Designers / Industry

How I Got Here: Rhys Kelly Brings Her Eye For Special Effects Into Fine Jewelry


Did you know the only organ more complex than the brain is the human eye? Your eyes can tell the difference between about 10 million different colors. And each person’s eye color is uniquely their own—no two people in the world have the same eye color.

These facts and many more are the reason why artist Rhys Kelly is obsessed with eyes. Her sculptural artwork and her handcrafted jewelry center on the eyes, something she has studied since she was in a special-effects trade school and learned how to make prosthetic eyeballs.

“I had many different loves before getting into eyeball art,” Kelly says. “Now that I’m fully focused on painting eyeballs, I have so much to say about them.”

Rhys Kelly pendants
Artist and jeweler Rhys Kelly hand-paints each eye in her fine jewelry pendants, allowing her clients to select the colors and personality of their pendants to match their own peepers (prices start at $165 for sterling silver).

Raised in South Florida, Kelly says she was the classic kid who drew, painted, sculpted, and thought about art all of the time. “The kid version of me paved the way for who I am today,” Kelly says. “I always wanted to add a little uniqueness into everything I did.”

That uniqueness already extended into jewelry, but she didn’t see that path…yet.

“Growing up, I always made jewelry out of anything I could find: bones, shells, beads,” Kelly says.

In between high school art classes and her first job at a pizza shop, Kelly realized her love for art could become a career. She attended a pre-college program at Oregon College of Art and Craft, where she took her first metalsmith jewelry class and learned the basics.

Special effects called out to her because it was very hands-on and required a lot of creativity—something she had in seemingly endless supply.

Rhys Kelly rings
Seeing the individual and how their eyes define who they are is what inspires Kelly to focus her work specifically on the human eye, like the ones found in these hand-painted rings (prices vary).

“I studied at the Tom Savini Special [Make-Up] Effects program, which was within a trade school named Douglas Education Center,” Kelly says. “I learned the importance of working with others, letting my creativity flow freely without judgment, not to be afraid of critiques, and patience.”

That patience turned out to be a key part of the jewelry she does today. Her current work as an artist and bespoke jeweler happened when she learned how to make and paint eyeballs. Her master stroke was putting them into fine jewelry.

Painting individual eyes on jewelry isn’t for someone who likes to slapdash a project. Rather, Kelly says she purposefully slows down to capture the mood, perspective, and colors in each eye.

Rhys Kelly Zamantha
Kelly also uses gemstones in her work, such as these Zamantha earrings. They include Australian opal, moonstone, green kyanite, freshwater pearl, and watermelon tourmaline ($3,500).

“In today’s day and age, we want things tomorrow if not today. Jewelry and art has taught me the importance of patience and how things that are done with love and a little more time are usually more valuable,” Kelly says.

“Eyes say so much without saying a word,” she adds. “They symbolize so many things—the uniqueness in us all, our own life stories, our soul purpose. Each piece I create is made with so much love and positive energy. It’s really important to me that my customers receive a personalized piece that speaks to their soul and makes them truly happy within.”

Her future goal? To see her work in galleries and art installations.

“My next step is to spread my wings and create more big art pieces for galleries and other events while simultaneously continuing to grow the jewelry line,” Kelly says. “I’ve learned how all the little things really do make up the big things. The more you focus on something, the more it’ll become your reality.”

Top: Rhys Kelly says she hopes her jewelry inspires people to look more carefully and closely at one another, slowing down to appreciate the beauty and soul found within our eyes (photos courtesy of Rhys Kelly). 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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