By Matt White | Photography BY Beth Mann
Jenny Garrett McLaurin has been creating custom gold jewelry in Chatham for more than 20 years, but she’s been honing her craft for much longer than that.
“My grandmother and great aunt would give me their junky costume jewelry,” Jenny says. “I would take it apart and rearrange it.”
After graduating from Northwood High School and UNC, she worked a series of apprenticeships and signed up for a metalworking class at the Penland School of Craft, a well-regarded art school in western North Carolina. There, she made fast friends with another woman in class who taught her the basics of metalworking.
“It just became overwhelmingly clear that this was what I wanted to do,” Jenny says. In 1997, she bought metalworking tools – “I still use some of them today,” she says – and an old, thick textbook called “Bead Setting Diamonds with Pavé Applications.”
“Let me tell you, that was not a very sexy book, but it taught me how to set beads,” she remembers. “It was in black and white, and the pictures were no good. But I learned it.”
She drew her own designs and then practiced translating them to metal by molding and soldering with sterling silver and tiny garnets. “You’ve gotta break some stones to learn how to do it,” Jenny says. “There’s absolutely no replacement for practice.”
She adds “I knew I wanted to do it while I was young before I had kids and while my eyes were still good. And I’m so glad I did, because it takes 10 years to figure out what you’re doing.”
In 2009, Jenny and her husband, Christopher Crean, adopted two brothers from Ukraine, Hughson, 14, and Crozes, 13. But little has changed in her work over the years – she starts each piece of jewelry with sheets and wires of gold and platinum from which she cuts, molds and solders every element. Often, customers approach her with aging jewelry they want refashioned.
“I love old diamonds, old mine-cut diamonds,” Jenny says. “I know I’m getting to work with
a little part of something that is important to someone.”
Melissa Messer grew up with Jenny in Pittsboro and remembers her early focus on arts, particularly in drawing.
“She seemed out of place in Pittsboro, like she was too worldly,” Melissa says. “She brings the world to Chatham.” As Melissa approached 50 last year, she asked Jenny to combine the stones of two rings into one. “We spent four hours in her shop just talking,” Melissa says. “The whole time she was sketching, and when I looked down, she had designed my ring. I said, ‘That’s it.’”
Jenny fashioned a ring that set the older diamonds around three gold leaves honoring her son Gabriel, 16, and two nephews, Tayten, 12, and Cullen, 8. Melissa now wears it every day.
Whether remaking an old friend’s ring or reading a textbook, there’s still no substitute for practice, Jenny says. “I have a good friend who brought in a ring to be polished up that I made five or six years ago,” Jenny says. “I said, ‘I made this? I’m better now.’”
Read the original article from the April/May 2019 Issue:
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