My love affair with Melissa Spencer (pictured, right) began on Instagram. As we all know, the medium is extremely helpful in finding new talent, new interests, and new inspiration. I absolutely love her work. It’s regal, accessible, fun, thoughtful, and beautifully executed. It didn’t come as a shock to find that Spencer’s personality mimics the attributes of her line. She reminds me of a Renaissance woman: confident, kind, humble, and she knows exactly where she wants to go. I’m absolutely thrilled to see her break into the wholesale scene at JCK Tucson this year. I think she’ll soon be one of those designers about whom we all say, “Do you remember her when?”
When did you know you wanted to become a jewelry designer?
The summer before my senior year of college, I took a beading class with my mom. I’ve studied many of the arts—photography, fashion design, sculpture, printmaking, painting, architecture, and drawing. Jewelry design incorporated everything I loved about color theory and structure. I fell in love with the jewels and the craft and with building beautiful objects with my hands, and I knew I wanted to become a jewelry designer. I started with private trunk shows at a friend’s home in Dallas. When I saw how happy my clients were to buy and wear my colored gemstone and 18k gold wire–wrapped necklaces and earrings, it was confirmed that this business of wearable art is for me!
Rose Garden ring
How is your work inspired?
I was determined to design something innovative and original that is my signature. For my Spencer Portraits, I am inspired by fine art portraiture in history, including Fra Angelico’s The Virgin of the Pomegranate on textured gold, Gustav Klimt’s Judith and the Head of Holofernes, and handpainted portrait miniatures on porcelain. It is my dream to create jeweled portraits that honor a lover, a child, a passion, or a pet in a style that is not only limited to nobility. Translating a photograph of someone’s loved one into a modern heirloom by decorating the most precious moments in people’s lives with gems and gold is endlessly creative and rewarding.
What is the significance behind the honeybee in your logo?
Melissa means honeybee in Greek. My former collection is called Abeille, which means bee in French. I love the symbolism, knowing that bees are transformers—fertilizing flowers for our food and creating honey. Without these tiny creatures, humans would perish. It is an important reminder of the delicate balance of our Earth and how we all are connected. Additionally, they are ruled by the Queen Bee, and I relate to the empowered female.
Where did you go for jewelry training?
I attended the Gemological Institute of America from 2005 to 2007. I earned my Graduate Gemologist, Graduate Jeweler, Accredited Jeweler Professional, and Pearl Grading Certificate. In the years following, I polished my skills working for Leo Hamel, Peter Norman, and Steven & Co. I practiced custom jewelry design, including CAD, minor stone setting and polishing, watch repair, jewelry repair, sales, and curated estate and modern collections. I even did appraisals and decorated store windows. Although I was recruited by large brands, I felt it was important to sharpen my business skills and wear many hats to learn as much as possible before launching my own business.
Spencer Portrait elephant pendant
Can you talk more about your background in architecture? How has that influenced your aesthetic?
My father was an architect and my mother an interior designer, so at a young age, I was looking at patterns and textures and thinking about constructing 3-D objects. At the drafting board with my dad, he let me glue the trees around his scale models before I learned to handle the X-Acto knife with care, to score and fold the cardboard myself to form the buildings. Working with CAD now gives a designer several choices to set the grid, from millimeters to feet. It is a program many architects use on a large-scale grid. It is logical to me to think of jewelry design as architecture on a small scale, always considering structure and strength.
What is your favorite piece in your collection right now? Why?
My favorite piece is a Spencer Portrait of a leopard, shown in profile with a vibrant blue-green background, framed with diamonds and Sleeping Beauty turquoise cabochons. It is convertible from a pendant to a brooch, and I love wearing it on a long chain.
Spencer portrait leopard brooch with Sleeping Beauty turquoise
Why are you excited for JCK Tucson?
Tucson is where my jewelry career started in 2004, and now this is my first time attending JCK as an exhibitor!
Butterfly earrings with peridot and hematite