When Sandra Owens of Silverwear Jewelry Design Co. in Benson set out to do her first piece of silver jewelry she cut her hands a lot.
Owens had learned her craft from her husband, Bill, and wanted to surprise him when he came home from work. Owen, her hands draped in bandages, proudly held up a pair of silver earrings adorned with beautiful, natural feathers.
Bill admired them and then began to laugh. His wife had made the earrings from solder wire instead of silver.
Owens never made that mistake again and went on with her husband to create a thriving business, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in February. “We are a husband-and-wife team,” she said from her cozy studio and store. “Bill continues to create original designs for the jewelry and then I implement them.” Owens also works at Hubbardton Forge.
Every piece of jewelry that is created by Owens is handmade and unique, using sterling silver, solid gold and colored gemstones (semiprecious and precious) from around the world.
“After going to gem shows for over 25 years you become very focused during the search.” She said. “I’m at the point in my career where I see a gem of a certain color and think that would look perfect with a particular customer’s eyes.”
In the process of searching for the perfect stone, Owens will look at thousands of them. What draws her to a particular stone is a different shape, cut or color and the quality.
“An image on the Internet doesn’t reflect the quality of a stone. You need to see it and feel the gem. This is the service that I can provide for my clients,” she said.
Most of the customers of Silverwear Jewelry Design Co. discover the store by word-of-mouth.
Owen thinks of her clients as her friends. After being in business for so long, the artist finds herself making wedding rings for young adults who came into her store as children.
“My clients are the kind of people I would want in my life even if they didn’t purchase jewelry from me,” Owen said.
Silverwear Jewelry Design Co. has found its way to more conventional modes of advertising as well. The company has been featured in a number of national catalogs, including “Gardener’s Supply Company,” “Green Mountain Roasters” and “Cold Creek.”
They even had a stint on the Home Shopping Network when the show picked them to do a silver cow pin. The show did a live broadcast from St. Michael’s College in Vermont. Owens remembers her two daughters helping out by making 700 cow tails for the pins.
Owens didn’t always work in such a comfortable space. Originally, she made her necklaces, bracelets, rings, pins, belt buckles and earrings on a bench in the back of a garage where her family lived for many years.
“We had enough money to buy the property, but not enough to fix up the house. It felt like we were living in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ hundreds of years ago.”
Eventually, the family moved into their home complete with indoor plumbing and hot water. Soon after the move Owens suffered a personal setback. In her early 30s Owens developed back pain that was associated with a hereditary tendency toward scoliosis. With each passing year her health deteriorated to the point where she couldn’t move off the couch.
When conventional medicine could no longer offer Owens relief, she developed her own plan for recovery. It has been more than a decade since Owens made her return to good health.
“The first time I got back on a bicycle I nearly fell off because my lower spine was rigid and my legs refused to work the pedals,” she said. “Just as I turned the corner, I felt the tension begin to release and my legs turned more easily. It was one of the greatest bike rides I’ve ever taken. Though these days, 50- to 75-mile bike rides are more to my liking, that little 4-mile bike ride was another milestone in my life.”
Owens also works part time as the program coordinator for Walk Rutland through the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition. “My goal is to help people get moving again. We work through team leaders and people can join at any level of activity,” she said.
Silverwear Jewelry Design Co., which features handwrought jewelry, custom designs and fine gemstones, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 2618 Stage Road in the center of Benson.