Meet the Designer: Ashley Thorne of A.M. Thorne Jewelry
Photo credit: Atang Agwe
How did you get started making jewelry?
I started making jewelry as a creative outlet. I was working as a freelance graphic designer at the time and after a day working on the computer, I just wanted to collage found objects into jewelry. I literally used to go into a hardware store looking for colored nylon cord, brass nuts, and washers to make jewelry. I was young and on a mission! I started to crave fine jewelry and instead of buying it, I wanted to learn how to make it for myself. When people started asking where I got the jewelry I had on the light bulb clicked that I should turn it into a business.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Well yes, ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted to create something beautiful to contribute to the world. It was just a matter of what it would be. At one point I wanted to be an architect or couture designer. Later in high school, I discovered graphic design and started nerding out on that. It wasn't until a few years after I graduated with a BFA in graphic design that I took the leap into becoming a jewelry designer.
How long have you been in the trade?
I started my jewelry journey nearly 10 years ago! It wasn't until after I took jewelry classes and worked for a jewelry designer that I began taking it more seriously. I will say I officially started my business when I got an LLC in 2016.
What does your business look like now, versus when you started?
My business is still mainly just me, but I also now work with a handful of skilled artisans that help me create A.M. Thorne. I work very closely with a jeweler, a caster, a stone setter, and sometimes even a CAD designer. When I first started my business, it was just me doing everything and I couldn't quite see at the time how my business was going to grow. Sometimes I feel like an orchestra conductor, I am always switching gears from assembling a chain for a necklace, hammering gold, replying/writing emails, sourcing stones, buying gold, taking photos, social media, shipping orders, consultation calls, managing production. I wear many hats and I feel blessed to be able to do what I do!
What’s the most challenging part about being a jewelry designer?
Being able to recognize my limits of what I can do and what I'm not equipped to do while also challenging myself in between. It's one thing to create within a realm of what I know is possible and what I think fits my aesthetic. When someone comes to me to create let's say a custom piece, I have to quickly assess if it's something I am aligned with to making for them. It's easy to tell when it's not a good fit or possible but when it's something new yet exciting sometimes a challenge can be a really great pivotal moment.
What’s your favorite part about being a jewelry designer?
The freedom it is allowing me to feel. Being not only a woman but also a woman of color I am most excited about contributing to the expansion and consciousness of the jewelry world. I love that with being a jewelry designer I have found my passion. I can design and create something that is meaningful, connects us to the earth while sparking joy and love.
Who is another jewelry designer that you admire/do you have a mentor in the jewelry industry?
I admire so many people in the jewelry industry, currently one of my favorites is Jean Prounis, I cannot wait to wear one of her pieces. I am happy to say my mentor is Monica Stephenson, she is a writer and the founder of ANZA Gems. She works directly with artisanal miners in Tanzania and Kenya, she not only helps tell their story but ensures the sales of these gemstones go towards education and support to the mining communities.
Do you have a favorite metal or stone that you prefer to work with?
When I first started forging metal pure silver was my favorite! I wasn't big on yellow gold yet, but something changed once I started learning about gold, looking at ancient gold jewelry and artifacts in museums. I've started off with using 14k and cannot wait to be working in 22k someday. A favorite stone of mine to work with is the salt + pepper diamond. They are typically the part of the diamond that is discarded. I find them to be beautiful because of their clarity characteristics, I believe they should be shown off. I could stare at them for hours, they are unique and no two are ever alike!
Do trends in the industry affect the way you design a new collection?
Trends in the industry can affect designs, yes. Trends have existed throughout history in jewelry. We may not know exactly all the people by name that crafted ancient jewelry we look at in museums, but we all influence one another in some way. My favorite concept to think about is a simple gold band. We all can make one but how can we make it our own?
What’s your favorite piece of jewelry from your own personal collection?
One of my favorite pieces of jewelry is actually one that was made long before I was born. It's a Peridot ring in a magnificent gold crown setting my grandfather had made for my grandmother as a gift. When I wear it, I feel very much connected to them, I feel confident and full of pride. If jewelry can evoke a positive deep feeling, I believe that makes it invaluable.
Where do you see your jewelry business in the next 5 years?
There is so much that my journey in jewelry has allowed me to do. I feel as though I am in a place where focusing on the craft, continuing my education is super important to me. Talking and listening to people who can share in a transparent informative way about the industry is something I gravitate towards. Carving out the time to learn outside of the present tasks can be challenging. In the next 5 years, I would love to see myself spending more time at the bench and being able to work in 22k. That may seem drastic to some, but I never want to forget why I got into making jewelry in the first place.