Sydney’s passion for making jewelry started as she says, “While working on the Navajo Reservation during college, I was captured by the wide open western landscapes and their feeling of expansive freedom. It was there that I met Navajo silversmiths who inspired me to learn to make my own jewelry. I realized that making jewelry was something that people actually did.” As a child she, like so many other designers, loved to look at her grandmothers treasures and there her journey began.
Her work is created in bi-metal - an alloy of 22k gold and sterling silver, that allows her to contrast yellow gold with blackened oxidized silver and then include colorful gemstones to create dramatic designs.
One of Sydney's iconic necklace designs.
Marlene: What is the strongest influence on your work?
Sydney: I love to go on walks and find endless inspiration in the natural shapes around me. I have collected shells and rocks of all shapes and colors which I place around my house.
Marlene: When did you start your business?
Sydney: I have been making jewelry for 45 years and running my business for 35 of those years. My strongest venue has been the American Craft shows which is where I began in 1983 and my last show was at the Baltimore ACC spring show in 2018. It is now time to set aside the business and focus on what comes next.
Marlene: Why do you think you have been so successful?
Sydney: I realized that although we all want to make a living as an “artist” you need to also be skilled and pragmatic in business, to make a living at it. This philosophy I incorporated into my jewelry business by having both a production line and one-of-a-kind pieces. Many designers do this and it is a smart way which allows me to be creative as well as sell pieces which stretch my creativity and also broaden my sales by offering more affordable designs.
Also my blog/newsletter for ten years has been a wise marketing decision. It keeps me in touch with my customer base.
I have had to accept that running a jewelry business is not just about exclusively sitting around and designing jewelry but so many other responsibilities that take away time from the creative side. All these things are a part of running a successful art-based business.
Sterling silver and gold cuff with gemstones.
Marlene: How have you learned about running a business?
Sydney: Talking to fellow jewelers about technical or business questions has been a huge source of information, insights and advice. I’ve never been afraid to ask questions from my peers. It is an invaluable resource.
Marlene: What have you learned from running a business?
Sydney: I have made it a point to always be willing to learn from all situations and challenges. Things are always changing, especially with technology. Also designers are becoming more sophisticated and the competition is stronger. You need to constantly be readjusting your designs and business to be competitive.
Marlene: What have you missed the most now that you have closed your doors?
Sydney: I am keeping my studio open so I can work when the mood hits me, for my own enjoyment. This way I can make some pieces for myself. But when I first closed my doors I missed my studio assistants and their friendship. The studio feels more empty and lonely. I have always enjoyed their companionship.
Marlene: What are your plans going forward?
Sydney: I want to travel. Being in new places, seeing new things, meeting new people is a joy to me. Craig, my husband, and I love to take road trips around the United States. The landscapes are so vastly different and amazing in their own way.
I plan to stay healthy and read more. And of course continue to make jewelry, like I said when the mood hits and improve my photographic skills.
Sterling silver and gold earrings.
Marlene: I can’t end without asking you what advice you have for people starting out in the jewelry world?
Sydney: Here is a list of suggestions I have for newcomers:
1. Take some basic bookkeeping and/or business classes. Read everything you can about running a business.
2. It takes time to run a successful business. Be willing to put in the time.
3. If you have an opportunity to apprentice with an established firm, take advantage of it. You will learn a lot about making jewelry as well as running a business.
4. Learn to adapt to the current market both design-wise and business-wise.
5. Participate in as many different selling venues as you can to find out where you fit in best. This takes time and money, as well as having to compete with a lot of other jewelry designers.
6. And you will realize that no other jeweler will have exactly the same business plan, circumstances, resources and goals as you. So discover what works best for you. Enjoy the journey!
Aquamarine and Tahitian pearl necklace.