Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What’s so special about handmade jewelry?

Ever heard of “bespoke jewelry”? I hadn’t, at least not til the other day when I read this article on the New York Times website. If you’re short on time, I’ll save you a few minutes and summarize:

Bespoke jewelry = custom-made jewelry.

Evidently the trend is on the upswing and it’s helping lift high-end jewelry sales out of the slump caused by the 2008 recession.

Interestingly, I came across the article around the same time I got the disappointing news that Etsy—the formerly-handmade online marketplace—changed their guidelines to allow people to sell mass produced items. When Etsy started in 2005, it was a great alternative to the abundance of online marketplaces selling mass-produced products. It was a place where artisans could sell their handmade products. It was a place where shoppers could browse hundreds of thousands of artisans’ shops and they could have confidence that all the products were individually made by the seller. It was a place where we were all taking pledges to buy handmade: 
But now Etsy is focusing on “authorship,” which means as long as the artist came up with the concept, they can send it out to be mass produced and still sell it on Etsy. I’m not the only one who is upset about the change. As soon as the announcement was made, the internet was flooded with articles, blogs and forums where customers and creators expressed their disappointment.

It’s not like I have anything against mass produced products. I mean, that’s pretty much every item of clothing I own (with the exception of a hat I bought in Peru and my grandma-knitted slippers). IKEA makes an appearance in more than one room of my house. There’s no handmade stamp on the tumbler I use to polish titanium wire or the pliers I use to wrap it around precious stones. So of course mass produced is okay. I’m just bummed that Etsy is moving away from their commitment to handmade that compelled me to set up shop with them in the first place.

The Etsy announcement and the article about bespoke jewelry got me thinking. What’s so special about handmade jewelry anyway?

Whether it's a proud mama who receives a multicolored band of knotted strings from her little girl, or a wealthy traveler who commissions a custom-made ring from a chunk of sapphire she acquired on a trip to Madagascar, there’s something so very special about owning a piece of jewelry that no one else in the world has. This is why I adore handmade jewelry. Each piece is a little (or, in some cases, a lot!) different. 

These pure titanium pearl post earrings are one of my best-sellers, and I make a lot of them. Sometimes I make so many, I feel like I am mass producing them! I see these babies in my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep at night. But if you could come to my studio . . . [Sidebar: I don’t actually have a studio. I make jewelry in our guest room/office, and sometimes at my kitchen table. But writing "my studio" makes me feel glamorous.] Anyway, if you came to my studio/guest room/office/kitchen table on a day when I’m whipping up a batch of Titanium Grace earrings, and if you plucked two of them off the pearly pile, you’d notice small differences. The swirls go different directions. The spaces between the wire are different. Sometimes when I have an extra cup of coffee there's an extra swirl and I have to start over!
Then there are the pieces of custom jewelry—I mean, pieces of bespoke jewelry—which are totally, completely unique. A customer in Chicago often places orders for necklaces or earrings that incorporate a specific stone that has some meaning to her.

She’ll write to me: “I really love blue topaz. Can you make me something with blue topaz?”

Or she’ll send me a photo of a necklace she loves and ask me to create something similar but with pearl or smoky quartz.

These kinds of orders are a dream. It’s so much fun for me to get input from my customer and create a special piece that’s truly unique and meaningful to her. A piece no one else in the world has. Bespoken.

Because I hand make each piece of jewelry, my customers always have the option to customize their orders, even in small ways. Titanium and niobium earrings are hard to find, and pure titanium earrings are even harder to find. So those of us with metal allergies have really limited options in the earring department. People often contact me with specific requests for their sensitive ears or for their children’s sensitive ears, and I love being able to offer exactly what my customers need and expand their options. For example, earring posts are a standard length, which is a bit of a problem since human earlobes aren’t a standard size. So sometimes customers ask for longer or shorter titanium posts. Or they ask for smaller or larger titanium hoops

I hope Etsy doesn’t lose sight of how special handmade is, and I hope they work things out so that shoppers will know which products and shops are handmade and which aren’t. No matter what happens with Etsy, though, I’m 100% committed to keeping Variya 100% handmade.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer School for Sensitive Ears

Wait! Before that last school bell rings and you grab your floppy straw hat to head for the beach, stick around for this lesson on sensitive ears, metal allergies and what makes earrings truly allergy-free.

Several years ago, I developed a metal allergy and embarked on a mission to make my lonely, naked earlobes happy once again. I had a lot of questions at the time, and maybe you do, too. If you have more questions than what's covered here, please feel free to contact me through my Etsy shop or leave a comment here. If I don't know the answer, I'll do my best to track it down.

Nickel-free, hypoallergenic, surgical steel—what’s the diff?

Alloy alloy alloy! Alloy is a mix of metals, and you never know exactly what’s in the mix.

Alloys dominate the body-piercing scene. The metal mixes have their upsides: they’re flexible but strong, they don’t rust, and they’re not too heavy. But many people have allergic reactions to one or more of the metals used to create alloys.

Terms like “nickel-free” and “hypoallergenic” are actually kind of meaningless. For starters, there aren’t any across the board guidelines about what those terms mean. So “nickel-free earrings” can actually just be nickel free in their coating but use nickel or nickel alloys in the base. So that means as the coating wears off, your poor sweet sensitive ears are exposed to the nickel (or more likely, nickel alloy).

I used to be able to wear any earrings—even cheap-o earrings—so why are my ears sensitive now? 

If your body is sensitive to something, it often gets worse over time with more exposure to the offending allergen (alloy alert!).

The upside is that if you limit your exposure to allergens on a regular basis, your body may be able to handle occasional exposure with no problems. One of my customers used to have severe allergic reactions to every earring she tried. Nickel free, sensitive ears, hypoallergenic, even gold—you name it, her ears hated it. Then she found out about pure titanium earrings and discovered Variya. After a few years of wearing no earrings (boo!), followed by a few years of wearing Variya’s allergy free titanium and niobium earrings (yay!), now her ears can handle wearing high quality gold and even the occasional cheap-o earrings.

However, that's not true for everyone. Some people's allergies get worse as time goes on. Full disclosure: my sensitive ears cannot handle anything other than pure titanium or niobium.

Everyone is different and responds differently to metals in jewelry. But one thing is for certain: my customers have always had success with Variya's earrings made from pure titanium or niobium.

What makes titanium and niobium truly allergy-free?  

The titanium and niobium that Variya uses are PURE. I use only grade one pure metals for any part that touches the skin. A lot of other “hypoallergenic” jewelry is surgical implant quality, which is an alloy and can cause allergic reactions. For the overachievers in this class, here’s more info on metal grades and alloys.

Okay, class is over. Now let’s get on with summer! Here are some of my favorite summertime jewelry picks.

With iridescent waves of blues, greens and gold, these paua shell earrings call to mind the cool ocean depths. Suspended by pure titanium kidney wires and accented with a silver plated swirl, these earrings can't go unnoticed.

Have you noticed that pearls are making a comeback? Thank God! There's something so delightfully feminine about pearls.

These fabulously mod titanium wishbone earrings feature polished vintage pearls. They are very light and comfortable to wear (as all summer jewelry should be!). The pearls are available in classic white or elegant grey.

Margarite is a girls’ name that means 'pearl,' and it's the name I’ve bestowed upon these perfect-for-summertime pearl earrings. Sterling silver plated ovals hang from titanium ear wires. The lovely wire-wrapped freshwater pearls will sway gracefully in the summer breezes.

This is one of my favorite pieces of all time. Exquisite jasper, genuine aquamarine, sterling silver, Swarovski crystals and genuine Peruvian blue opal intermingle on this fabulous necklace. The extra long lariat can be worn long, layered, doubled, draped down the back, or any other way you can imagine. It’s a perfect piece to spice up a cocktail dress or give a hip edge to your casual summer look.

Speaking of summer . . . may yours be filled with sunshine, ocean breezes and beautiful jewelry (allergy-free, of course)!

My little boy and me on vacation a couple weeks ago. Ahh, the beach. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This Jewelry Tells a Story

Can anyone else relate to getting more and more sentimental as you get older?  

I’ve always been sentimental. I save things. I adore traditions. Things related to family and love make me teary.  
My son's first coloring page from 2006

It doesn’t take much to get the tears flowing. I cried at my son’s kindergarten graduation . . . and 10 weeks later when I dropped him off for the first day of first grade. I cried a couple weeks ago when I thought about my mom coming to visit (because I wanted to see her, just to be clear!).  I cried when my husband shared this video with me.  I cried just thinking about writing this blog post.  

I think it’s because the more time goes by, the more I realize how quickly time goes by. 

My son is approaching the age where he won’t want me to tuck him in at night anymore. So these days, even when I’m exhausted and just want to send him upstairs with a peck on the cheek, I’m really making an effort to put him to bed every night with a story and a song—like this one by Steven Curtis Chapman, which I’ve been singing to him ever since he was in utero.

The idea for Life Story birthstone jewelry was born out of my sentimentality and love of family. When my mom and my mother-in-law both lost their last living parent in the same year, I wanted to do something extra special for them for Mother’s Day that year. I’ve always loved birthstone jewelry, but I wanted this piece to be more. I wanted to create a piece to commemorate the family they came from and family they created. I wanted it to tell their life story.
I made a bracelet for my mom, using vintage pearls that belonged to my grandmother (her mom). The first strand of pearls starts with the birthstones of my mom’s parents. The second strand begins with my parents’ wedding anniversary stone, followed by the birthstones of my siblings and me.  
The bracelet I made for my mother-in-law uses a similar pattern and includes a charm of Czech glass in the colors of the Italian flag to commemorate her cultural heritage. 

This past Christmas, the idea grew. I wanted to create a special gift for my sister, something meaningful but simpler than the bracelet. So I developed the Life Story necklace.  
The Life Story necklace I made for my sister has a birthstone representing her, her husband and two children on a bronze chain finished with a charm of our parent's birthstones.
I made a necklace for myself, as well, and I love wearing it because it tells so much about my own family’s story. The birthstones for my husband, son and me are suspended from an antiqued sterling silver plated chain. An asymmetrical feature on the side includes three tiny pearls for my siblings and me, and the gems next to the pearls are my parents’ birthstones.   It reminds me of each of them and keeps them close to my heart.
Mother’s Day is coming up, and I can tell you from personal experience that these Life Story jewelry pieces make a guaranteed winner of a gift. The day my mom received her bracelet in the mail, I got a message on my phone that I couldn’t even decipher through her tears and hiccups. I couldn’t have been happier! (We sentimental types like to make other people cry so we have company.) 

Next time you're in the mood for a good cry, feel free to snag my Spotify list of my latest most sentimental songs.

Whether it’s for you or for a special gift for someone special, I’d love the opportunity to work with you to create a custom piece that tells your family’s story. We’ll add sentiment to birthstone jewelry by incorporating history and personal touches. We can integrate elements of a vintage jewelry piece that carries special meaning to you. Some of my clients choose to add a charm near the clasp to say something significant about their family.  
This client requested a charm of the infinity symbol to represent never-ending love
Delicate pink pearls on this bracelet speak to the strength and bravery of the breast cancer survivor who received this bracelet as a gift.
Tiny silver scissors make a perfect charm for this hair stylist's Life Story bracelet.
From now through Mother’s Day, my Life Story birthstone jewelry—necklaces and bracelets—are on sale. Mention coupon code Sentiment2013 when you order and get 15% off your custom jewelry.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The 2013 Color of the Year

I never knew there was an official color of the year until I stepped into the world of jewelry making. But now that I know, I’m all in! 

March is the perfect month to do my color duty and highlight this year’s Color of the Year—emerald.

For some reason, I’ve always adored St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it’s my way of honoring the trace of Irish heritage way back down the family line. Or maybe it’s because I live in one of the snowiest parts of the country, and St. Patty’s Day tells me spring is just around the corner. Whatever the reason, as soon as February makes its exit, I start adorning my house in green (i.e. emerald), googling St. Patrick’s Day trivia to create a game for my eight-year-old, and hiding lucky little shamrocks around the house with surprises inside.
He is usually more excited than he looks here. Or maybe I am more excited than he looks here.

I even wrote a limerick to celebrate the delightful collision of St. Patty’s Day and the 2013 Color of the Year.


There exists a group called Pantone.
They name colors for all that we own.
Every year they will choose
a winner of hues and
this year it’s the em-e-rald tone.

And now, I’m pleased to introduce Variya’s 2013 Color of the Year / St. Patrick's Day line of hand-crafted, allergy-free jewelry. (Drum roll and Celtic music, please...)

When these emerald green goldstone globes sway from delicate gold figaro chains, they catch the light and show off thousands of sparkles from deep within. The pure niobium ear wires mean that most people with metal allergies can wear them allergy-free! For more photos or to order a pair, visit my etsy shop.

Stacked with seaweed quartz in varying shades of green, these pure titanium earrings are very light and comfortable. The polished titanium is meticulously hand-filed for an ultra smooth edge. You can order your pair here.

What's this? A matching necklace for the Siren Song titanium earrings above? You're going to want to check out this necklace in my etsy shop—there's so much to it, one photo doesn't do it justice. The Siren Song necklace is made with gorgeous green seaweed quartz and accented with crystals and antique silver. Agate chips dangle asymmetrically, just to keep things interesting. An antique silver scroll clasp finishes off this captivating piece.

To me, these earrings whisper elegance and romance. If only we had St. Patrick's Day dinner parties like we do at Christmastime. I'd wear these with a deep emerald green dress. Hm, I'm getting an idea... Emerald green jasper drops dangle from Celtic gold accents, and tiny green jasper faceted globes accent the piece. As with all Variya's earrings, these ones are friendly for sensitive ears.

Thanks for stopping by. You can go here for all things green at Variya.  Happy St. Patrick's Day, and may your 2013 be filled with good things of emerald hue!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Valentine's Day Love Story

Once upon a time, there was a lonely red bead. The red bead was pretty and shiny, and she had lots of friends. But she longed to meet that special someone.

Around that same time, there was a lonely piece of grade one pure titanium wire. The wire was strong and radiant and hypoallergenic, and he had plenty of wire pals to hang out with. But he couldn't shake the feeling that his life was somehow empty.

Then one day, a jewelry designer named Variya decided it was time to create allergy-free stud earrings that were really, truly allergy free. Variya had seen lots of earrings claiming to be allergy free, but often only the posts were made from hypoallergenic material while the earring itself contained alloys that would touch sensitive ears and cause an allergic reaction.

So Variya chose a pretty red bead and a sturdy titanium wire and twisted them together to create a stud earring that was a perfect mix of classic and edgyand of course safe for sensitive ears.

True love at last! The red bead and titanium wire lived happily ever after.

Like any good love story, the love didn't stop there. Variya's customers were happy, too. The titanium glo earrings became an instant hit and sparked a colorful collection, leading to the happy match-making of many more single beads and lonely wires. 

One of the happy customers, inspired by her new titanium stud earrings, asked Variya to make three matching friendship bracelets that she could give to her two best friends. Variya adores custom orders and agreed immediately.
The perfect gift for a special friend. Stunning oxidized silver hand-wrapped and hand-stamped with a customizable tag and adorned with beads of your color choice. The bracelet comes in a beautifully wrapped gift box ready for giving.

Everyone loved the friendship bracelets. The customized tags on the bracelet reflected the character of each member of the three amigas: Old Soul, Beautiful Mind and True Friend.

Variya's customer sent a photo and wrote that, "We are so very happy with the finished bracelets! One cried and the other teared up when they opened their gift. Thank you so much for making me able to give them such a special and memorable gift."

Aww... see how the love just keeps on spreading? And to think it all started with one lonely bead and a solitary piece of wire.
In the name of love, why not treat yourself to a pair of these titanium glo earring studs? Consider it a Valentine's Day gift to your earlobes. If you're dreaming of a color you don't see in Variya's Etsy shop, just ask and she'll work her match-making magic.

Or perhaps you're looking for a Valentine's Day gifts for a friend. Consider a friendship bracelet that perfectly compliments the earrings and expresses your love for your friend.