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Karats: jewelry for all the ages

Connie Steiert

A gift of jewelry is often a gift of remembrance celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, one special moment. Yet Karats jewelry in Vail takes the idea of remembrance a step further, embracing both the present and spanning the millennium.Karats’ six jewelers produce pieces that speak wonderfully of today, of the moment now, but frequently weave in the past as well, with themes that strike a chord in all of us. Witness the stunning silver bracelet now taking form in Karats’ Vail Village studio. Its striking curves and generous proportions make a particularly attractive and modern statement. But look closer; it is cast from those wax lips we used to play with as kids.”So much of what we do is about time and evolution,” explains Karats owner and jeweler extraordinaire Dan Telleen. “Our things are about now, but they are about the good things we all have in common.”Which of us does not remember with fondness the candy hearts, with messages like, “Be Mine,” that we happily munched as kids? Telleen has cleverly transformed this childhood treat into a unique and evocative line of jewelry, such as a ring with a simple gold heart on one side, which rotates to display a candy heart on the other, complete with a hidden message.Karats gallery at 122 E. Meadow Drive in Vail currently has several irresistible pieces of jewelry, perfect for Valentine’s Day. There is a delicately wrought, three-dimensional gold heart pendant; a pendant with a rare, iridescent abalone center; and an aquamarine heart on a sapphire string of beads, pierced with a golden arrow.”Sometimes we make things just because they are pretty,” says Telleen.All of Karats’ jewelry, however, is timeless, and many pieces weave in artifacts that are 200 to 2,000 years old, connecting us with our past in a contemporary way.Cowry shells from Uganda (two cowries would fetch a “good woman”) make lovely gold pendants or natural tuxedo cuff links even a stylish cummerbund.Exquisite glass Padre beads from Italy were used for trading hundreds of years ago, but today, along with the white heart beads coveted around the turn of the last century, they form fashionable necklaces.Karats’ jewelry also evokes a far more distant past. Ammonites, from 225 million years ago, and 350-million-year-old trilobites make unique and stunning earrings and cufflinks. And those lovely earrings, with the beautiful cascade of stars, encase pieces of meteorites, which date back 4 billion years.”Sometimes I am working on 350-million-year-old fossils and watching Star Trek in my studio,” says Telleen, fascinated by the juxtaposition of the past and future. We are, he adds, the first generation to really understand our place in history. “We can look all the way back and all the way to our future. It’s all about imagination.”That imagination and sense of place is evident in Telleen’s jewelry, which has won awards and been featured in collections, such as the Smithsonian collection in Washington, D.C., and exhibits at Denver International Airport and in the British Museum in London.Ever since Telleen began his first money collection as a child in third grade he has understood the value of artifacts and has been fascinated by their patinas.”Debris,” he calls them. But as someone once wisely said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”Whereas a cast-off pony bead, used by the American Indians for trading, might have been rendered useless a century or two ago, today a collection of these beads forms a beautiful, contemporary Karats necklace, with an Indian spearhead pendant. Even 100-year-old African snake vertebrae become fluid and graceful necklaces under Telleen’s talented and visionary hands.”What we’re doing is going back in time, but it’s all about us and the debris we carry around,” says Telleen, whose work has been featured in numerous publications, such as “Creative Jewelry Techniques,” by Harold O’Connor.Telleen continually scours antiquity galleries and shows to find artifacts, like glass from the Roman Empire, coins from Persia and treasure that came from Spain centuries ago, which he fashions into some of the most beautiful and fascinating jewelry around.A collection of Syrian and Persian seals, for instance, used thousands of years ago to seal missives, now lend their exquisite patterns to unusual and lovely gold bracelets and rings. One Karats’ ring features an Egyptian Faience scarab, which rotates much like it probably did three thousand years ago.Telleen explains the jewelry Karats creates with artifacts is not an exact copy, rather it is a transposition of the artifact into something that becomes meaningful today.”We’re making art, not just regular jewelry,” says Telleen.In addition to its own outstanding, original jewelry, Karats features the work of other jewelers, sculptors and artists known across the country, from Colorado to the Virgin Islands. Some of these artists have long-time Vail roots, such as the now internationally known sculptor Chuck Whitehead, who originally opened the Knox Gallery in Vail years ago. Jewelers Jeff and Susie Wise used to live in Vail, and now have work displayed in the Smithsonian. David Belson opened the first camera shop in Vail, and Rika Mouw is a renowned jeweler with roots in Vail.Call (970) 476-4760 for more information, or stop by Karats Vail Village gallery at 122 E. Meadow Drive.


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