belonging to an estate. They wanted my appraisal of the pieces despite knowing the items retained little or no value. Low and behold, nearly the entire collection had substantial worth, some even vintage Tiffany designs. With the estate headed for liquidation, I helped broker the items.  I found a buyer and the entire collection brought more that $400,000, more than 25% higher than the next closet bid. And the best part: the proceeds of the items went to a humane society.

Thus, I believe we live in a karmic existence. By doing right, that righteousness will come back to you in return!

Meet Jules!

Brett Weiler Jules Decatur City Jewelers Brett Weiler Jules Decatur City Jewelers Brett Weiler Jules Decatur City Jewelers

So do you have a precious pet in your store? Hashtag #stuller in your store’s pet pics on FacebookInstagramTwitter! Also, check out DecaturCityJules on Instagram for more of Jules and all his mischief.

Jonathan Smiddy Header

Meet Jonathan Smiddy – The Returning Competitor

Jonathan Smiddy Battle of the Benches HeadshotThis year’s Battle of the Benches® competition is right around the corner, kicking off March 24th. Among the contestants is Jonathan Smiddy, a seasoned jewelsmith with over twenty-two years of experience under his belt. A bench jeweler at Robson’s Diamond Jewelers in Baytown, Texas, he spends his days repairing precious pieces and helping clients to create beautiful jewelry.

As a graduate of the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, Jonathan Smiddy knew he wanted to be a bench jeweler right out of high school after taking interest in Indian handy crafts. “I’m a real classic kind of person. I like Art Noveau. I like Art Deco,” he explains. “So in most of my stuff, I sample a lot of those lines and a lot of French curves.” Jonathan’s passion entails building new and exciting pieces while his specialty lies in creating unique designs that end as exquisite works of art.

After participating in last year’s competition, Jonathan knows the ropes. He has a pretty good idea of what’s in store, having been there and done that. Does this give him a leg up on the competition? We’ll see! We surely expect Jonathon to bring his calm and collected demeanor along with his talent and creativity. The greatest challenge he faces in his day-to-day is meeting impossible deadlines. “Yet, somehow it always happens,” he says. And according to Jonathan, he works best under pressure. This is quite a fitting strength for the competition.

Jonathan Smiddy Battle of the Benches Pendant

Jonathan’s pendant from Battle of the Benches 2016

When it came down to scoping out last year’s competition, Jonathan had this to say: “It’s been really interesting, especially with the other jewelers. There’s lots of really good talent on the panel.” His only real concern, however, was aiming to set all of his stones in time.

In day one of the competition, Jonathan created a CAD design and model of a cocktail ring inspired by a customer profile. Day two brought about the Parts & Pieces Challenge where participants were given a box of “stuff” and tasked with creating a unique piece of jewelry. Jonathan created a sleek, modern pendant.

On the third and final day of the event, attendees visited any additional classes they might have missed. They walked the demo floor and even met with our technical folks. The final challenge also took place. This time, the task was to prep, polish, assemble, and set the now casted CAD design from the first day’s competition. Jonathan took the prize in this event with an amazing three stone cocktail ring featuring a blue center and pink accents.

When he’s not busy at the store, he enjoys visiting museums, camping, spending time with family and attending church. His favorite part of being a jeweler so far is having the opportunity to create wedding bands for himself and his wife.

Here’s a shot of Jonathan hard at work in last year’s competition, along with a few select pieces of his work-

Jonathan Smiddy Battle of the Benches Pendant Jonathan Smiddy Battle of the Benches Pendant Jonathan Smiddy Battle of the Benches Focus

“The leftmost image is a 9 carat Tanzanite pendant with .5 carats of side diamonds. It turned out absolutely stunningly and the story behind it is even better!” Jonathan reports. “I also really loved building the piece centered above. It’s a competition piece I designed featuring lapis, diamond, tsavorite garnet, and synthetic padparadscha accents.” 

Check out Jyothi Forman and David Adamson, two of Jonathan Smiddy’s competitors in this year’s Battle of the Benches® competition.


Meet Jyothi Forman – Battle of the Benches® Contestant

Jyothi Forman HeadshotJyothi Forman is a jeweler at Georgies Fine Jewellery in Narooma, New South Wales, Australia. She specializes in hand fabricating custom jewelry. Jyothi, a blossoming 24 years old, grew up in a small regional town called Tanja and went to school in Bega, New South Wales. Outside of work, she loves exploring the outdoors. Mountain biking, playing soccer, painting, and hanging out with her sweet pup, Baxter, are a few of her favorite activities.

“I’ve always been a very practical person and love working in a hands-on manner. In school, I loved ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, and visual arts. When I stumbled upon the jewelry trade, I couldn’t believe my luck! It combines everything I enjoy: practicality, creativity, and an ongoing challenge,” Jyothi explains. “I knew I loved making jewelry since my first day on the bench.”

Throughout her apprenticeship, she’s had many amazing opportunities arise. Jyothi has competed in many competitions and represented Australia in the International WorldSkills Competition in Brazil. This honor gave her an unforgettable experience. “Placing second in the world and earning a silver medal was quite a remarkable feat!” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without my supportive, generous boss, Georgie Staley.”

Jyothi Forman silver medal worldskills international competition representing Australia

Jyothi Forman’s silver medal standing in the Worldskills International Competition

Custom design remains central to Jyothi. It enables her customers to have unique pieces of jewelry that express who they are. “Custom jewelry tells the owner’s story while also reflecting the designer’s gifts. The highly involved process is very rewarding. The customer is delighted with their jewelry because they have contributed to the design,” she says.

For Jyothi, the most challenging jobs are the large, intricate handmade pieces. However, these are also her favorite! “I love a challenge. I love the problem solving and attention to detail, then seeing everything come together at the end into a beautiful piece of jewelry. Every day as a jeweler is different. From resurrecting old family heirlooms to handcrafting brand new ones for future generations. Each day brings about a new challenge, all equally rewarding.”

Jyothi Forman custom engagement ring parti sapphire diamonds and platinum with green goldAt the beginning of March 2017, Jyothi married her partner, Mitchell. They’ve been together since high school. He is a watchmaker and both work at Georgies Fine Jewellery. “I’ll forever treasure when he proposed to me with all the materials necessary to make my very own engagement ring: Parti sapphire, diamonds, and raw metal,” she recounts. “From there, I handcrafted my ring from platinum and small accents of green gold. The center stone is a yellow-green Australian Parti Sapphire and side stones are diamonds.” Her beautiful ring is pictured here.

Jyothi and her husband Mitchell have never been to America and are tremendously excited to come over for the competition!

Here are just a few of her awards and recognitions, along with her most prized custom designs-


  • Nationwide Jewellers Apprentice of the Year – 2013 & 2014
  • Melbourne Polytechnic Best 2nd year Apprentice Jeweler – 2013
  • Melbourne Polytechnic Best 3rd year Apprentice Jeweler – 2014
  • Melbourne Polytechnics Outstanding Apprentice/Trainee of the Year – 2015
  • Melbourne Polytechnic Outstanding Student of the Year – 2015
  • Worldskills Australia regional competition, Melbourne – 2013 • Gold
  • Worldskills Australia national competition – 2014 • Gold
  • Worldskills Oceania competition – 2015 • Gold
  • Worldskills International Competition – 2015 • Silver
  • Announced in Triple J’s 25 under 25 2015

Jyothi Forman custom design ring with sapphires, diamonds, and gold

This ring was custom designed at Georgies Fine Jewellery and handmade by Jyothi. It features sapphires and diamonds in a beautiful, unique gold ring.

Jyothi Forman custom ring design white yellow gold

“This one was very fun to create, as I had to make the white gold appear woven through the yellow gold band,” Jyothi explains.


We’re gearing up for our annual Battle of the Benches® competition, which begins March 24. Meet David Adamson, the defending champ here. 

Feature Friday – Jennifer Hamburg

My name is Jennifer Hamburg

My title is CDO, Chief Design Officer at Sydel & Sydel Ltd. I am on the sales floor every day helping with repairs, selling my designs and guiding customers to redesign their old jewelry into new one-of-a-kind designs. My indispensable brother and partner works beside me all day long. Owning a small business requires a multiplicity of skills. We have a support staff of four to help us throughout the day.

I am a graduate of NYU, Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in acting and costume design. After graduating, I worked in a premier New York costume shop building costumes for Broadway shows. My job was to select the fabrics. To find the perfect color and texture, I spent hours in small confined spaces surrounded by bolts of fabric and boxes of sequins. In the process, I fell in love with textiles. Delicate lace, sparkling sequins, bold fuchsia, and tangerine swirled in a floral pattern. It was magical. One day it hit me. Jewelry is textural and colorful, and my parents run a successful jewelry business. I was sure they would let me design for them. So I decided to come home to Chicago and focus on designing. Now I make 95% of the store inventory. I am very proud and honored that my parents gave me the opportunity. It has made our store unique and it keeps our clients coming back in these trying times.

Sydel & Sydel custom green gemstone earrings Sydel & Sydel purple drop custom earrings Sydel & Sydel custom diamond inlay white gold ring

I grew up in the business. I remember taking naps on the floor in the back room and wrapping holiday gifts for customers when I was in high school. Before I graduated high school, I was an expert gift wrapper. To this day my nursery school teacher reminds me that instead of drawing stick figures of my family I drew colorful necklaces and rings. I guess you can say I spent my entire life in the industry. Getting to work with exquisite gems and creating unique jewelry for people to enjoy for years to come, is my favorite part of working in the business.

To create one-of-a-kind jewelry, I start by finding an exceptional gemstone and then allow the stone to dictate the design. I would say my style is timeless with a modern twist. Because of my textile background, I use texture and color to inspire all my creations. I love nature and organic shapes. Every design I create reflects the individual who is wearing it. The design becomes an inseparable part of their personality. I see my designs as a vessel of memories. Customers are thrilled to learn about the process and the stories behind finding each gem.

Sydel & Sydel custom drop pendant blue gemstone necklace Sydel & Sydel yellow gold pave gemstone ring

One of the first designs I created was an interpretation on a classic signet ring. I envisioned something more feminine with diamonds of course, but still personalized. Fingerprints are unique and personal, so I decided to design a thumbprint ring. I created a shape based on the scale of the client’s thumb. Then I pavé set diamonds into the curves of the ring. I love this design because each one is unique and a challenge to create.

Jewelry is an expression of the self, just like the clothes we wear, in that it defines how we interpret beauty. Jewelry is also an essential adornment because it allows us to feel close to the individual who gave it to us- whether that is a lover, a grandmother or a child, all while holding deep sentimental meaning. These memories are the treasure that I incorporate into my designs, enabling the memories of the past to become a new treasure of the present. For example, the unique incorporation of pearls in a design emphasizes an appreciation for the motion and fluidity a pearl experiences in the ocean. The choices of colors in each gemstone are also portraits of nature, integrating warm hues of the sun, the liveliness of the sky and the tenderness of the earth to vitalize the human character.

My parents came up with the name of our store, Sydel & Sydel. As my Mom says, “ I am the first Sydel and your Dad is the second.” Our retail store is very inviting, and the environment encourages clients to walk in with curiosity and enthusiasm. We market through social media as well as corporate incentives, which is unique to our market environment. We designed the website for busy professionals searching with limited time. They search for specific products motivated by anniversaries or engagements. Our intent is to have the client in our showroom, but we complete many transactions through the Internet for convenience and timing.

Sydel & Sydel Jewelry Store ChicagoLocated in a high-density metropolitan market — Chicago’s financial district — our store is on the ground floor of a sixty-story office building. With this location, we rely on our unique products to set us apart with our sophisticated clientele. I individually design most of our jewelry and my partner, Jonathan, carefully chooses our watch brands. We pride ourselves on excellent service and boutique brands of exceptional construction.

We have a steady flow of repairs throughout the day with a heavier centration around 12:00 pm. Repairs bring customers into our store making them an important part of our day-to-day business. Jewelry maintenance breathes life into a once broken or forgotten item. Jewelry is uniquely sentimental and repair brings back memories associated with that item. A customer may not be able to afford a new design, but they may be willing to invest in the old design because of the emotional connection they have. Customers remember great service and appreciate the care taken toward their heirlooms.

My parents started using Stuller for findings. Once I took over the design of our inventory, I started using them for mountings and some custom creations. When we decided to expand our bridal inventory, we partnered with Stuller’s Ever&Ever collection. We love the flexibility and ease that the Ever&Ever provides. It allows the customer to see a plethora of options available to them with a custom feel. Just one click and you can change the shape of the center stone and color of the metal to reflect each customer’s unique taste. It has become an indispensable tool.

Jennifer & Jonathan Sydel with a customer

Jennifer & Jonathan Sydel with a customer

It seems that technology has eased the communication between my client and myself, giving tangibility to a once hypothetical conversation and making designs a reality. When I come up with my custom designs, I rely on CAD to help relay my ideas to my clients. Once we finalize the design, I print the wax and have a 3D model for my them to try on and touch. Technology has enabled a quicker turnaround time and changeability when a client wants to alter an element of the design. Technology allows my client and me to be on the same page, making them feel comfortable committing to a design.

The retail industry faces a dilemma because consumers like the ease and accessibility of ordering online. This threatens traditional retail because it erodes the importance of face-to-face interaction and the personal relationships that help us succeed. The dialogue between a customer and an informed salesperson is invaluable. We learn what the client desires and because of our knowledge, we’re able to make that a reality. The absence of communication between a customer and the salesperson in an online purchase gives the client a false sense of confidence. In the event they’re unhappy with their online purchase, they have no one to rectify the problem. In a store, the salesperson becomes the guiding force helping the customer select the perfect item.

My advice to others: Be honorable, polite and forthcoming.

Meet Jennifer Hamburg and Jonathan Sydel in Episode 2 of Stuller’s In Good Company series. Stay tuned for Episode 3 where Adam travels to Chicago to visit Sydel & Sydel.

Feature Friday – Don Brown

Don Brown Jewelry store frontAt the age of 17, I answered an ad in the local newspaper for an apprentice watchmaker/bench jeweler position. That was only 49 short years ago. By 1978, I had become a partner in the store. Everyone knew me as Don, and I liked the design aspect of the business, so the store’s name just came out naturally as Don’s Jewelry & Design. One thing that makes our store unique is that there has been a jewelry store in our location since circa 1895!

Throughout my career, I’ve enjoyed meeting the people that come through the door. I love transforming their wants, needs, and desires into reality. I’m one of the most fortunate people in the world because I have a passion for my profession and I work side by side with my family. I enjoy spending my free time with my family and friends, boating, fishing, traveling, and camping. And I constantly like working on projects.Don Brown Jewelry Store

I’m usually the first person at work so that I can prepare the store for the day. I wear all kinds of hats from helping customers to creating special designs and working at the bench. I enjoy the selling because I get to help customers celebrate all the special moments in their lives. Bench work runs a close second because I find the creative process exciting. I feel a little part of our store is attached to our jewelry whether it is a new piece, a redesigned piece, or a repair.

Don Brown Jewelry Team Most of our sales come from our local community and surrounding communities. We pride ourselves on building lifelong relationships with our clients and do our best to provide the best experience possible with each visit. We have a fairly extensive repair center. It’s the heartbeat of our store and magic happens in it.

Our bench jewelers, including myself, are trained and skilled in many aspects of jewelry repair and laser welding. Our cutting edge laser welder allows us to repair and restore jewelry that was once considered too delicate or too fragile to repair. All these things bring customers into the store, which in turn allows us to help them with a purchase.

I’d like to share a story that has stayed with me and helps to keep me grounded me from time to time. One Christmas Eve morning, I came to the store early to get a few last minute things done before the day began. There was snow piled up on the roof of our building and an ice dam had developed. As I went into our repair shop, there was water coming through the ceiling. If I had a bar of soap, I could have taken a shower. I frantically called the roofing contractor and was unable to contact him while leaving him several messages. It was time to open the store and when I opened the front door, with water still pouring out of the ceiling, my first customer of the day was a gentleman looking for a special gift for his wife. He told me this was going to be his last Christmas with his family because of an incurable disease. Suddenly, I didn’t care if the whole roof came crashing in. I needed to take care of this gentleman and find something truly special for his wife. Now, when I begin to think of my problems, I think back to this moment and realize that I really don’t have problems compared to this.

Don Brown Jewelry Countersketch

Working with Countersketch®

Our relationship with Stuller began many years ago when the store became a member of RJO. My daughter Karen has really expanded our design department through Stuller and the use of Countersketch®. She has also made our presence known by maintaining our website and being active on social media. This is just one example of the fast coming changes in the jewelry industry and how we must be able to adapt and change with them. As a jeweler, we need to constantly keep learning and adapting to maintain our current client base and also to gain new ones as well.

Feature Friday: Evan Silbert

Fifteen years ago, while completing my bachelor’s degree in television production, I worked a number of sales jobs. I always took a lot of pride in what I did and had a hard time when coworkers fell short of my expectations. Maybe I just liked things done my way!

An opportunity came for me to buy the small cell phone store next to where I worked, and start my own business. It was a crazy idea at the time, but the business grew and grew, and I enjoyed calling the shots.

Like any small business, there were good times and bad. Before long, it became very stressful! I wanted things to feel simple again, but I was juggling too many things. It was time for a change. I packed everything I needed and moved to the Caribbean. What better way to de-stress than to go where the weather is nice, and work for someone else while making an honest paycheck?


Evan pictured in St. John

In the seven years I lived in St. John, I wore many hats, and had lots of interesting work. I met a lot of people from all over the world. I learned to pour a mean rum punch! I discovered myself and focused on my passions. I learned and grew, but before long I had outgrown my little island. It was time to come back.

I shipped my Jeep to Florida and drove across the country ending up in Minnesota. Erik Thurber, the best stateside friend I’d made in St. John, lived there and owned Thurber Jewelers. I arrived in early August and had no intention of being there once the first leaves fell and the weather got cold.

As things turned out, I was wrong. Minnesota introduced me to the love of my life, my wife, Jessica. And Erik needed someone to take the reins handling the day to day at the jewelry store. Minnesota needed me as much as I needed a home. I knew how to organize and manage a retail store, but I had no idea what I was doing with jewelry!


Evan and owner Erik

Thankfully, I’m a quick learner and was thrown into the fire right away. I tried to absorb everything Erik and the other guys at the store said and did and kept practicing until I sounded like an expert. As my responsibilities increased, my knowledge grew.

Before I knew it, I spent my downtime, even at home, reading about diamonds and discovering everything I could about what made each unique and different. My fierce independence drove me to keep learning so I could do everything by myself. That’s not possible, but I want my customers to feel confident that I’m their expert.

Being younger than most jewelry store managers and decision makers, I take a different approach than most in the industry. In a business that is often run by an older generation, I raise eyebrows when I use things like computers and social media to conduct our everyday work and stay in touch with our clients. Some of our vendors seem surprised or put off when I ask for online catalogs, videos for our big screen, or artwork for our Facebook page. Stuller gets a lot of my business by having the solutions I want.

We have Stuller Showcase™ on our big screen TV to help customers find and visualize items we don’t keep in stock. People love the honest feeling of seeing the product we’re discussing and the available options, with the price displayed clearly in the corner of the screen. In an instant information age, this makes a huge difference.

evan-silbert-jewelerThings moved forward for my knowledge, our store, and our relationship with Stuller, after Sheila, our local Stuller representative, came to visit the shop. She showed me new solutions that helped us grow. Once I saw Countersketch®, I knew we had to have it. Now, most large sales take place with me standing by the computer, and our customers following along on the screen. We’re showing people that they can update their look by re-mounting their stones in new settings and different metals. We rarely lose sales to competitors. We can make a custom ring tailored to their specific desires.

Almost every day, I refer to our visit to Stuller this past October. Seeing the entire process, from raw materials to finished goods, and the pride of the staff that completes each step gives me a personal stake in selling Stuller to our clients.

I believe people connect with the story of their custom jewelry, knowing that real people pay close attention to every detail, and I’ve stood beside them. It’s a small thing, but I believe adding a personal story is important. It brings the customer back to the reason they are buying the jewelry in the first place: love. Our passion for what we do is an extension of our customers’ passion. I live to exceed their expectations and change the way they look at jewelry.

I’m still learning every day, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to do things a little better, like emailing pictures to customers when promised and sending a thank-you note after a purchase. What seems like small details make a huge difference. The knowledge and personal stories I share with my customers build their confidence in our family business. Jewelry stores are one of the last small businesses people depend on in a world dominated by big boxes. And it’s up to us to keep our customers (and their children!) coming back.

Evan and his wife Jessica during their visit to Stuller Headquarters in Lafayette, LA
evan-silbert-visit-lafayette evan-silbert-stuller

Missed last week’s Feature Friday post? No worries, catch up on it here.

My Workshop Experience – Joy Allen

Meet Joy Allen

Joy Allen and her fiance

Joy Allen and her fiancé

I grew up in a large active family, very involved in sports and our community. My passion for jewelry started when I was young. Around the age of ten years, I started making beaded jewelry. And as I grew so did my skills and love for jewelry. Toward the end of high school, I learned about Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology. Not long after I visited the school, I knew that was the place for me.

Joy’s Jewelry Student Journey

When I first started at TIJT, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For the first couple of weeks, all I touched was a hand file and a saw. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Aren’t I supposed to be learning to make jewelry?” Little did I know that what I was learning was a very valuable skill. The Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology is a well-rounded program that has given me a solid basic knowledge of jewelry making. I have learned everything from polishing, soldering, and casting to fabrication, stone setting, some hand engraving, and laser welding skills.

Initially, we learned about different tools that we would use daily. As I was going through my tools, I noticed a pattern: many of our tools came from Stuller, which sparked several questions. Soon, I was informed about Stuller’s Bench Jeweler Workshop and all it had to offer. As the semester went on, my professors promoted the workshop and suggested that all students should attend.

Joy Allen First Engraved Piece

My first hand engraved piece

Joy Allen First Pave Piece

My first pave

Joining Bench Jeweler Workshop

After hearing my professor talk about the workshop frequently, I did some of my own research and decided that it would be beneficial for me attend. Before coming to the Stuller workshop, I had imagined learning about different tools and techniques and about the facility. However, I was blown away by the magnitude of what I experienced.

Joy Allen Custom Matrix Design

A basket pendant I designed with Matrix

I took a couple of the classes offered and learned about new products and the best way to use them. I was truly amazed during the tour of the facility with the many different production rooms. I especially enjoyed seeing all of the jewelers set up with their benches in the main area of the workshop and getting to watch different ones use their refined skills. Being a visual learner, it was great to be able to watch the jewelers work and observe various ways to handle different tools for the best outcome.

I would encourage any jeweler or jewelry student to attend the Stuller workshop. There was much to learn and benefit from to become a better jeweler. It is set up in a tasteful way with a great schedule, allowing you to take classes, watch different jewelers, eat lunch with other people attending, and have a great time!

What an Experience!


Joy Allen and her Stuller Excellence Award

Attending the workshop as a student was very beneficial, and it was a great opportunity to learn and be inspired. I saw that jewelry could go in many directions, and there were many beautiful skills to strive to have. Going to the workshop enhanced my love for jewelry and inspired me to become a better student. It challenged me in several different ways and also encouraged me as a student.

Since the workshop, I received the Stuller Excellence Award for my hard work. Upon graduating from Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, I quickly began my job search. In September, I started my first job as a jeweler in College Station, Texas; and I love it!

Through each aspect of Stuller, from tools and production to jewelry at its finest, the characteristics that impacted me the most were hard work and attention to detail. Daily, I strive to work hard and pay attention to detail, just as Stuller displayed.