All that glitters

A piece of jewelry designed from the customer's ideas sometimes becomes a part of that person's self-image. Nathaniel Bernards likes making that kind of jewelry best.

"They really put a lot of thought into it," said Bernards, who recently returned to Plaza Jewelers after an absence of about eight years.

"It has to be just perfect for them."

At times he experiments with his own ideas, like the lavender bud cast in silver he's been toying with. "This should be fun when the Lavender Festival rolls around," he said.

Made using the lost-wax method, the carved wax model of the bud is coated in plaster, which then is heated to melt and drain the wax. The cavity in the plaster mold is filled with silver and the plaster is broken or rinsed away to reveal the silver flower.

At 15, Bernards had his first taste of jewelry making.

"My stepfather was a jeweler. He taught me how to use a torch and do some silversmithing."

Bernards, 27, grew up in the Sequim and Port Townsend areas and was home-schooled. When he was 18 or 19, he said, he worked for Tom Cole at Plaza Jewelers for a few months. Cole started him working with gold.

When he left Plaza Jewelers, he bounced between Sequim and Port Townsend for a few years. He made silver jewelry for Andrea Guarino, former owner of Artisans on Taylor. Ryk Reaser of Ryk's Custom Jewelry in Port Townsend then hired Bernards for an informal apprenticeship for about three years. After Reaser died earlier this year, Bernards returned to Plaza Jewelers.

Marti McKeown, manager of Plaza Jewelers, was delighted at Bernards' return.

"He has really been passionate about jewelry and design since he was 15," she said. "He's a lot of fun to work with."

Even in a strong economy, McKeown said, custom jewelry can be a tough field to enter. Fortunately, she said, "The timing was just right."

McKeown recognized Bernards' excitement about designing jewelry and it's easy to see when the conversation with him turns to custom design work.

"I have some fun chain mail stuff out in the case," he said, and pulled out a couple of silver mail necklaces and a bracelet.

About a year ago, Bernards made a ring for a client to match the man's tattoo.

"I used the same sketches that his tattoo artist used and shrank them down."

"I'm starting to play with some fancy colored gold," Bernards said.

Depending on the alloy, the mix of other metals with gold, the final result can have a hint of green or rose. The other metals have different strengths and melting temperatures and Bernards has learned the chemistry and physics of metals as he has worked with jewelry.

Bernards has some advice for people interested in having a special piece of jewelry made:

"Don't be afraid to go back and forth with your jeweler to try different things. Bring in various ideas of what you like. It's my job to put them together."

How formal must your designs be? Not very.

"You wouldn't believe," Bernards said, "some of the things we've made off of napkin drawings."

Reach Sandra Frykholm at sfrykholm@sequim

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