written by Diana Jarrett
Tales of how each one of us got into this fascinating trade are myriad. While many tradespeople can rightly boast of a generational heritage of jewelers in the family, others got hooked early on some other way and stayed in the jewelry trade. No two stories are alike, and that’s what keeps the narrative so appealing.
Lapidary-designer Robin Callahan, of Bainbridge Island, WA, at Robin Callahan Designs, landed onto her gemstone story through none of the aforementioned methods. By her own admission, she’s a “late bloomer” to the jewelry industry.
The Long and Winding Road
Originally working at a local news station in San Diego, CA, her road to the world of glitter was a circuitous journey. She and her husband later ran a film production company on Maui for a few years. Other business ventures followed until the two eventually settled in the Seattle area. There she established an art gallery working with artists and the public. “The last business before I began working with jewelry design was a high-end ladies and men’s clothing boutique with a Chanel counter, an unheard-of coup for small shops,” Callahan reflects. But the seemingly disparate enterprises laid a solid foundation for her eventual calling as a gemstone cutter and jewelry designer. “That last business [boutique] really connected me to my community on Bainbridge Island, where I live,” she confirms.
After such varied career choices, Callahan appreciates their unlikely contribution to her passion nowadays as a designer. “The career path I took as a young woman in film production actually helped me in what I’m doing today. I photograph and video most of my work myself,” she explains. She also reflects on learning about business in general through the variety of enterprises her family has operated, including her foray into the art gallery world.
One Day Can Change Everything
Like many of us know, often a single serendipitous event can steer us down the road less traveled, and toward the one we ultimately love. When city planners began extensively ripping up the streets to install underground utilities where her business was located, this gave Callahan the push to change gears. “I decided to take some time off and shift focus to my love for animals through involvement with the Kitsap Humane Society.” Her charitable efforts were not only personally rewarding, but she raised funds for the rescue group. So why stop there, she thought?
It was time to do one of those “someday fun projects” she kept tucked away in the back of her mind. “I started thinking about taking a metals class. Then my kids surprised me in 2014 with a Mothers’ Day gift of lessons at the Bainbridge Artisan’s Resource Network.” That simple activity re-ignited her passion for jewelry, and in her words, “it took off from there.” Callahan’s early pieces were donated to the Humane Society auction and other animal rescue charities.
Callahan still remembers the very first piece she made, a lapis and sterling silver ring with a heart shaped cutout.” I never sold that piece and I still have it as a reminder of how I started.”
Does she have a 5-year plan to keep her focus? Well, yes and no. She has reached some terrific milestones already, but she’s more simply enjoying the journey. “Initially I set some pretty lofty goals and some have already transpired,” Callahan reflects. “For instance, I wanted to learn how to facet gemstones and I accomplished that 3 years ago.” She also wanted industry validation, and she was featured in Lapidary Journal and other magazines—check and check. One of her proudest accomplishments was “being selected to cut a gem for Somewhere in the Rainbow Collection.”
Recently she was commissioned by Somewhere in the Rainbow to select a gem from their collection and create a piece—something that’s still in her creative thinking phase.
Meanwhile, Somewhere in the Rainbow Collection purchased her pendant, Bloom, featuring a 23.8-ct teal Oregon sunstone carved by well-known lapidary Dalan Hargrave. This original piece is slated to reside in the University of Arizona’s new Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum. The jewelry may also travel with Somewhere in the Rainbow shows or to their special events.
So Now What?
Currently she’s directing her attention to her brand’s vertical integration by going to US mines and hunting for stones destined for placement in her jewelry. It’s a family affair—with her husband and son joining her on the digs. These special stones will get the VIP treatment too. Callahan will cut and facet these finds which will end up starring in her next collection.
Social media is Callahan’s main tool for enhancing her brand’s awareness and broadening her reach to an international demographic these days. “But I have just begun to tap that market,” she tells us. She continues to put her energy where her heart is—by regularly donating her original jewelry to worthy causes.
Job with Benefits
As with other careers, one can stumble upon unexpected benefits. Soon after jumping into the jewelry trade, she says she was delighted, “to meet, become friends with and collaborate with some of the coolest people in the world, and from all over the world!”
A Personal Chat
While she’s a relative newbie to our industry—her focus remains clear, and her appetite for learning always dominates. She also has a message for her younger self by now, “Everything that you do now will help you with your future endeavors. Never be afraid to follow your passions.”
Each skill set, and every experience she’s gained earlier in her life, even though it might have seemed initially un-related, laid the ground work for her life today as a jeweler. She has a word of encouragement for someone who might feel they came too late to the game—and especially those lacking an insider’s connection. “Start your jewelry career as a hobby. Take classes, and if you love it, go for it! Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be different with your designs. Put your own spin on things.”