Chelsea Swank’s jewelry is the stuff you could easily imagine Edgar Allan Poe writing about: “Gothic Bohemian with celestial tendencies — perfect for those who like celebrating Halloween year-round,” she says, describing her unique design aesthetic.
Chelsea’s fine jewelry takes the viewer to the high, hallowed halls of twelfth-century French cathedrals. For people who appreciate Gothic architecture, Art Deco-inspired jewelry, nontraditional bridal jewelry, and alternative and punk styles, Swank Metalsmithing is an elegant field of jewelry dreams, populated by pendants, earrings, and rings.
Chelsea incorporates tourmaline, sapphire, black opals, labradorite, London blue topaz, and many other types of gemstones into her designs, but she has a particular fondness for dark and black stones — especially beautiful black diamonds, which suit her Gothic aesthetic perfectly.
How does she create these intricate yet bold, visually commanding pieces? Through computer-aided design (CAD) software, of course. She’s actually a master CAD designer.
But that was never in her original career plan.
THE DAWN OF SWANK METALSMITHING
Today, Chelsea is based out of Portland, Oregon, and runs a highly successful Etsy shop, Swank Metalsmithing. But her roots stretch back to 2011, when she started hanging around her father’s jewelry shop.
“I learned about Stuller from my dad, Gary Swank, who has used them since the very beginning. He’s owned a jewelry store my entire life. So, in some ways, it was natural for me to join the family business. However, that was not my original plan,” Chelsea, a second-generation jeweler, says. “I went off to college and majored in criminal justice, hoping to become a police officer after graduation.”
But as how-I-became-a-jeweler origin stories typically go, Chelsea didn’t follow her original idea. For her birthday one year, she decided she would design a piece of jewelry for herself: a CAD-designed beautiful pair of opal earrings with sun rays. “That project turned my interest to designing and making jewelry. It progressed from there, and we opened an Etsy shop: Swank Metalsmithing.”
CHELSEA’S DESIGN PROCESS
“All of our jewelry starts as an idea or sketch but really comes to life in CAD. You can have a starting idea, sit down to do the CAD, and by the time you’re done, the idea has totally transformed,” she says.
Chelsea draws design inspiration from a variety of sources: nature, pop culture, and various colors, shapes, and patterns. Once she has a foundation to work from, the idea has to grow.
“I spend quite a bit of time contemplating a design before I take on the CAD drawing,” Chelsea explains. “Ideas marinate, and I’ll start thinking about a design idea in growing detail until I am compelled to do the CAD so I can finally stop thinking about it.”
Her ideas take anywhere from days to weeks to fully materialize, but the physical design time can be as little as one hour to quite a few — a testament that emphasizes how much creative energy goes into each dreaming up each Swank design.
Once the render is complete, manufacturing begins. “The milling and casting process takes two days. Finishing and setting can take another day or two, assuming we are just working on that piece — which is almost never the case,” says Chelsea.
WHY USE CAD SOFTWARE?
Naturally, we’re huge proponents of the power and unlimited design opportunities possible with CAD software. So is Chelsea.
“CAD is an amazing tool that allows you to rework and perfect a design without using up materials and resources, so there’s no waste — and it’s very efficient. You can get amazingly small, perfectly symmetrical and crisp detail. CAD changes how you think,” she says.
Laughing, she adds, “You look at ordinary items and think how you would break them down into base elements for CAD. Before I design, I think through the steps and commands, so I find CAD forces you to be methodical, focused, and creative in bringing your ideas into 3D.”
Learn more about CAD software on Stuller.com
SOCIAL MEDIA TARGETING
TO REACH HER TARGET AUDIENCE, CHELSEA USES INSTAGRAM, WHICH:
• Enables people to get a sense of her as an artist and connect to her work. “I post what I’m working on currently, so it pretty much unfolds in real time. This helps our followers connect with our work and understand my process as a craftswoman and artist.”
• Showcases her jewelry in ways not available in an online store. “I like to post behind-the-scenes material because it shows how our jewelry is made — step by step, item by item.”
• Lets clients show off their jewelry purchases and feel community with others. “This also serves as a sort of a credibility review system. You can gain credibility because people considering a purchase can see all your happy clients.”
• Provides an avenue for immediate follower feedback. “I love the feedback I get on design ideas and gemstone combinations. The way I connect with clients is unique to the internet age, and I’ve formed amazing friendships with clients — clients who have never been to the shop in real life but can virtually visit whenever they want.”
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