Those of us who live in Port Townsend are accustomed to seeing people on vacation. Sharing PT with slow-moving folks bent on relaxation and oozing contentment is part of the joy of living here.
Thanks to jeweler Stephanie Selle, Port Townsend is likely to see more dreamy-eyed lovebirds among the blissful souls wandering around.
People come to her downtown studio to make their own wedding rings. She offers guidance and instruction, tools and studio space, and also acts as a tour guide, dispensing advice about local hotels and restaurants for the couples, who often spend a few days in town.
"I get people from all over the country" at her wedding ring business, With These Rings, she said. "Since I moved to Port Townsend, I get even more people from out of state ... I love sharing this place with people." She's been talking with Chevy Chase Beach Cabins about putting together a package deal that might also include passes to Soak on the Sound for couples who come to her studio to make rings.
Selle started helping people make their own wedding rings in 2012 when she eloped with her husband, who asked her to teach him to make a ring for their wedding. Her ring is silver, which is easy to work with and durable, she said.
"I'm a total jewelry nerd, and I love symbolism and meaning behind pieces."
She teaches other kinds of jewelry making, too. "A lot of times, it's sea-glass pendants," she said. People find a pretty piece of sea glass and bring it to her to make into jewelry. "Some people really want to learn the skills, and others just want to leave with a finished product." She's happy to accommodate.
"It's fun to talk to people about what they want, and then teach them how to make it."
It surprised her that so many people wanted to make their own wedding rings – and that she would so enjoy helping them.
"If somebody had told me five years ago I'd be part of the wedding industry, I'd have laughed," she said. "I couldn't have planned it better if I'd tried."
A BORN ARTIST
Selle, 33, is originally from Delaware, and holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in crafts and metals from University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
She knew she wanted to be a jeweler when she was 18, and recalls her parents' skepticism that she'd stick with it. She also knew she wanted to be an artist in spite of active discouragement from a high school art teacher. "I've always challenged things and I've always questioned things," she said. "Since kindergarten, I said I wanted to be an artist when I grew up," she said. "It was so deep in me."
As a young woman, jewelry-making classes at the Delaware Art Museum only confirmed what she already knew. "I loved it," she said. "I pestered a local woman to let me be her apprentice until she caved." Olga Ganoudis eventually hired Selle, "because I said I'd do anything," Selle said. "She taught me a lot about business, and just a lot about being a working artist."
After college, she moved to Seattle. "The jewelry community in Seattle is really awesome and tight-knit," she said. She lived there for eight years, making and selling jewelry and working for other jewelry makers, including John and Frances Smersh and Kimberly Baker, as an assistant and production manager, making and selling jewelry, and going to big craft shows.
She also taught introductory jewelry and enameling classes at North Seattle Community College, and found she enjoyed teaching.
"I loved it," she said. "There is something about teaching somebody how to do something themselves, and seeing them apply it to their own work." Now, she teaches "almost every day," she said. Focusing her business on teaching frees her when she's making jewelry, because she's not as worried about selling it. She's also started doing some encaustic painting.
"I still like to make my own designs, but I do it more for pleasure now," she said.
She goes to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show every year, and loves to carve turquoise. She also likes dendritic quartz, which has deposits in it that grow into branch-like structures. Her grandfather collected rocks, she said; maybe it's genetic. She also collects stones when she travels.
On the wall in her studio is a large sign reading "Jewelry," which her husband found for her at the Antique Mall in downtown Port Townsend. "It was supposedly the first Port Townsend jeweler's sign," she said. She never would have noticed it, she said, because it was displayed high up on a wall. "I always look down when I'm shopping, because I look for tiny things."
WITH THESE RINGS
She started her wedding-ring business, With These Rings, while in Seattle, and it has thrived in the City of Dreams.
On the coffee table before a sapphire-colored couch in her comfortable studio are bundles of metal rings with which to determine finger sizes. Selle helps her customers choose a material – silver, white gold and rose gold are popular choices – and talks with them about design.
"Golds are really, really lovely to work with," she said. A lot of information is available on her website, which helps people choose materials and understand design options. Once she fully understands her clients' wishes, she gets the metal and tools ready for them.
Rings start with a bar of metal that is cut to length with a jewelry saw. Selle helps her customers anneal (heat) the metal with a torch, then use hammers and pliers to form it into a round shape. They solder the circle closed, then slip the ring onto a mandrel, a long, narrow cone made of very hard metal, and shape the ring by pounding it with a rawhide mallet.
"The mandrel is really hard. The mallet is soft," Selle explained.
Depending on the chosen design, making the rings takes from about three to five hours.
"I love the wedding rings," Selle said, but she also hopes to expand her jewelry teaching to more small classes, "and get more involved with the community," she said.