Arts and Entertainment

Jewelry designer Connie Castellano helps the summer Studio Tour sparkle

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To convey the true weight of her work, Connie Castellano has clients hold out a hand.

Then she drops in a bauble.

“People hold out their hand, and they go ‘whoa,’” she said.

Because Castellano’s jewelry is heavy, as she believes fine jewelry should be. And the fact that her jewelry literally carries weight means that she’s sticking to her artistic and philosophical vision about how it should fit into the wearer’s life.

In her mind, jewelry isn’t about fashion and flash, it’s about durability in all its senses. In order to help make memories, it needs to be fabricated to last.

“I make rings where your finger will be broken first,” she said. “A piece of jewelry is personal, and it tells a should be durable enough to last for years.”

Patrons at the 2008 summer Studio Tour will be able to catch Castellano and her work this weekend at OHO Design Studio on Ferncliff Avenue; she’ll join over 50 others artists and craftspeople around the island for the annual August island tour.

Between commissions, past Studio Tours and regularly showing her work at A is for Artist Gallery, Castellano has plenty of customer-facing experience under her belt.

She also worked for years as a retail jewelry sales person before branching out on her own, when she knew she had the expertise and talent to take the next step and begin creating and selling her own work.

Fittingly, given her sentiments about how jewelry can play a role in a person’s life story, Castellano began by refurbishing old family heirlooms. Working out of her home studio, she built a reputation and a clientele.

“That was trust and a handshake, to do it, to do it right, and to get it done in a timely manner,” she said.”

As her customer base grew, she took on an increasing number of commissions for original designs.

In discussing her aesthetic, Castellano uses words like “clean,” “tailored,” “architectural,” and “classic.” Her pieces have a contemporary feel, but she creates with timelessness in mind.

Many of her pieces reference water, with its endlessness and sense of eternity. Others incorporate raised nubs inset with stones, evoking nuts, bolts, and the industry that comes with fabrication.

Some pieces tuck stones away so that only the wearer can see them.

“I have a lot of pieces where there will be little secrets,” she said.

Recently created treasures include a pendant fashioned from gold, tourmaline and five green diamonds, flanked by arced curves of gold that meet at the top and bottom to frame the stones. “Her Graceful Nature” is the unofficial name for the piece.

She next pulls out a gold ring, its rectangular setting flanked by art-deco-ish nubs and housing an oval raspberry rhodolite. When the light hits the stone, it’s like a city skyline on a sunny day.

She’s also working on a rectangular “picture frame” pendant, now in the wax carving stage, designed to hold an emerald cut amethyst. She thought her first design was too conventional, so she took another stab at it, opening up the frame along the perimeter rather than keeping it solid.

Wax, incidentally, is a beautiful thing – the purple Castellano works with sure is pretty – and is one of a jewelry designer’s best friends. A solid wax cast is a perfectly wearable facsimile that she can set the stone into and let the customer try on. If a design move didn’t pay off, it’s instantly apparent, and Castellano can make refinements or start from scratch.

Another completed pendant features a fat, green, glowing Tahitian baroque pearl dangling from a whisper of gold chain that’s punctuated by green diamonds and differently fashioned, wrapped gold wire links.

The contrasts embody a tough-but-tender sensibility, the tough part put to the test when Castellano pulls tightly on the high tensile – that means “super strong” to you and me – laser chain. If a customer wants to wear a piece like this often, Castellano points out, it has to be built to last.

Which is partly why before Castellano even begins to sketch the design for a custom piece, she makes an effort to learn about a client’s lifestyle as well as his or her aesthetic preferences.

For instance, a golfer or gardener might love green. But her chosen activities mean a piece with an emerald stone won’t be the best choice for everyday wear – emeralds are too fragile.

Instead, Castellano might suggest a clear green tourmaline, which is equally as sparkly and richly faceted, but far more durable.

Having graduated from the Gemological Institute of America at the top of her class in 1994, Castellano knows her stones in and out. She understands how they grow, their intrinsic qualities, and their best practical usage.

Her career has also enabled her to explore their design possibilities, and “see something magical in the stone.”

Which is, in part, what gets to the emotional heart of jewelry – its rich history, its endurance, its often powerful symbolism to the wearer.

“As small as it is, there’s something about jewelry,” she said.

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