Written By: Heather Lee Gordy | Photographed By: Mark Steelman Photography
Like many people, I am fascinated by exotic gems, crystals, and jewelry. But sadly, I find myself uninspired by most of what I see in typical jewelry stores, which is why I was so excited when I first walked into Spectrum Fine Jewelry.
Each piece is of top-quality, made with an artistic vision that gives each piece an individual and complex character. They are shaped with consideration that accentuates the natural features of the gemstone. The rings are hand sculpted to make them mold to the hand and provide comfort when wearing. I was stunned by all the different works of fine, artistic jewelry, and I knew I had walked into a shop that cared about the process of designing a piece of art, and not just another piece of jewelry.
One piece that stood out among the rest was a necklace created by their lead designer, Susan Drake, and master goldsmith, Mike Schmalzriedt. The focus is on a blade of quartz with naturally growing orange spessartite garnet crystals. A mythical bird-like design made from sterling silver, folds over the top of the quartz grasping gently around the blade. Green tsavorite garnets and a single round spessartite hug closely to one side.
“I love that all of the gems are garnets with unique and contrasting colors, cuts, and settings. Garnet is a gem that cannot be enhanced, so what you get is all natural beauty,” said Susan. “I see the resulting amulet design as a melding of antiquity with the future.”
Maybe that’s why I felt this piece draw me close. There was a sense of the ancient past embodied with culture and Earth’s unknown secrets when in its presence. The spessartite crystals added a warming embrace, and I understood why it was known as the Garnet of the Sun. Energy radiated from the spessartite crystals against the quartz blade, and you could feel a healing power resonating from this one collective piece.
This was the first major design project that Susan and Mike worked on together. Created for a competition entry into one of the many contests Spectrum Fine Jewelry enters every year, it was a test of trust for the owner of Spectrum Fine Jewelry, Star Sosa, and for Susan and Mike.
“One big adjustment for Mike was to be able to flow with a process that was not completely and clearly defined each step of the way,” said Star. “Certain elements could change from day to day as Susan explored ways to achieve the final outcome… Mike came to see that Susan had a vision that could evolve due to many factors: the limits of the materials, the scope of needed skills or tools, the blending of technique to stretch the limits of both design and the materials, [and the] strive to be unique and exceptional and new.”
Susan’s designs are so distinct in part by the way she conceptualizes and grows her ideas. She uses a method of designing jewelry that isn’t used by most designers anymore. Rather than using computer technology to design and visualize an idea on the screen, Susan’s work is sculptural and most often designed by carving a wax model around a featured gem. This allows Susan to form a design hands on and gather a more realistic feel for the final piece.
“So much of my work is sculptural,” said Susan, “…I like to explore the initial design concept by starting to carve a wax model around the featured gems. Sometimes multiple prototypes result, since new appealing design directions emerge as I’m on the way to where I thought I was heading. I find that being open to exploring, creates new pathways for future or immediate reference.”
For the quartz and spessartite pendant, Susan started developing the design in sketches and created two prototypes in modeling wax working towards finding balance between the bird design and crystallized piece. After the model was cast in sterling silver, Mike’s expertise was key to developing the final product.
“Mike was essential for the pendant to come together as a wearable creation,” Susan said. “Mike’s experience and skills with metalsmithing and gem setting techniques, directed fabrication/construction of the individual elements, down to details like the hand fabricated 18K gold screws used to attach the back plate after hand piercing the swirling ‘Maori Tattoo’ design, throughout.”
Susan and Mike’s collaboration developed what the piece is today, titled “Flash.” Their teamwork has resulted in many custom designs that have thrilled their clients. They specialize in re-imagining their clients old jewelry and restyling it into creative new designs. Susan works with her clients using their existing gems and diamonds, or uses her network to find exceptional new materials to work with.
This year marks the 20th year of success and growth for Spectrum Fine Jewelry, since Star opened the shop in 1997. The addition of Susan and Mike rounded out the Spectrum design team. With multiple national design awards, it is clear that Spectrum is an exceptional jewelry store.
Star’s success lies in her strong ability to evolve, find rare talent, and take ahold of great opportunities when they present themselves. She encourages her team of artists to explore and innovate. This is one reason Spectrum Fine Jewelry continues to offer a fresh palette of fine jewelry designs to the Cape Fear region.
When asked what her plans were for Spectrum’s future she replied, “I want to continue to develop Spectrum Fine Jewelry as a premier designer jewelry studio in the Southeast. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary this year, I will always be looking for new ways to make Spectrum even more exceptional in the coming years.”
Spectrum Fine Jewelry is located in The Forum off of Military Cutoff. Store hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. To view custom designers and collections, visit www.spectrumartandjewelry.com, or to speak to a staff member call 910-256-2323.