Inspired by nature
By J. Chambless
Amy Stephens at home: 'I like to take pictures out in the yard and find seasonal things to use in the photos for my website. Ferns in the summer are my favorite. I like to throw in leaves and succulents and any natural things.' (Photos by Jie Deng)
By John Chambless
In the woods surrounding her Landenberg home, Amy Stephens finds the inspiration for her distinctive jewelry creations.
“It’s all nature based,” she said of her delicate, subdued designs, which echo the shapes of ferns, the drape of a leaf, the lacy patterns of moss. There’s a consistent sky blue in the moonstones she uses, like an echo of a summer sky. The diamonds she selects are natural, untreated, rooted in the earth.
“I grew up in West Grove and went to Avon Grove High School,” Stephens said. “I was a tinkerer as a kid, and I was very into rocks. I came from a very artistic father and creative mother, which played a huge part in me becoming a metalsmith and jewelry designer.”
Stephens went to Texas A&M and then taught for three years in Texas, where she met her future husband, Ryan. But jewelry kept calling her.
“I was teaching in Texas 10 years ago when I had my daughter, and I knew I had to find a way to stay home with her,” she said. “I started making these teeny-tiny clay earrings that I would hand mold. They took forever and I sold them for $12 a pair – like nothing,” Stephens said, laughing. “That was something I had done in high school – play with clay and make different things.”
Feeling drawn by her Pennsylvania home and family far away, she named her fledgling business Northern Roots, a name that has stuck. Stephens started with an Etsy store, but has found “the site is wonderful, but it’s also saturated with jewelry,” she said. Last year, she struck out on her own with a website to sell to customers directly.
“This is my full-time job,” she said, adding that Ryan also works from home in electronic component sales. That leaves plenty of time to pursue her jewelry design work, now that her daughter Kendall, 9, and son River, 5, are in school all day.
“It’s a very flexible schedule,” she said. “I can get up early to finish an order, or I can stay up late, and I’m available to stay home with the kids if they’re sick.”
In her basement studio, which she described as a creative mess (“If I clean up, I can’t function,” she said), she matches and contrasts stones and settings, achieving a harmonious blend of form and function. Some of the stones she orders online, and others she selects very carefully at gem shows. “I’ll stand at gem shows and hand-pick what I want. I’ll spend hours at a show, just going through stones,” she said. “I’m a complete nerd for stones.”
Formerly creating one-of-a-kind pieces, Stephens said she now does copies of successful items, but so far she isn’t chained to her studio, producing the same best-sellers. She relishes taking inspiration from nature and turning out something entirely new.
“I get bored easily. I like to take pictures out in the yard and find seasonal things to use in the photos for my website,” she said. “Ferns in the summer are my favorite. I like to throw in leaves and succulents and any natural things.
“I innately don’t like to spend a lot of money,” she said, so the prices for her work are very affordable – mostly in the $40-$70 range. “I’m really conscious of the parts that go into the pieces. I use natural diamonds to keep them affordable, so that means return buyers. Some people have been buying from me for years, and that’s my favorite thing.”
Some of her jewelry has been for special occasions. “I did an engagement ring, and a whole lot of bridesmaid orders, where the bride will contact me and have some sort of custom idea. I’ll do 12 necklaces or earrings for them,” she said. “My best friend is getting married in May and I’m making her earrings.”
Stephens uses silver and gold fill, not pure gold, to keep the costs low and to keep the process simple. “If I worked with pure gold, it would be more difficult to do, and more expensive. I like soft colors, blue and gray. It took me 35 years to figure out what my personal style is. Basically what I make are things I would want to wear.”
Her earrings, necklaces and rings use natural moonstones and dendritic opals, which have a black, fern-like pattern. She also uses a synthetic stone, opalite, because of its color.
New designs are tested by posting photos on Instagram, where she gets immediate feedback about whether others like them. And it keeps Stephens in touch with other creative people of all kinds.
“The business is all me,” she said, from dreaming up designs to creating the jewelry, posting it online and mailing the packages. “I have friends at the post office,” she said, smiling. The feedback she gets from customers is especially gratifying.
“A picture of this ring does not do it justice,” a customer named Kasey writes on the Northern Roots website. “Such a beautiful handmade piece. Thank you so much. It is obvious that you put the utmost time, care, skilled craftsmanship and effort into your work. I've admired your jewelry for such a long time and can't wait to add more pieces of yours to my collection. Couldn't be happier. Thank you so much!”
Surrounded by the woods and the creativity of their mother, the kids have gotten into the act, Stephens said. “My daughter is learning how to make things, and my son really likes picking out the stones. They’ll arrange stones and say, ‘Mom, I think you should put these together.’ They’re both into nature and being outside.”
Northern Roots jewelry is sold at Quirk & Co. in Cape May, N.J., and locally at Rooted (2049 Newark Rd., Lincoln University) and worKS (432 S. Walnut St., Kennett Square). Stephens will also be exhibiting at the Clover Market in Kennett Square on June 9.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.