Designer Spotlight: Martha Seely

As JCK’s Design Ambassador, I’m constantly being exposed to new art and new faces. Martha Seely immediately put a huge smile on my face from our first interaction. She is warm, friendly, professional, and extremely passionate about what she does. Her design process, from sketch work to CAD to metal manipulation, struck me as a beautiful symphony with her as the thoughtful composer. What also delighted me is her humility. She’s rubbed elbows with some of Hollywood’s elite, but has absolutely no ego about it. In fact, she mentioned in our exchange that she only truly gets starstruck when introduced to one of her idols within the jewelry industry. She is continually inspired by her peers, her materials, her process, but most importantly that mysterious place of wonder, the cosmos.

You started your career as a costume designer and wardrobe stylist for television and film. What was your most exciting project? Any starstruck moments? 

I started my career with an MFA from Carnegie Mellon as a theatrical costume designer. I worked in that industry for many years designing and styling for theater, film, TV, and commercials. My starstruck moment was working with Cher! For a small woman, she has such a large persona, but James Earl Jones was perhaps the star I enjoyed working with the most. There were many exciting projects over the years but the one that sticks out was an independent, action movie called The Patriot. There was very little money, but it pushed my costume design into a darker place. I loved working on set with special effects professionals and makeup artists to create realistic bruises and gunshot wounds with blood packs.

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Martha Seely sketch from her Nebula collection

When and why did your focus become fine jewelry? What inspired you to shift directions?

Following long movies, I took some time off to recuperate, and I had time to take classes. I started out with painting and drawing classes, but one day, I decided I needed to take a silversmithing class. And I never looked back. During one break, I took a part time job at Artful Image, an amazing fine American craft store. The creativity, beauty, quality, and techniques of the jewelry I saw there completely captivated and inspired me.

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Shooting Star rings with diamonds

I see all your work is handcrafted in Concord, Mass. Why is American-made important to you?  

I think it’s very important to support local craftspeople, artisans, and artists. There are many people, like me, who are driven by art and design. But when so much fine design was copied in the Far East, many of the American designers were put out of work. We must support our artists and artisans. Young children must grow up knowing that they can make a living doing what they love, even if it is art.

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Transition hoop earrings

I love all the names of your collections! Does the name or the jewelry come first? Where do you get your inspiration?

My inspiration is from spirals/cosmos/celestial objects. My first hoop earring design began in a different design collection, but I kept pushing to make it more beautiful. When I had that design in the right place, I fell in love with the spiral shapes that made them. I started to play with the spiral part and wanted to explore that element more. As I played with those shapes, putting them inside each other, I recognized how they resembled celestial objects like the orbits of planets, galaxies, nebulae, and so on. That was the spark that ignited the design theme for my entire Sequence collection, and you can see that core influence in all the different design lines.

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Petite spiral earrings with diamonds

When did your love affair with pearls begin? Why are they special to you?

Pearls were not my favorite gem when I started designing jewelry, but my husband brought me a strand of Mikimoto pearls from a trip he took to Japan. I had never seen such lovely white pearls before. Suddenly, pearls took on more importance. I love that they can be dressed up or worn casually.

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Nebula two-tone pearl ring with diamonds

What do you do to contribute to building community in the jewelry industry?  

It is important to contribute to the jewelry industry particularly because jewelry was typically a man’s business for years and years. I work actively with the Women’s Jewelry Association and try to help new members the way that WJA has helped me along my path.

Why are you excited for JCK Tucson?

Nina Mancini and her team have completely redesigned the show. She has curated the show in a way that is much more designer based, brought in amazing speakers, and she has been making sure that the right retailers can connect to the right designers. The Advisory Board is a big change, too. This board is an amazing group of some of the most influential experts from across the industry—designers, store owners, and members of the press.

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Cirrus Tahitian pearl pendant with diamonds