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Journal

Custom Jewelry Design - A Rewarding Aspect of My Work

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is working with customers on custom jewelry pieces. Frequently this involves resetting diamonds in 18K gold or platinum. After wearing a wedding ring for many years or inheriting a gemstone from an older relative, people often look to breathe new life into a deeply meaningful stone. Using my existing designs as a starting point, we discuss, sketch, and go back and forth – whether in person or through text and email -- to come up with a new piece of jewelry, perhaps a ring, necklace or bracelet. Sometimes this can be tricky because the customer may have several stones they want to include in the design, however, a ring – particularly one that’s going to be worn every day - has limited space. Too many stones leave little room for the design itself and I try to explain that less is more in this case.


Often, custom work involves a variation of one of my jewelry designs. In this case, the piece is personalized for a particular event like a birthday or an anniversary. This can be as simple as using a person's birthstone in one of my existing necklace designs. For some customers, it’s creating a necklace using the birthstones of children or grandchildren. For one customer, with three grandchildren, it was an 18K gold necklace with garnet, aquamarine, and sapphire. When a fourth grandchild was born, I added a pear-shaped diamond to complete the family.


Sometimes a custom jewelry job is open-ended. A customer might come to me because she or he wants to create a special present for someone and all the customer knows is that the design has to involve a certain gemstone. One customer, for example, wanted emeralds set in a specially designed pair of 18K gold earrings. In this case, we started from scratch, working to create earrings that were just right. It was a productive collaborative process that led us to a finished pair of earrings that pleased us both. There have been many times that this kind of custom work has challenged me to move in new artistic directions.

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A Cape Cod Jeweler's Gemstone Treasure Hunt

A Cape Cod Jeweler's Gemstone Treasure Hunt

Often the last week of January finds my wife and me leaving chilly Cape Cod and boarding a plane to Tucson, Arizona, site of the largest gathering of gemstone dealers from around the world. Thousands of jewelers and goldsmiths explore dozens of venues across the city. From convention centers to tiny motel rooms hundreds of dealers display natural material from $2 mineral specimens to individual gems worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although I prepare a shopping list of stones (like opals, pearls, and watermelon tourmalines) that I’ll need for my current designs, my primary goal lies elsewhere. At Tucson I can always find the traditional precious stones – rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds – but, for me, these shows are really an extended treasure hunt for the unique, the unexpected, and the surprisingly beautiful gems that will inspire new creative efforts. On my last visit I discovered some stunning tourmaline crystal clusters not intended for use in jewelry. It took me over a year to figure out how to use each one as the centerpiece of a striking 18K gold necklace – truly one-of-a-kind designs.

The covid pandemic prevented me from going to Tucson last year and will again this year. As a result, I have been digging through all the stones I’ve been accumulating over the past 50 years. I’ve unearthed some forgotten treasures and some literally hidden gems, many of which I’ve set into new one-of-a-kind rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. This year’s hunt will have to take place on the web, but I hope next year to return to Tucson.

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The Cape Cod Bracelet - A Historical Look

The Cape Cod Bracelet - A Historical Look

Early in my jewelry-making career I heard about a particular bracelet design called the Cape Cod Bracelet. This was a simple round bracelet band made either of silver or gold. It was linked at the ends with a threaded ball clasp that screwed into the two ends and kept the bracelet from falling off. The bracelet was also sometimes called the Cape Cod Screwball Bracelet. Customers from around the country would head to the Dennis shop of John Carey, the bracelet’s designer.

When I met John Carey I learned that he had created the bracelet as a custom design project. The buyer had wanted a bracelet for her young daughter but was concerned about the bracelet’s falling off, so John designed a piece of jewelry that, when open, could be easily put on and then secured shut with the ball link. The Cape Cod Bracelet has become an iconic Cape Cod object.

Over the years, John’s Cape Cod Bracelet design was copied by many and ultimately manufactured in East Asia. Other jewelers began selling these copies, at a lower price, in their shops. My shop was just a couple of miles away from John’s and people would often stop in looking for the Cape Cod Bracelet. I knew John, liked him and respected his work so it never occurred to me to make or sell the Cape Cod Bracelet in my shop. Instead, I printed out directions to John’s shop and handed them out to whoever came looking for him.

As with John, some of my designs have been copied numerous times. When I come across instances of this, I keep in mind that my work isn’t about any particular design. It’s about the deeply satisfying process of playing with metals and stones to create new work. So, even though I continue to show many of my classic designs, there is also a continuous flow of new bracelets, earrings, rings, and necklaces from my workbench to my showroom display cases. My shop here in East Dennis, on Cape Cod, is a busy, creative place.

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The Cape Cod Ocean Collection - How It Was Born

The Cape Cod Ocean Collection - How It Was Born

 I began making jewelry in 1970 and for 30 years my designs were inspired by antiquity and by the metals themselves. I was drawn to the motifs of ancient Egypt and Rome and loved the intense yellow color of the high karat gold used in the jewelry of those civilizations. Although most gold jewelry in the United States at that time was made with 14K gold, I quickly began using 18K and even 22K. (Pure gold is 24K.) Inspiration directly from nature wasn’t part of my design repertoire but, in 2002, my wife and I moved from our beautiful old home on Cape Cod’s Old Kings Highway to a house that sits at the edge of a tidal marsh and looks out to Cape Cod Bay. It was a life-changing move in every way.

In those first days of living in the new space, I had a hard time leaving to go off to work and looked forward to going home to watch the birds, the sunsets, and the constantly changing colors of the water moving in and out of one of Cape Cod’s spectacular marshes. It didn’t take long for the compelling beauty surrounding me to manifest in my designs.

One day, as I was playing with pieces of metal on my jeweler’s bench, an abstract curve rolled into a wave. I set the wave into a simple circle and it became a pendant. It was unlike anything I’d ever done because, in its own way, it was representational. That day in 2002 was the beginning of the Ocean jewelry series. That wave-like curve set in a circle soon morphed into pendants, rings, earrings and bracelets. At this point, in 2021, that simple design has been copied by many others. Some call it the Cape Cod Wave, some call it Wave jewelry. I call it the Ocean Collection because, after all, the ocean is universal. I still live on that tidal marsh and continue to be inspired by the tidal sands, starry nights, bird migrations, and natural patterns here on Cape Cod.

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Gemstones: How I Choose Them and How You Can Too

Gemstones: How I Choose Them and How You Can Too

Over 50 years ago, when I first began making jewelry on Cape Cod, I found I loved incorporating stones of all types into my work in silver and gold. I started by setting little brown tiger-eye cabochons in $5.00 handmade silver rings. Now, from my jewelry workshop and showroom in East Dennis, on Cape Cod, things have evolved significantly from that modest beginning. 


Most of my jewelry designs since then have included some sort of gemstone, whether precious or semi-precious. I particularly like to set vibrant colored gems in bracelets, necklaces, rings, and earrings made of high karat gold. While I do often use traditional precious stones such as ruby, emerald, sapphire and diamond (diamonds are a favorite in wedding rings), I frequently set semi-precious stones of varied and beautiful colors, such as tourmaline, citrine, and blue topaz. 

When working with stones, it’s about color, cut and shape. I’m always looking for gems of unusual color and cut created by gemstone artisans, or from suppliers who carry superb quality traditional and nontraditional gems. 


Regular customers often visit my gallery in East Dennis on Cape Cod looking for unique stones in unusual new settings. Many of these pieces sell long before we ever have a chance to photograph them professionally for our website.

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