Seattle. March 17, 2021. Jewelry designer Sophie Gardner has been making fine jewelry for 20 years, but it’s just in the past year—during the coronavirus pandemic—that she has discovered a niche which is now her passion: gem carving.
The founder of the same-name design firm secured an Applied Art degree from San Diego State University in earlier years, nurturing an interest in figurative sculpture and 3D art. Work with ceramics and her mother’s medium, art glass, cemented her decision to not work with larger objects, and a course in jewelry in her last years of education reinforced her affinity for smaller scales. After university, she went to the Gemological Institute of America and earned her graduate gemology degree. She furthered her education even more with classes at the Revere Academy when it was still operating.
With all this education under her belt, she started doing custom jobs, worked briefly for designer Mark Schneider, and did appraisals. Around 2007, Gardner debuted her own line, featuring signature details of Moorish architectural and Indian influences like beading. A year later, she had landed about 10 accounts. Then the Great Recession struck, devastating the retail landscape. She decided to reduce her production, a decision that paved the way for years of custom projects while aiding her mom in her glass fabrication business.
During all this time, she admired carved gems but had never actually carved one. That changed at the start of lockdown, when she wandered onto YouTube for tutorials and started reading books on the subject. Trial and error became her best friend as she practiced carving for up to 14 hours a day. She became a bit obsessed, but in a good way. “Had it not been for the pandemic, I would not have taught myself to carve,” she explains.
Because of her natural inclination toward sculpture and 3D art—remember her undergraduate degree?—carving stones felt right. “I have fallen into something that I have a natural ability for,” she says.
And like the DNA of her jewelry, her carving aesthetic also touches on historical references and organic shapes. The beading from her jewelry lives on as accents on carved Figa figures, acorns, carved gem hoop earrings, and shell and heart motifs, among others. “I like creating pieces that people can’t quite tell if it’s ancient or modern, and adding little gold balls or diamonds to elevate objects into something special,” she explains.
Fave stones to carve are plentiful. Gems include moonstones, chalcedony, agates, and chrysoprase, using shinier rocks like diamonds as accents. Sometimes Gardner is also a bit of an enigma. “I love strong colors but also rock crystal so I can focus solely on form and not get distracted by the color,” she says. Gardner’s carvings are sweet, small, and ideal for daily wear as much-loved talismans; the motifs are familiar, making them easy to appreciate.
“I think of my carvings as between high art and wearable jewelry you can connect to,” she explains. “People want a more personal attachment to their consumerism, not just spending money for the sake of spending; they want meaning. I’ve been doing all these custom pieces in the past year—so many stories of loss, love, and family. It’s been the most amazing thing to make all these little personal things that become heirlooms, no matter the price point. That’s why I do what I’m doing, to connect with people while we’re all so disconnected.”
Gardner’s work is in five stores, including Essenza in Seattle and Gin and the Banker in Bellevue, Wash., though most of her sales happen direct to consumer on Instagram. Retail prices in 14k and 18k gold for her carved jewels start at $585. New pieces are routinely shown on Instagram at @sophiegardnerjewelry, where shoppers direct message her for purchases.
Carved heart jewels start at $585 for the charm only (no chain). Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.
Carved carnelian acorn with 14k gold (charm only, no chain), $1,685. Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.
Cowrie shell with carved green Botswana agate and 14k gold, $2,285, and a carved milky chalcedony with 14k gold, $3,865. Charms only (no chain). The other shells are sold. Shop @sophiegardnerjewelry on Instagram.
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