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Wearable Art

Meet three East Bay jewelers who turn glass, metal, and stone into the ultimate accessories.


One is influenced by her heritage. Another gives new life to dead beetles. A third lets her subconscious infuse the design. Meet three talented East Bay jewelers who turn glass, metal, and stone into stunning, one-of-a-kind masterpieces.


Photography by Erika Pino

Connie Papayani: Greece Meets West

Ancient greek metalworking techniques bring the past to life.

Connie Papayani loves to try new things—from chain mail bracelets and earrings to exacting gold techniques—while also honoring her family’s heritage. The Walnut Creek resident uses precious stones and metals in her understated pieces, which echo the symmetry of classic Greek style.

Q: Describe how your personal style influences your designs.

A: I’m my target audience; I make the jewelry for me. I’m just willing to share it with others. My style is soft, casual, and comfortable, while my jewelry style is an ancient type of classic. People may wear the jewelry differently than I would, though. Someone might like to stack two necklaces, but that would overpower me.

Q: How did you get your start?

A: One day, I wanted some orange earrings, so I went ahead and made them. After that piece was done, I remembered a ring my grandmother had worn. It was beautiful and looked like an ID bracelet engraved with Greek letters. I always thought of it, so I made a replica of it. My Greek roots definitely influence my designs.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have added a new skill recently, which is 22-karat gold granulation. It has many, many steps. You have to alloy and roll out your metal with an exact portion. Then, you make little tiny balls that have to be exactly the same size. I use wire and then torch it. Next, they are fused into place—and sometimes, you don’t quite get them all fused on the first try.

Q: Where do you get your materials?

A: The gold is pure, so I go to a refiner for that. And when I need something right away, I’ll go to Lafayette’s Beadazzled. When you buy something, [the owner] will stand there right at the counter and quickly go over how to make something. She just teaches you the basics in a snap. That’s how I began to learn wire wrapping. Papayani-jewelry.com; available at Sophie’s Collection, 1466 Cypress St., Walnut Creek, (925) 280-8348, sophiescollection.com.
—Caitlin McCulloch


Monica Schmid: Mining the Mind

Intuition reigns in this artist’s studio.

Monica Schmid starts the design process by closing her eyes and drawing shapes on paper, allowing her subconscious to inform her next piece. Looking at her work, this unusual process may come as no surprise. The Swiss-born metalsmith mixes enamel, stones, shapes, colors, and textures to create abstract yet elegant jewelry in her Castro Valley studio.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I have a big box with odd shapes of metal with different textures. That’s where I start. Like an artist or composer, I start to put pieces together and see how it works.

Q: What’s in your workspace?

A: One side is strictly for working at the bench—for soldering, making small work, and really concentrating on design. My other space is for larger pieces, for raising and hammering. I have all the CDs I like to listen to while I work: Herbie Mann, Silk Road and Yo-Yo Ma, and quite a bit of classical music. And I am probably one of the only women with 36 hammers.

Q: Who buys your jewelry?

A: I have the traditional people who still want something exclusive—somebody who’s not satisfied by going to Zales and picking out a ring. And then I have a couple of collectors that love to buy my large pieces, my more adventurous pieces. Those are the ones that are really fun to work with.

Q: How do you push through creative blocks?

A: I go for a walk, or start cleaning my studio or hammers. I try to stay in the studio because all of a sudden, something I touch or look at will start the creative juices. But often, that doesn’t happen, and I may start to paint the studio in that case [laughs]. Monicaschmid.prosite.com; available at Lireille, 3980 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 547-3455, lireille.com
—Stacey Kennelly




Katie Evans: Beetle Mania

Beauty can be found everywhere—even in insects.

Walk into Katie Evans’ home studio in Oakland, and you’ll see jars upon jars of shiny beetles, tiny skulls, snakeskin, and butterfly wings. And then there’s her art: A giant honeycomb decorates one wall while another wall displays anatomical heart sculptures affixed by needles. Evans, owner of HartVariations, encases natural elements in glass and metal to create vibrant, surprisingly beautiful works of art.

Q: How did you get into designing?

A: I’ve always been interested in the natural world, as well as in structure and arranging ... I have a very technical side of myself. So I started making jewelry with this Tiffany method of stained glass.

Q: Where do you get your materials?

A: My mom has a guy [laughs]. She gave me a whole margarine Tupperware filled with bones, mostly skulls, about seven years ago. People actually make a living off of this type of thing. I also buy some of my stuff from The Bone Room in Berkeley.

Q: Describe your typical customer.

A: It’s kind of like there are four sisters in a family, and they’re all a little bit different style-wise. They come from a similar background but are learning about different worlds in their own lives. Someone might want to wear a huge beetle; others want a pretty butterfly-winged piece.

Q: What are your most popular pieces?

A: My colorful chevron-style necklaces are really popular right now. Blues and greens are definitely in. I heard a long time ago that Native American languages do not have a word for the color blue: It’s sky. Blue isn’t found all that much in nature, so that’s why I believe everybody loves blue: There’s still this ancient part of ourselves that realizes it’s a special color. Hart-variations.com; available at The Rare Bird, 3883 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 653-2473, therarebird.com.
—Caitlin McCulloch

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