Glendive jeweler wins national design contest

Thursday, May 2, 2019
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Above: The award-winning redesign

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Right: Jewelry designer Katelynne Eslick is the owner of Sugar Plum Jewelry

Winning Design

To take something old and make something new out of it has been done many times before, though most of us probably wouldn’t think of that tactic applying in the world of fine jewelry, but for local jeweler Katelynne Eslick, doing just that is a routine part of business, and her most recent effort has won her award and acclaim in a highly competitive nationwide jewelry design contest.

Eslick, owner of Sugar Plum Jewelry, submitted a bridal ring design crafted out of two old rings to the “March Bridal Madness” bridal jewelry design contest run by Stuller, Inc., an international leader in jewelry supply and manufacturing based in Lafayette, La. It was the first time she had ever entered a jewelry design contest — and she won.

“My dad’s been trying to get me to enter a design contest for 10 years and I finally did it,” Eslick said. “I won $1,000 and basically bragging rights, because now I’m an award-winning designer!”

The primary stipulation of the contest she won was the submitted pieces had to be bridal jewelry, but it was open to both original designs and “redesigns.” Over 100 jewelers from all over the country submitted designs for the contest and her redesigned entry beat them all. Eslick said that besides being thrilled herself, the customer she made the redesigned ring for is also ecstatic to be displaying it on her hand.

“They were really, really excited,” Eslick said of her customer’s reaction to learning their ring had won a design award. “Now, when people ask her about it — and she gets asked about it and complimented on it all the time — she’ll say ‘Well, my jeweler is an awardwinning designer,’ so that’s pretty funny.”

Eslick started out with two old rings her customer had given her and asked her to “make something new out of it.” Taking the gemstones from the two old rings, she crafted a new three-piece ensemble, with the two “main diamonds” set in the center band and with smaller stones set across the tops of the two matching bands.

“So they gave me two rings and got three back,” Eslick said. “This one was a V-design piece, which I do a lot of, but it was using the customer’s own stones.”

Such requests are nothing new, and Eslick said she “gets them often,” and perhaps will more so now that one of her redesigns has won a major design award where it was pitted against original designs as well.

“To me a redesign should be just as pleasing as any other,” she said. “That’s always my goal, that it looks like a stand-alone.”

She added that designing something from scratch and crafting a redesign using the customer’s own old jewelry each have their own set of unique challenges.

“Redesign has a challenge in that you have a jumping off point, which is nice, but I’m somewhat restricted in that these are the stones I am working with,” Eslick said.

Getting to know the customer on a very personal level is also important — even critical — to the redesign process, she said. Unlike an original piece that will be crafted and then typically sit in a display case until it catches the right eye, a redesign really needs to capture and fit the personality, lifestyle and profession of its owner, she said.

“When I’m designing for a specific person, I try to get to know them,” Eslick said. “For redesign, it’s really important for me to get to know the person. Aside from it being pretty, it really needs to be functional for that person.”

As for where other inspiration comes from when designing jewelry, be it an original piece or a redesign, Eslick laughed and said she often gets asked that question, but she said the ideas just naturally come to her.

“I’ve been asked if I meditate before I design or anything like that, and I really don’t,” she said. “Like a lot of artists, I just see it all in my head. It just comes naturally to me.”

Given her family background, that statement has the ring of truth to it, as Eslick is a “third generation jeweler.” Her grandfather began his career as a watchmaker, opening his own jewelry store in Chinook in 1941 and later adding a second location in Havre. Her father later ran both stores before moving on to a career as a diamond broker.

However, though she comes from a family of jewelers, Eslick did not exactly “grow up in the business” and started her adult life with no real inclination to get into it. The family stores closed back in the 1990s when she was just in second grade, so she never worked in the family business. She never thought she would end up following in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps until she started making bead jewelry as a hobby about 10 years ago when she was living and working in Bozeman.

“I came around to it backwards,” Eslick said. “I went to school (at Montana State), changed my major like five different times and thought I was going to do something in the medical field, and then I started (making jewelry) as a hobby.”

Her new path began shortly after she showed up to her job in Bozeman wearing her hobby-made bead jewelry. Her coworkers noticed, and wanted some for themselves, and out of that, a career path that she had never thought she would follow began to open up to her.

“I made a pair of earrings and wore them to work and my coworkers saw them and liked them and wanted to buy them from me,” Eslick said. “I never really thought I was going to be in the jewelry business. It wasn’t anything I ever thought I wanted to do, and then it went from being a hobby to I didn’t have the time for anything else at work.”

So for the past eight years, Eslick has worked full-time as a jeweler, opening her own jewelry store here in Glendive five-and-a-half years ago. As it turned out, designing jewelry was always part of her DNA, and now she has a major jewelry design award to go along with her other successes. However, though she may be a third-generation jeweler — a profession she described as a “dying art” — she said her own family is always keen to remind her that she wasn’t “born into it,” and that her success as a jeweler is borne only of her own natural talent, ability and ambition.

“My dad has always said to make sure you let everyone know you did this on your own, you didn’t just walk into it,” Eslick said.

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