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Stories, Special Moments at the Heart of Custom-made Jewelry

One of the best ways to show someone you care is to give them a present that is truly unique. Custom-made jewelry fits that niche perfectly, providing a one-of-a-kind gift that is as special as the person who receives it.

One of the most treasured aspects of custom-made jewelry is that each piece tells a story. Wedding sets may be made based on memories special to the couple; haeirloom jewelry pays tribute to beloved family members that came before.

Amy McGinley

“Connection is why I feel that people come to design with me; we sit and talk and share stories about the piece and the reasons why it will be so special to them. There is a big ‘why’ a majority of the time,” explained Amy McGinley, owner, So Me Artisan Wares & Jeweler’s Studio. “They do not come to us to purchase a high-end piece from the jewelry case…they come to us for the experience and process of making it their own.

“I often hear ‘That is so me!’ which is why I chose that name for the store,” she added. “I’ve always strived to create just for that person; they are what inspire me and my designs. Their stories are the reason for this jewelry.”

McGinley, a metalsmith/jewelry designer by trade, opened So Me in 2009, and in 2019 moved to a new location in Allison Park. She first started designing and creating jewelry at Fox Chapel Area High School, and soon realized that it was her calling.

“I was going off to school for jewelry, but then got an apprenticeship and kept putting it off,” she explained. “I kept working and learning the trade hands-on from some enormously talented jewelers, and my interest was sparked from there.”

To create the perfect piece, McGinley said that she asks a “ton” of questions while interviewing clients. “Most of my redesigns have a story attached; I get a lot of people who want to refresh engagement rings, or mothers who want to redesign jewelry for their daughters from their grandmother’s collection.

“Husbands and wives often want something similar and plan together,” she added. “For example, I just did rings for a couple that met on the river, and they wanted a design reminiscent of the river where they kayaked. While each ring looked different, that was their theme.”

In addition to her clients, McGinley says that she is inspired by nature and by the creative team that surrounds her. This includes her husband, Barney, who runs and co-owns Three Little Birds Café next door, her mother, Mary Ann, and cousin, Megan, and a team that she says feels like family.

Samantha Skelton of Skelton Jewelry originally started studying graphic design before switching majors to pursue her passion in metalsmithing and jewelry design. After a residency at the Society for Contemporary Craft and successfully selling her creations there and at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, she decided to start her business, located in Lawrenceville, in 2014.

“When I first designed my jewelry line, I was very influenced by industrial lines and textures, and steelwork and concrete,” she explained. “These days, I’m very much influenced by the clients I’m working for. Every client is different, just like every ring is different.

“Someone may bring me a stone that was a family heirloom and ask me to build a ring around it,” she continued. “Or they may come in with a very interesting idea, telling me that they’ve looked in all the jewelry shops in Pittsburgh and can’t find what they want. Others may see a ring I’ve made on Instagram and love my style.”

Skelton carries customizable jewelry in her shop, including bracelets, rings, necklaces and more, but mostly works on large custom projects.

“I have quite a few clients do full wedding suites, including wedding bands, custom cufflinks, earrings, and necklaces for the bridesmaids,” said Skelton, who is currently working on a rose gold and sapphire project for just such a client.

“It’s definitely a project that takes time, and it’s more expensive because there are so many parts,” she added. “But it’s really exciting to see everyone in the party wearing a piece that is reminiscent of the bride and groom’s jewelry.”

Sustainability is important to Skelton, who works with diamond and gem dealers who process ethically sourced stones. She also works with recycled metal, often melting down existing jewelry to cast a new piece, and recycled antique diamonds as well.

“It’s nice because there’s no mining involved,” she said, adding that the store just began carrying and working with lab-grown diamonds. “Compositionally, these are the same as diamonds, and they have become very popular for people concerned with the environmental impacts of mining.”

Most important, however, is the special memories that a custom piece creates.

“Most people wear a custom piece their whole life, and it becomes part of their family’s story when they pass it down,” she said. “It not only adds an element of uniqueness, but allows them to lean into a really special moment and to put a lot of time and thought into a piece of jewelry that they’ll wear for many years.”

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