Chelsey Bartrum had an idea that jewelry would play an important role in her life—and it all started with a blowtorch.
That after-school program when Bartrum was in junior high was impactful. First of all, holding that fire and controlling its effects? That was life changing, Bartrum says. But understanding how to join metal together was something she could not forget.
“How was it that these things combine and they make something?” Bartrum says, looking back with awe even today. “I have some clear, specific memories of fire.”
Add in her love for a nearby bead shop, her mother’s influence as a working artist, and Bartrum’s interest in making things with her hands, and you have the seeds of a future jeweler. But the path wasn’t that easy—like many within the jewelry industry, Bartrum took a few twists and turns to eventually get there.
Bartrum first channeled her curiosity into science, something she pursued when she was an undergraduate in college.
“I was going to do something in the medical field. I liked helping people. I liked talking them through things. I had a good bedside manner, and I had some experiences where I knew how important that was in care,” Bartrum says. “I had a lot of different ideas in college, like dentist or a doctor or a psychologist. My grandfather was a dentist—I loved the tools, but I didn’t like working in people’s mouths.”
During those years, Bartrum says she worked with some amazing nurses, and she describes nurse practitioners as “always my favorite people.” So, she started toward nursing as a career path. Bartrum applied to a master’s program in nursing and got in. Life was set, right?
Around that time, Bartrum and her future husband took a trip to Chetumal, Mexico. Seeing the artistry there reignited the desire to work with her hands, but deep within craft rather than within medicine, Bartrum says.
“We were living in Chetumal, at the bottom of the Yucatán. My godparents also were living there, teaching English, so I learned Spanish and started teaching English in an elementary school,” Bartrum says. “I had a lot of time with my future husband and my godparents, and they started asking me questions. What are you doing, really? Why? Why are you on this path if you’re not sure?… They suggested I give myself a year and just try something I felt really passionate about.”
The couple went home to Vermont, and Bartrum started taking jewelry classes. “I loved it. I loved the local jewelers and goldsmiths and the workshops,” Bartrum says.
They eventually settled in Santa Fe, N.M., and Bartrum found a master goldsmith willing to take her on as an apprentice. That experience along with classes at a trade school for jewelry and Gemological Institute of America classes were next. With that GIA degree in hand, Bartrum apprenticed with several influential designers, including Loree Rodkin, moving finally to Los Angeles, all while her jewelry knowledge and practice continued to grow.
In 2016, Bartrum debuted Starling, her brand that focuses on creating accessible fine jewelry for everyday wear. Some of her customers’ favorite pieces are the mother-and-daughter sets and mini heirloom bracelets, designed in part after the birth of Bartrum’s daughter in 2019.
Recently, Bartrum created her next big project: Heirloom Revival. This sister brand to Starling serves as a way to boost jewelry’s sustainability as well as help people recycle the gems, metals, and precious materials they already own but perhaps never wear, Bartrum says.
Bartrum has created these kinds of custom pieces throughout her jewelry career, even for herself. But doing it for other people through Heirloom Revival has given new spark to her work and the hope that she can help others fall in love with their vintage or family jewelry again.
“It’s more labor, but that’s what I love about it,” Bartrum says. “It’s sustainable and sentimental. It also puts goldsmithing at the forefront, and that’s so important to me. It’s taking the art, skill, and craft of making jewelry and keeping it alive.”
Top: Chelsey Bartrum recently launched her second jewelry brand, Heirloom Revival, to help people take jewelry that has meaning to them and turn it into fresh designs that they love to wear (photos courtesy of Chelsey Bartrum).@jckmagazine
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