Emma Elizabeth Jewelry
“What I do will always be that reminder. It connects me back to God, myself, my journey…I am really grateful for that.”
One of my favorite aspects of blogging is getting to connect with creatives and local makers. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Emma who is the talent behind Emma Elizabeth Jewelry.
It was a blast from the past and I loved re-connecting with this dynamic individual. We talked about faith and mutual connections but most importantly, she shared her story.
To put it mildly, I felt profoundly honored to hear it.
It’s unseasonably warm as I enter a local coffee shop to meet with Emma. Sunshine is pouring into the space creating a glowing backdrop. She has taken residence in the front window quietly sipping her tea and observing the activity on the street.
She’s a captivating person: a perfectly balanced mixed of edgy chic and approachable girl next door. Her face lights up as I sit down and we trade small talk about how I was her volleyball coach back in elementary school. She has a steady confidence which made conversation with her engaging and easy.
As we chat, my mind flashes back to her original email where she wrote to say she enjoyed my blog and wondered if I would help tell her story. I was immediately drawn in when she told me she lost her boyfriend in 2014 and how that loss ended up being the catalyst for her new path. She shared how she could see God’s work in her over the past few years and wondered if I could help her articulate it.
“I think it is my calling to share my story…”
“It was just a normal day.” Emma began to tell me about the day that her boyfriend Evan passed away. It was the day after one of her best friend’s weddings. They met up, had breakfast together, and navigated the delicate dance of ‘are we hanging out with your friends or mine?’ They landed on a pool party at one of her friend’s homes. Later in the day, Emma ended up leaving with a friend to grab a change of clothes for their plans later that evening. She told Evan she would be right back. Evan ended up leaving the party as well…they passed each other on the road. She was with a group of friends but could feel his absence. She worried about his condition to drive.
Her world stood still when she received a call that Evan had been in a car accident and was in critical condition. In a blur, the whole group headed to the hospital. She agonizingly describes the waiting and then the dreaded message that he had passed from his injuries.
Emma’s cheerful, strong presence changes as she narrates the timeline. She becomes more tentative as the pain from that day invades her demeanor from head to toe. With tears falling from her striking eyes she whispers, “I’m sorry…it’s painful every time I run through it.”
I assure her to take her time. She sighs, we wait. The sun is still pouring into the cozy coffee shop which strikes me as a strange contrast to the darkness of Emma’s pain. The machines continue to buzz and people trickle in and out. It was all so very routine…so normal. Moments like these are something I continue to find difficult and perplexing about the concept of grief. The world continues. Days still pass. Your own existence can be crumbling from the inside out, but time marches on with no apologies.
After a moment of poignant pause, Emma continues in a heartbreaking tenor. “At the time, he was the love of my life…I thought we were going to get married. The loss was…is painful. You wonder how did I even get here? Because you didn’t break up, you didn’t make a choice. He was just gone and I was left picking up the pieces to what I thought my life was going to be.”
She cups her tea and her eyes once again fill with glistening tears as she recounts her journey through grief. Although clearly painful, she communicates about it in a way that someone would speak of a respected teacher. She vocalizes the arduous swing from guilt to acting like everything was fine (which she notes is a baseline of her personality). “I remember a point of weird resolve,” she says. “I came to this understanding that nothing I could do would bring him back. Even though it felt like a turning point in some ways, I was still so angry…so lost.”
AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
With her world on an unwelcomed rollercoaster, her own future had taken a significant backseat. At the time of the accident, Emma was enrolled in Grand Rapids Community College with the end goal of being an art teacher. She mentioned feeling lost within herself after Evan’s passing specifically when it came to her life and working through former expectations vs. her unexpected reality. Hesitantly, she transferred to Grand Valley still thinking she would pursue a career in Education. This would end up being a divine decision as it was here that she took her first metalsmithing class. Her face brightens as she recalls the course that would transform her world.
“It changed me,” she shares. “I was truly working through my grief. I poured my grief into the items I made as I learned.”
In this class, most of the items she worked on were conceptual. This heady task seemed particularly daunting given her current emotional state. But, to her surprise the process allowed her to communicate and summarize her pain in a way nothing else could. Projects assigned continually brought her back to losing Evan, but allowed space for inventiveness and vision beyond and even through her sorrow.
One of these projects was building a reliquary that had to hold something of sentimental value. She had a wilted rose that Evan had given her and decided that would be the object inside her crafted relic. She built the case to house the tired flower along with a cover that had a rose to adorn the top. A gold leaf lining on the inside was an intricate finishing touch.
In the face of her bobbing grief, the projects continued. A clay mold of Evan’s thumbprint from the hospital became the soul of another venture. More significance seeped in when the mold cracked while she was working with it. She found deep meaning in this event feeling akin to the fractured piece, “I was broken too.” The end result was a brooch that had the two halves clawed together. The back contained a Bible verse from Evan’s funeral.
The timely projects continued with Victorian mourning jewelry. This jewelry movement came from Queen Victoria who was distraught after losing her husband Prince Albert. To express her grief, she wore black for the rest of her life including all accessories being jet jewelry. The class was tasked with taking a historic piece and giving it a contemporary spin. Through this, Emma learned to cast using the lost wax casting method. “It was the first time I was experimenting with it. I had reached my hands in and when they opened there was a skeletal shape…I couldn’t believe what I saw but it looked like someone’s grasp.” Thinking of how she longed to hold Evan’s hand one more time, she set to work and used this technique to make items for her own family members. “I thought, if I ever pass away they could have this and it would be like they were holding my hand.”
The class and these emotional projects became a welcome distraction as Emma continued to sort through her new normal. She found herself happily immersed in a world of creativity; craving something to pour her energy into, she signed up to take every jewelry class the university had to offer. Her days were filled with learning new skills like rendering her designs on the computer. She dove in and allowed her new found passion to help heal her heart. She continued to find solace and leading in her studies and growing capabilities.
“It was healing me. From all of my classes I knew I wanted to make something that people would wear. I love that about jewelry…it’s worn on the body. There’s something really connective about that aspect of it that I find inspiring as a maker.”
Emma continued her education with a year abroad in Florence. It had been three years since Evan passed and she felt it was a good time to test her wings. In terms of her craft, she shared that it was time to take a step back and then out. “I wasn’t doing a lot of physical crafting at that time, it was more learning techniques which I needed. It was getting into the details and practices of making.” She filled her days getting lost in the cobblestone streets of Italy and exploring new metalsmithing techniques and gemology.
The time away provided needed perspective and allowed her to envision what her collection would be. She could reflect in a way that she hadn’t been able to at home, which resulted in a clear vision of what she needed to do upon her return. Her homecoming marked the inception of her piece de resistance: her senior show. During her time in Europe she had conceptualized three distinct lines: one focused on brass, a structural section, and one that was pure elegance. Using those as her guiding lights, she created a complete collection.
EMMA ELIZABETH JEWELRY
Her designs speak different volumes, but Emma only officially launched her business this year. She is an ambitious one woman show that works a few days a week for other local metalsmiths and then uses the remaining time to focus on her own growth. She utilizes traditional metalsmithing techniques and her work is both stunning and unique. Due to her techniques, nothing in her collection is mass produced. “Anyone that orders something from me will be getting a one of a kind item. A lot of energy and love is put into every piece.”
Quality is important to her from the materials she uses (mainly sterling silver) to the structure of each creation. She taps into this same commitment to quality and makes custom pieces or bespoke work for clients. “I love doing bespoke work because it allows me to be creative but also produce jewelry that is so meaningful for people. It’s such a meaningful creative challenge” she explained. “I recently made mother/daughter rings. The daughter had contacted me saying that her mom had been diagnosed with cancer and only a short time to live. She is still living to this day and her daughter wanted to have a ring that represented and celebrated that.” Emma is all smiles as she talks about some of the unique items she has gotten to design for customers like wedding bands, tie clips, and her sister’s engagement ring.
Emma’s line is sleek, refined, and imaginative. While there is a beautiful simplicity to a lot of her items, they all hold a modern elegance. “I love structure and dimension…I am drawn to angular things. I don’t like pieces that lay flat, so my designs allow for a lot of airiness and space. I also don’t like circles so many of my pieces emulate lines or angles somehow.”
This intentional approach creates a cohesive collection that both wows and allows for day to day wear. Like their maker, the pieces are a balance of vogue edginess and tranquil sophistication.
“My dearest Emma, said he, for dearest you will always be.”
-Jane Austen, Emma
After describing her line’s aesthetic, we seem to have a break in the action. Emma removes her leather jacket and we comment how strange it is to feel warm after our seemingly never-ending winter. We exchange stories about our upbringing and identify some mutual acquaintances. I connect with her kind, inquisitive nature that directs questions at you and then sincerely listens. She mentions that she values meaningful conversations with people which is so fitting of her attentive character.
We circle back to the topic of how losing Evan pushed her into jewelry making. She speaks boldly about how now she is able to see that this is where God wanted her to be. I disclose that I admire the way she has used her story to fuel the rest of her journey in such a positive way. “I am a very optimistic person. I choose to see the good in things…I have to.”
I pose the question, “Now that it’s been a few years...when you look back do you feel your perspective has changed or evolved?” It’s a daunting question but I wanted to get to the heart of her email when she wrote, “I am doing what I love for Evan because he couldn’t and because life is short. I want to take chances and follow my dreams.” She thinks for a moment and I could almost see her mind cataloging the challenging events that brought her to this place. “I have seen that everything happens for a reason. The point where I’m at now I can see the why. If all of those things hadn’t happened I don’t know if I would have even found metalsmithing or if I would be so passionate about it.”
It’s a powerful testimony that Emma’s loss fiercely grounds her work. Connecting with others that are going through a difficult time is vastly important to her as it was the catalyst for her own beginning in this industry. “I understand loss. I can’t take it away, but I can feel it with you, I can make something to remember. We all have stories…we all have that hard stuff. You can hide it or share it to serve others. That is one of the reasons I do this-to connect with people, share my story, and hope that my path to jewelry making can be an example of what happens when you open yourself up to being led in spite of your grief.”
She catches my unconscious nods of agreement and remarks that she loves the idea of refining gold. It makes sense being a concept so linked to her craft. She reflects how we all go through this same process, “God is refining us. He truly is a potter and places these events in our lives…he is chipping away, shaping us into who we are supposed to be. Everything I have been through just shows me that. To be honest, it’s so comforting to me. The end goal isn’t here…that’s what keeps me going.”
Emma seems so at peace as she reflects on this formational chapter in her life. Knowing the story behind her thoughts makes that peace even more evocative.
“What I do will always be that reminder. It connects me back to God, myself, my journey…I am really grateful for that.”
A special thank you to Emma for sharing her story. Her vulnerability is inspiring-you can see how her character and brand have been deeply formed through these events. Check out her work and connect with her on social media.
Also, she launches her new website today at 12 pm...with a sale y'all. For 24 hours after the initial launch, you can use the code LAUNCHDAY for $10 off any order. S-c-o-r-e.
*I partnered with Emma on this post but all thoughts and content are my own.