As a designer, you don’t have to live in a metropolis like New York City or Los Angeles to create designs that embody cutting-edge trends—and even push them forward.
Designer Laurel Hill of Laurel Hill Jewelry is proof of that. Hill lives and works in Big Sky Western Montana with her husband, three chickens, two cats, and a dog. Her studio is across the street from a mountain that hosts paragliders in the summer and roaming elk herds in the winter. And it’s the surrounding, wild-and-free terrain that largely informs her cool, earthy-feeling brass and sterling silver designs, many of which could pass, at first glance, for ancient talismans. The designer’s aesthetic is rustic but refined, simultaneously historic-feeling and absolutely modern.
We caught up with Hill to talk about her work life and design inspirations:
JCK: What drew you to jewelry design initially?
Laurel Hill: I love the meaning and relative permanence of it; the idea that it can be worn for lifetimes and then be excavated in thousands of years. I’m also drawn to the personal significance that jewelry holds.
It started when I was a kid, I was always creative and my parents were really supportive of that. I got really lucky in that department. My mom and I spent hours in bead shops when I was little, specifically this amazing hole-in-the-wall in Atlanta, Beadworks by Shoshonna. There were probably—literally—millions of beads in that tiny shop. I loved it.
Laurel Hill in her studio in Montana (Image courtesy of Laurel Hill Jewelry)
Sulis earrings in bronze or sterling silver, $216–$264.
JCK: How did you get started as a jewelry designer?
Hill: As an art student, my interests were all over the place, until I took a metalsmithing class. It was a revelation: I could happily spend all day at the bench. After that first metalworking class, I never really stopped making jewelry. The business grew very organically, I never launched officially. I waited tables at a vegetarian restaurant for years, filling orders on the side until I got busy enough to go full-time with the jewelry business. That was a happy day!
Zodiac cuffs in bronze and gemstones, $140–$184
Arche ring in bronze with Amazonite and red jasper, $132
JCK: What inspires you most as a designer?
Hill: Form and function! I’m inspired by the meaning and energy behind a piece. When I was first getting started with jewelry, I looked at historical adornment for inspiration. I loved the idea of jewelry marking an occasion or indicating someone’s role in the community. Now I don’t look to anything outside of myself to create pieces, I just make what comes to me. Thanks, anima mundi!
JCK: How do you think your pieces fit into the lives of the people who wear them?
Hill: I hope they act as talismans, energy vessels. I do hear from people that they’ll wear their jewelry when they want to feel powerful; that’s the best compliment…They’re looking for pieces that are unique, well made, and beautiful: something that speaks to them on a higher level.
JCK: What jewelry designers do you admire—and why?
Hill: I’m so grateful to have some amazing jewelry friends, Ashley Jerman of Aoko Su, and Lauren Neal of Neal Jewelry. We can go to each other with questions and shop problems and get honest feedback. We share resources, there’s no competitive edge. When we work together, we all do better. Good vibes only.
JCK: Bonus question! What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Hill: My friend Ashley (the jewelry genius behind Aoko Su), recommended Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss ages ago and I finally got around to reading it recently. It’s about past life regression and I feel like it should be required reading for humanity. There’s too much fear in the world and it’s holding us back. I also really loved What Doesn’t Kill Us, about Wim Hof, the guy who meditates naked in the snow and keeps his body temperature up. We really have so much control over our bodies if we tap into it. Inspiring stuff. And Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life is perfect summer reading.
(Top: Wheel Hoops earrings in bronze, $114)