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.