A Gilded Edge
Memphis jeweler Laurie Bartholomew creates custom necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings using exotic gems and rare metals
Story by L. Taylor Smith
Arts | September 2014
Window shoppers and collectors alike can enjoy the contemporary style of Bartholomew Jewelers, a tranquil boutique tucked away in the bustling Laurelwood Collection shopping center in Memphis. Elegant pieces set with quartz, amethyst, opal and other dazzling gems stand out in the store’s minimalist display cases. “Customers would come in and say it doesn’t look like it belongs in Memphis,” says Laurie Bartholomew, referring to the ultra-modern style of the shop.
More than just the store’s owner, Bartholomew also handcrafted each necklace, earring, bracelet and ring sparkling under the glass. As a student at the Memphis Academy of Art, now the Memphis College of Art, she says she found a passion for creating works of art with metal. “As a freshman, they would have you try out a lot of different mediums, and I totally fell in love with metals: the material itself, the permanence of it, its utility,” Bartholomew says.
During her senior year, she worked one day a week with a master jeweler at Endicott Custom Jewelers. “He kind of gave me the basics of what you would need to know to repair jewelry,” Bartholomew says.“I put that together with what I was learning, and, right before graduation, I had a job lined up.”
She began working as the in-house jeweler for a jewelry store, where she says she was the only person with experience repairing jewelry. “I was a little intimidated at first, but I quickly got my confidence together,” she says.“I had no one to ask any questions about ‘How do I do this?’ — I could only rely on myself.”
She honed her craft for 13 years, repairing pieces and working with precious stones, and then went out on her own, first to a small office in Oak Hall, then to a larger retail space and eventually opening a shop in the front half of her husband’s painting studio in Somerville, Tennessee.
When she and her husband, Garen, looked into expanding the jewelry store, they realized it would mean leaving the space in Somerville. “He was going to have to decide if he could work with me here, and so we set up his painting studio with me in this shop,” Bartholomew says. “It’s great. Life goes by too quickly, and we just wanted to stay together all the time.”
Now Bartholomew crafts her own beautiful works of artfor those looking for something completely unique. “My style would be classical, timeless but I have so many ideas that something might look really modern, where something else might look Victorian,” she says. “A gemstone might lead me a certain way, but sometimes the things I make are things I dream up that are more narrative and symbolic.”
Her pieces tend to have soft lines and naturalistic elements. One necklace features a flock of metal birds, while another has a gold teardrop pendant with four leaf clovers surrounding a citrine gem. Certain works follow a similar aesthetic narrative, such asher seasonal pendants, which feature a tree’s silhouette in silver over glass enamel hand-painted with vibrant blues, greens, reds and yellows.
One of her more popular products is the custom signature bracelet, which is a metal bracelet featuring an exact replica of someone’s signature. Personalized pieces like this have gotten her more than just a thank you. “They’ll come around the counter and hug me,” Bartholomew says. “They’ll want to start calling me LB.”
Although diamonds are her favorite gem to work with, she’s always on the lookout for interesting minerals. Her shop hosts a wide variety of minerals and gems, including quartz, pyrite, peridot and tourmaline. “I’m drawn to more exotic stones, things you don’t see every day,” she says.
Bartholomew also creates custom pieces from materials a client brings in. “(One customer) had a huge bag of shells from Asia that her father brought back from the war,” she says.“I made her a ring, earrings and a bracelet with the shells. She loved it so much we made her sister a set, too.”
But she hasn’t just worked with rare stones and sentimental materials. One of her more interesting clients was a Memphis Zoo employee who worked with the big cats. He’s brought Bartholomew snow leopard fur, the casing of a lion claw he found in a habitat and even a baby Bengal tiger tooth that had fallen out. Each fascinating fragment became the centerpiece for a wearable work of art. “The challenge to build something feels really good,” Bartholomew says.