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The sands of time (and stories)

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Sand casting creates a textured design in statement jewelry inspired by waves and swirling water. Photo: Jeanette Walker

Sand casting creates a textured design in statement jewelry inspired by waves and swirling water. Photo: Jeanette Walker

Bespoke jewelry by P.E.I. artist Jeanette Walker

In the 1980s, Jeanette Walker made white go-go dresses with fluorescent colours for her friends to wear when clubbing in Toronto. When the blue lights shined, the colours of the dresses would show up. 

Realizing something was missing, Walker used the same fluorescent paint to create unique polymer piranha earrings for her friends to wear as part of the outfit. While
she bartended at one of the clubs, people noticed her earrings and asked her to start selling them.

To hone her skills, Walker enrolled in the jewelry program at  Toronto’s George Brown College for three years. She was destined to create jewelry: her uncle was a jeweler in Ottawa, while her grandfather made copper plates from sheets.

“I’m a very creative person,” she says. “Even when I was young, I was always like, sewing my clothes, making my pottery, and I just love to make things. I don’t need a lot of tools. I use very primitive tools.”

Walker began her jewelry business by selling pieces with creature themes including pigs, snakes, cows and fish in many different places in Toronto. After 20 years in the city, she moved to P.E.I. and turned her barnyard shack into a studio. As her business grew, she outgrew her space, requiring her to move into bigger ones. 

While she no longer has a walk-in storefront, Walker has transformed her business into an online shop, working from home recycling people’s old jewelry. What is unique about her jewelry is she uses the traditional and labour-intensive art form of sand casting. While it’s slow and challenging at times, she loves using it for clients from widowers to brides.

“I’ll take their wedding sets; usually, their husband’s wedding band is included in that, and I’ll melt it all down,” she says. “I’ll use the gold and make them something new for their right hand, and if they want to use the diamonds. For my bridal, I do the same thing. It’s an heirloom redesign. If a young couple is getting married, they put the word out to their family. And usually, like an aunt will have an earring and they’ve lost the other earring. They’ll donate that to the project, and more grandparents will donate heirloom gold and diamonds. So it’s revamping all of the family jewels to create their wedding bands and engagement ring.”

One unique concept of Walker’s business is the opportunity for customers to send sand from their favourite ocean beach to create a “uniquely yours” texture. It matches her jewelry’s seaside character.

“It’s inspired by the ocean, the beach, so there’s a lot of waves, swirling water, references and motifs,” she says. “Then, the same casting. When I cast the gold, the entire piece is covered with a sand texture, so I remove a lot of the texture to refine it but then leave that texture in the recessed areas. It’s a beautiful contrast between the sand and the sea.”

Part of her success has come from her trial-by-error approach, experimenting with sand casting and beachcombing.

“Some of those failures turned into really interesting-looking pieces,” she says. “That’s how I went from very sad, simple forms to the more elaborate sand castings. It’s been years of experimentation; I always have a dog in my life, and we’ll go to the beach. And as we’re walking along the beach, I’ll pick up interesting shells or pebbles or all kinds of different finds. I’ll press the shell into the sand, make an impression, remove the shell. and then I pour the molten metal in, and it fills the reservoir.”

“There’s a lot of happy moments and there’s always tears when I hand over the piece of jewelry. I design jewelry that’s going to last forever.”

East Coast Living