Catching the light of gems in Vail
July 26, 2010
VAIL – Carolyn Tyler, the artist whose near-death experience helped inspire her to transmit light through gems and jewelry, first showed her work in Karats of Vail about 10 years ago, but now can be found in Saks Fifth Avenue and, just recently, Neiman Marcus. Mass production, however, will never be part of her agenda.
“I used to go to jewelry shows, and Saks and Neimans would stop by my booth and say, ‘I love your stuff, why haven’t we heard of you?’ I’d say I only do limited quantities and that each piece is a virtual one of a kind,” said Tyler, whose 2010 summer show is on display all weekend at Karats. “I might do the same design again with different stones, but it will never be exactly the same. They’d say, ‘you couldn’t do 200 of this?’ And I’d say, ‘No, I’m so sorry.'”
Recently, however, the big stores began appreciating the each-piece-is-its-own-kingdom appeal of Tyler’s work and took in a selection of it. But Karats owner and fellow jewelry maker Dan Telleen realized this appeal a long time ago when Tyler, who splits her time between California and Bali, where all of her jewelry is crafted, became the first outside artist whose work he accepted into his shop.
“At first, I had to tell her that everything we sell is what we make,” Tellen said. “As I got to know her and her work, I found that it would fit really well into what we do. Her background is archaeology. You’ll see Egyptian influence, Indian influence … her gemstones come from all over the world.”
Known for working with ecologically friendly gold that is recycled and not newly mined, Tyler has been concentrating more on the stones in her pieces, giving her an outlet for what she refers to as her “gem addiction.” Operating differently than most jewelry designers, Tyler never plans out a design for her gemstone work, but says each stone she finds delivers a sudden and clear vision of what form it will take.
“When I see the stone, I get an image of what it’s going to be … like a mental Rolodex,” she said. “When I bring it out again, I get the picture back. It’s like automatic designing in a way. The stone tells me what to do with it.”
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Tyler’s latest work includes an incredibly intricate gold chainmail bracelet sparkling with sapphires of autumn colors that took her four months to make, as well as a collection of men’s cufflinks made from an assortment of moonstones, black Venetian glass and Sugilite.
“One of the things I kept getting asked about is something for men,” Tyler said. “My clients came to me and said, ‘I feel guilty being the only one getting the jewelry.'”
Regardless of what shape it takes – a regal cascade of stones weaved into a Cleopatra-style necklace or simple pearl earrings – Tyler says the allure of gemstones goes back to the universally hypnotic effect of light.
“I read an article by Aldous Huxley that helped explain on a spiritual level why I was designing jewelry,” Tyler said. “The article asks an interesting philosophical question. Why have people assigned such value to bits of colored rock that just sparkle and glow? Why are people fighting wars and lying and stealing to acquire these bits of colored rock? He ended up saying – and I had the same idea – that the reason people universally respond to gems or similar things like stained glass or twinkle lights, a sunrise, a sunset … is that things that reflect and refract light remind us of our spiritual home – of God, the force … whatever you want to call it. Gems and jewelry speak to us on a basic spiritual level.”
Shauna Farnell is a marketing consultant for Karats.