My rose gold raw emerald custom designed ring by Jewelry Designer Melissa Tyson
You know when you meet someone for the first time and you just instinctively like them? I mean, genuinely LIKE them as in wanting them to be a part of your girl tribe, like STAT. That’s how it is when you meet local metalsmith and jewelry designer Melissa Tyson. With her warm, inviting smile, quick laugh, vivacious curly dark mane and one of her raw, sculptural rings on her well-manicured fingers, you’ll quickly find that Melissa is just as friendly and effervescent as she is talented.
Having a lifelong affinity for butterflies, I was originally drawn to Melissa’s early work shortly after I moved to Wilmington in 2005 – a single butterfly wing encapsalated in resin dangling from a silver chain in a jewelry case at Edge of Urge.
I next admired her work at jewelry designer Mitzy Jonkheer’s studio a few years ago, but did not recognize it was Melissa’s craftsmanship at first glance. Every raw stone rose gold ring or sculptural necklace I admired among a variety of featured artists, Mitzy would say, “That’s Melissa’s too.”
Melissa said in a recent feature on Etsy: “Craftsmanship is about excellence, but not perfection; by leaving small marks of the work-process of forming, forging and soldering, the handmade quality of crafting remains visible. A reminder that our human flaws and imperfections are engulfed with beauty, yet real.”
More recently, I took to perusing her latest arrivals at Ziabird, oohing and ahhing with the shop gals. But it was not until this past year that I finally met this incredible talent – in the flesh – at a pop-up event. We clicked immediately and she made plans to attend my next Sip + Shop at Style Girl Vintage. From there, plans began to take shape for a collaboration and my very own custom designed Melissa Tyson ring!
I wanted to not only introduce you to Melissa but to share with you this incredible hands-on custom design experience.
As a stylist, I so often have a definitive idea of what I like and what I want so I found it incredibly liberating to communicate an element of this to someone who could take this vision to a new level.
I interviewed Melissa while she was away with 30 (no, that is not a typo) of her closest family members at a beach house on Topsail Island. She tried making her escape but her littlest one kept close tabs, often interrupting to let her know he was ready for a change of scenery. She remained as cheerful and positive as ever amongst the chaos. Please listen in our conversation below:
ff: What brought you to Wilmington after getting your BFA in metal design from East Carolina University?
“I grew up in Durham. I came to Wilmington after college because a couple of girlfriends from college opened up a jewelry boutique in Wilmington called Bijoux (formerly at Plaza East). Stephanie Hogan, Mitzy Jonkheer, Martha Taft, Michelle Schitta, Will Olney and Paula and I decided to have a collaborative studio space. The studio was inside the store so customers could watch us work.”
ff: When did you set out as an entrepreneur, as your own boss, creating your art full-time? Was this a leap of faith for you? Can you share some insight for artists looking to make that leap?
“It was a HUGE leap of faith. When I graduated college, I had three jobs. I waited tables, made jewelry and was a teacher for a special needs child. I wasn’t making enough money to justify doing jewelry full-time. It took about three years to get to that place. I went full-time with my jewelry in 2001.
It’s always important to do what you’re passionate about, but don’t quit your day job until you’ve built your clientale and it becomes self-sustaining. If you don’t, you could grow to resent what you once loved. Keep doing your work because you love it, do the shows, stay in the community. When your sales show it’s working, then it’s time to make the leap.”
ff: Where can folks find your jewelry locally?
Cameron Art Museum, Ziabird, Edge of Urge
ff: Where do you source recycled metals and conflict-free stones?
“I try to recycle as much as I can myself in-house. I have been working with an incredible eco-friendly company for 20 years who specializes in recyled metals and conflict-free stones.”
ff: Who is your favorite jewelry designer?
“I’ve been the most inspired by Tom Reed, who has a similar aesthetic to what I love – organic and raw. I’ve enjoyed following his journey.”
ff: Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry growing up that influenced you in wanting to create your own (love the story on Etsy about you creating wire bracelets and selling them at the pool!)
“My grandparents lived all over the world and my grandfather bought this ruby gold domed ring from Indonesia for my mom. I pretty much confiscated it from my mom’s jewelry box and wore it from high school on. It was and still is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen. This piece was formative in my love for ancient Middle Eastern jewelry because you can really see the workmanship in these pieces. I’ve always strived for that in my design process.”
Look I styled from Melissa’s closet (to wear to a Style Girl Vintage Sip + Shop) featuring her grandmother’s vintage dress and a necklace Melissa designed. As a final touch, I added her grandmother’s clip-on daisy earrings to the lapels.
ff: I know you have only been selling your jewelry on Etsy for a few years, but how has your business evolved there?
“Up until I launched my Etsy shop three years ago, I was mostly running my own website, traveling and doing shows. I had my jewelry in about 20 stores all over the country. After having kids, I needed a way to work from home and not travel as often. Etsy is such a great platform. A lot of people encouraged me to do it. I spent a lot of time perfecting my titles, tags and content. I really want to communicate the “feeling” of each ring to go along with the photography. I add one or two items a week. And now, 60-70% of my business comes from Etsy.”
ff: How has Etsy’s coverage on your shop directly affected your business?
“I’ve been featured on Etsy numerous times, which really helps in building credibility and an element of trust for potential Etsy customers. I’ve probably been in their newsletter 10 times. This started about two years when their PR team, that searches Etsy for stores to spotlight, found my shop and contacted me. The last featured interview they did was on their main page for three days. I had an immediate boost in views from 600 daily views to 1,000 and sales followed.”
ff: Do you have a favorite jewelry item to make, or a favorite material to work with? (from Etsy)
“Yes! My split-band engagement rings are the most exciting for me. Ninety percent of what I create now is rings And it’s funny, when I first started selling online, I thought I needed to make some more basic pieces to appeal to a broader range of people, but the designs that I’m the most passionate about are the ones that people buy the most of. That has been so incredibly encouraging, and a good reminder to be true to the voice that’s in my heart and to my own design style.”
ff: You’ve said repetition in nature inspires you — particularly the patterns in butterfly wings. What else in nature or your surroundings inspires you?
“I’ve always been a collector of things from nature – rocks, sticks – but have had a particularly close connection to butterflies. My mema did too. When I was growing up and found an injured butterfly on the side of the road, I set up a sort of ‘butterfly hospice’ where I’d treat them by giving them flowers to eat. Years later, I worked with the butterfly museum in Durham. They gave me broken wings for my early designs. Now I don’t actually use butterfly wings, but with a lot of the rings I create patterns inspired by their wings, fluidity and abstract nature. I also am drawn to the pattern details in flower petals or the veins in a leaf. The color of the sea – aqua, blues and greens – often influences my choice in gemstones.”
ff: What soundtrack do you work to?
“Honestly, I really like the quiet since I’m usually so inundated with the kids. Jewelry takes me to a meditative zone when I’m creating. I just started to listening to music again – Jonathan & Melissa Helser, Kim Walker. Jack Johnson and Jason Moraz when I need something more upbeat.”
ff: How have you connected with customers through your jewelry?
“It’s so special being part of a surprise engagement and hearing the love stories that inspire the jewelry. I particularly enjoy recycling heirlooms into engagement or wedding bands. The layer of sentimental value is even deeper than the rings themselves.”
ff: Please share in detail the process of the custom design you made with me.
“It was so much fun! It’s become more rare that I have studio visits in person for custom work since so much of my business is done virtually now. First, you sent me photos of your favorite designs of mine and then images of some of your favorite pieces of jewelry. We then talked about metal, texture and stone color. Rose gold – check. Since you are a May baby, you decided you wanted a raw emerald. You also said you gravitate to pyramid / triangle shapes. At that first meeting, I did an original sketch. At our next meeting, I had 8-10 raw emeralds for you to choose from. Then, you came back mid-process so we could finalize the form before the ring was soldered. You said you kept seeing a ‘ram’s head’ so we moved things a few millimeters to get it just right.”
ff: Have you had requests for similar rings since you shared the custom design we created together?
“I had a HUGE reaction to that ring. So many people absolutely loved it. I’ve had lots of requests for raw emerald designs since then.”
ff: Tell us about your coverage in British VOGUE. How did it come about? What was it like when you heard from them?
“Complete and utter shock. Being in VOGUE has been on my dream list for as long as I can remember. It started with an email saying they wanted to feature one of my rings. I talked to my sister shortly after I received the email and she said, ‘ You better call and make sure it was not a scam!’ So, I did! The most amazing British accent answered – ‘This is Sophie at VOGUE Magazine in London.’
Turns out they found me on Etsy. Etsy has truly been such a shining star for my business. It was the most amazing moment of my career, by far.”
ff: If you could create a capsule collection for any brand/designer/store, who would it be?
“Tough call between The Sundance catalog and Anthropologie.”
ff: I read about your work with Made by Survivors, helping to create and grow a job-training jewelry design program for survivors of human trafficking. Tell us a little about how Melissa Tyson Designs interacts with the Wilmington creative community.
“I used to do every show that came through Wilmington. I’ve been a vendor at Art for the Masses since it began. Being a part of the arts community is super important to my heart. Since I’ve had kids, I had to pull back a lot, but they are getting to the age where they are not quite as dependent. I miss collaborating and the creative energy that brings. You can find me at the Wilmington Weddding & Events show at Wrightsville Manor July 26th and at Courtyards & Cobblestones in January 2017.”
You will also want to follow @melissatysondesigns on Instagram since she hosts giveaway contests fairly often! She is also currently running a 40% off sale till July 5th with the code: love40. Hope to see a Melissa Tyson on your finger soon! xo
The United Way of the Cape Fear Area
celebrated their 75th anniversary set in the 1940’s at Audi Cape Fear.
Dan & Rosemary Burke of The British Taxi
Patricia Kusek of Kusek Financial Group
Dressed head-to-toe in authentic vintage 1940’s
Pin-up model Brittany Jean
“Hooray for Handbags”
@ Style Girl Vintage
Jess James will curate looks styled around vintage
handbags/clutches/totes for sale at Style Girl Vintage.
Handbags will be 10% off.
If you purchase the entire look,
you will receive 25% off your purchase.
Thursday July 21st
21 Market Street (2nd floor)
ART IMITATING LIFE
The crazy talented Kristen Martinez created this gorgeous illustration inspired
by the Gucci inspired image we created for #that70sfashionshow
Prints for sale now at Style Girl Vintage!
Illustration / Graphic Art: Kristen Martinez
Inspired by Gucci S/S 2016
Photo: Bella Rose Photography
Styling: Jess James
Wardrobe: Style Girl Vintage
VIDEO PREMIERE: Solving the Mystery –
Who is Jess James & What does she do?
FOR HIRE: ON-CALL STYLING
1 hour, 20 outfits (styled from your closet) for $100
Make an appointment:
FOR HIRE: CRAFT COCKTAILS BAR MAN
Want to have Playboy’s Top 10 Mixologist
slinging drinks at your house party or creating
a signature cocktail at your wedding or special event?
Book Mixologist Joel Finsel of Astral Cocktails now!
* Mention seeing this in the FASHION FIX,
and receive 10% off!
Photo: Leslie Koehn