Made in the USA – Stuart Nye Since 1933

In this day of the internet and widespread style sharing via blogs and sites such as etsy, I’ve got to wonder if regional fads and fashion even exist.  I’ve been thinking of this because I was sorting through an old box of trinkets and ran across a piece of Stuart Nye jewelry.

It’s highly possible that you have never heard of Stuart Nye, but if you lived in Western  North Carolina during the 1940s through the 1970s, Nye jewelry would have been high on your wantlist.  It was sold in the best stores, and everybody, and I mean everybody wanted a Nye dogwood ring.

Stuart Nye had been a patient at the VA hospital in Oteen,  which is just east of Asheville.  While he was there he bought some metalworking tools from another patient.  In 1933 he began making silver jewelry, based on some carvings he had made of dogwood blossoms.  His work was discovered by Ralph Morris,  Senior, a buyer for Ivey’s, a major Asheville department store, which became one of the biggest distributors of Nye’s jewelry.

Eventually Morris became a partner in the business, and when Nye retired, became the owner.  The workshop, which had been located in Nye’s garage, was relocated to a new building built by Morris on Tunnel Road in Asheville  The workshop is still located there.

Over the years more designs were added, mostly based on the flowers and leaves of the Appalachian Mountain region.   Copper was added when silver was in short supply during WWII, and brass was added when the price of silver skyrocketed in 1979.  But what has not changed is that all Stuart Nye jewelry is made completely by hand in their shop on Tunnel Road.  And they welcome visitors, who can watch the jewelry makers at work.

An overview of the shop.

The making of one of Nye’s most popular styles, the Backward Loop Earrings.  These are made in three sizes.  The maker uses marks on her pliers to gauge the size of the loop.

This woman is a skilled hammerer.  She is working on making silver trillium pins.  The design has been cut out of the silver, and before she starts with the hammer, is perfectly flat.

The trillium quickly takes shape.

After about 10 minutes, the shape is complete.  It will then go to a solderer who will attach a pinback and to finishing where the piece will be cleaned and polished.

Beautiful finished trilliums in copper.

Dogwood: Step by Step

My guide, Mr. Ralph Morris, Junior.  He and his son Joe still run the business.

The 1948 Stuart Nye workshop, where the jewelry is still made.  Next door is the Southern Highlands Craft Guild  shop, where the jewelry can be purchased.  For those of you not in Asheville, it can also be bought online at stuartnye.com.   Especially gorgeous are the bracelets.  My thanks to Ralph and Joe Morris, and to the staff at Stuart Nye for the warm and friendly welcome.

Nye jewelry has long been a popular souvenir of this region, and so vintage pieces are often found throughout the country.  I was lucky enough to get a pair of vintage earrings from Pinky-a-gogo, who is located in New York.

Stuart Nye Hand Wrought Jewelry was part of the crafts revival movement of the early 20th century.  All over the country, people rediscovered traditional crafts such as metalwork, weaving and quilting.  A few of these ventures survive in some manner, such as the Penland School of Crafts and Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove, NC.

An ad from a 1952 Vogue.  They still make these earrings. In fact, I have a pair, bought sometime in the 1980s.

36 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, North Carolina

36 responses to “Made in the USA – Stuart Nye Since 1933

  1. Around here, everyone has James Avery jewelry. I love regional things like this! I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for stray Nyes, now!

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  2. I love this post! How wonderful to see this kind of craftsmanship still being done–just hammer and hands, and in such an unprepossessing little workshop. Beautiful stuff…I know I’ve had a piece of Nye jewelry at some point, but can’t remember what it was or if I sold it. I’ll have to do a little searching. I really love your pine cone earrings!

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  3. Carol

    My mother grew up outside of Asheville and lived there as a young working woman in the 1940s. I have some of her Stuart Nye pieces.

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  4. Anne

    Just this week I was looking at a box of old rings that I have had since high school, and one is a silver dogwood ring that my mom bought for me in either the late 60s or early 70s. After reading this post, I took a closer look at it, and it is a Nye. Thank you so much for this bit of interesting history about my ring! We lived in MI, and I’m now wondering where my mom bought it; I remember she brought it back from a trip, although I don’t recall her going to NC. Do you know if Nye jewelry was sold in other states as well?

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    • Anne, I’m not sure, but I imagine it was sold throughout the Southeast. I’m getting ready to send a link to this post to the people at Stuart Nye, and maybe someone there can answer this for you.

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    • a azbill

      i grew up in BEREA Kentucky. Stuart Nye jewelry was sold at the Berea COllege Log House since the early sixties. As far as i know they still carry Nye jewelry there. I remember ladies wearing alot of his jewelry in the seventies and when i grew up my first jewelry purchase was a Nye large ball ring. I lost the ring a year later and couldnt replace it because he stopped making them for a while . I found his number in the early eighties and called the shop to see if there were any available. i actually spoke to him and he told me he was making them again and asked for my address. he mailed one to me on the honor system. i thought that was fabulous.

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      • That’s really interesting about the Berea College Log House. The weaving program played a huge role in the emerging crafts movement in Western North Carolina in the early part of the 20th century. Many of the craft leaders here went to Berea to study weaving. So it makes sense that there would be a merchandise link as well.

        If you are ever in the Asheville area you need to visit the Nye workshop. It really is a marvel, and the people there are as nice as can be. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  5. Thank you, Ms. Lizzie. I’ve been obsessed with all things dogwood and now I know what to look for. I love regional specialties like this and was delighted to see the workshop still going strong, not to mention the action photos of how these beautiful pieces are created.

    The dogwood flower is the official flower of British Columbia as well and I believe they have some regional crafts creating dogwood blossoms in leather for jewelry.

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  6. RS

    Nye has always been a part of my family’s Appalacian experience. With parents from Tennessee and Kentucky, most of my Stuart Nye jewelry was bought in the Smokies at gift shops. I wear it today and remember it was one of the only touristy things my Dad would buy for Mom and me. I participate in Native American dance and wear copper Nye pins to close the top of my regalia as opposed to wearing buttons on my Cherokee Tear Dresses.I do this because they are authentic works of art and reflective of the peoples I descend from.

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  7. Gail Ann Thompson

    Your blog is an inspiration to me!

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  8. Cindy

    Is there any way to date the Nye jewelry?

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    • Cindy, I’m sure there are certain items that have had changes through the years, but for the most part, the answer is no. I have a few pieces that I know are old (from the 1940s) but they are pretty mush identical to the items being made today! As far as I know the silversmith’s stamp is also the same.

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  9. Martha Croft

    Dear Sirs;

    A number of years ago my grandmother gave me a beautiful dogwood ring and told me she had made it. I treasured it because she had given it to me and I knew that in her younger days she had made some jewelry as a hobby. I wear it every day!

    I was recently in Vermont visiting a jewelry shop with my sister. The jeweler noticed the ring and complimented me on it. I smiled and delightedly announced that my grandmother had made it. She questioned my response and stated that she felt it was a Nye ring. She told me a little history of Stuart Nye and his jewelry. She began to look at it very closely and stated, “Yes, here, it is signed Nye”. In all the years I have owned the ring, I never looked that closely at the small inscription; taking my grandmother’s word that she had created the beauty!

    At first, with a wry smile on my face, I reacted by saying, “You have just broken my heart”. My sister understood how I felt, but I did realize my grandmother had given me a beautiful, well-made ring. My sister and agreed later that my grandmother probably did believe she had made it when she presented it to me in her later years.

    I came home and found your site online and wanted to share my story. Obviously, my grandmother treasured the ring and I will continue to wear it every day! I continue to receive compliments on it and will enjoy retelling the story with these newly added facts!

    Sincerely,
    Martha Croft

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  10. Hi,
    I am English and have just come across a Nye piece and was very interested to read about how it started and that it still is produced today.I have just put a bid on ebay for a lovely Dogwood brooch and am hopeful to get it,maybe to start a collection! Will let you know.
    Bye now from the UK,X

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  11. Keith

    Hello, I live in Asheville and am familiar with Stuart Nye jewelry, but I recently found a wooden chip dish marked: NYE 1955. Do you have any info about wooden pieces from him? Thanks, Keith Leonard Asheville, NC

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  12. Mary Ellen Fitzer

    Do you know if dogwood pins were crafted by Stuart Nye with only the words HAND MADE STERLING marked on the back? I own a pin which is identical in design to the familiar dogwood but has no other marks.
    Thanks for any insights.

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  13. Pat

    My mother, 92, recently went to be with Jesus. She had prize pine cone silver cuff bracelet that she said she bought on 5th Avenue NY when she was younger made by a young man who was just starting out in the jewelry business. She said he was making the jewelry right off the street and she splurged when she bought it. It was around WWII. Could this have been Mr. Nye when he was younger. . . showing his wares on 5th Avenue. My mother said he had the tools right there. I treasure this bracelet that she gave me to wear. Was going to send a picture of it to the NYE jewelers but couldn’t find an e-mail address. There was a phone number so perhaps I’ll give them a call. It’s late in the evening and I just found this site.

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  14. I have one of those large ball rings that a azbill describes. Her comment is the only thing I could find online to verify that it is an authentic NYE piece. It is stamped NYE and STERLING, but the ring is adjustable. The large silver ball is hollow. Would love to know more about it, if any other readers have information.

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  15. I have been fortunate enough to find some what I believe to be the earliest marked non floral pieces. A modernist bar pin, a ring to match and a pendant. Have you ever heard of them? The ring is an elongated diamond shape called by the seller Stuart Nye Modern- Abstract-End Of Day Art.

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  16. thejademagpie

    Thanks for the wonderful information, & complete details of your article! The photos are great, & you did say he started making the dogwood blossoms from carvings he had made. So, I’d think he might have other carved work out in the market from around that period.

    I’ve had a pair of the Sq. Pine-cone screw back earrings in copper for years, but I didn’t know what I had. I found them at a Thrift Shop, (got them for little to nothing) I was drawn to the earthy beauty of the art work & the fabulous patina. I had always planned to rework them so I could wear them daily, but now that I know about their history, their connection & importance to NC, I think I might just enjoy having them, & not make any changes to them.

    Thank you for taking the time to reveal his work, it’s worth it!

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  17. Nancy BNye

    I didn’t have time to read everything but so glad to see all of this interest
    in my father’s work !!! I still wear it and love it – the old AND the new.
    The person to contact now is Joe Morris, son of Ralph Morris, Jr.
    Nancy Nye in Seattle

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  18. Pingback: Updates – The Rest of the Story | The Vintage Traveler

  19. Carolyn Henderson

    As very young Australian girl an American friend of my mother gave me this pretty silver ring of a simple flower I wore it to almost death, rarely off my fingers. The band wore out and since I was at the time in the jewellery business I had one of the craftsmen make a new band for me. I could have worn very valuable piece but I always preferred the ring.
    I had it for easily for 30 plus years it is was stolen in a robbery, but up till then one of my daughters use to take it to wear as a teenager. We kinda “fought” over who’s it was I supposedly was too OLD to wear such a modern designed ring.
    One day I did a E-bay search and found some ear-rings (screw-on) then a ring, then a large pendant I was in heaven YAY, I bought them learnt about where they came from.
    The daughter who loved the ring organised to have a 4 leaf clover pendant made in silver using each of my 4 children’s finger-print on a petal.
    They presented the pendant to me on my ssssh 60th birthday telling me that the pendant was to remind me of the beautiful ring we both loved. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t a 4 leaf clover but a dogwood flower especially didn’t tell her I had been able to replace the stolen ring.

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    • thejademagpie

      What a wonderful, special story. The 4 leaf clover pendant present to help replace the stolen dogwood ring is a beautiful gesture.
      You might consider getting your daughter, (the one who was always borrowing your ring), one of the rings for herself, along with some detailed information on the history of the maker. Of course, you just recently ran across them online. :-) That way, you can wear yours, and it can be something you share together.
      It might even help start a family collection, everyone acquiring a piece of his work in your family (depending on the size) of course. My family has just such a tradition. When we all gather for an event, everyone wears whatever piece they own, or especially like, and it has become a big part of everything we do.
      Oh, and Happy (late) Birthday Age is nothing but a number. Enjoy your dogwoods in good luck!

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