Todd Pownell leans over a reclaimed early 20th-century display case to examine his latest masterpiece: a necklace made with 2 carats of inverted white pave diamonds accented in a circular 18-karat gold frame ($6,120). "[The diamonds] refract light from oblique angles, so the low-angled light looks romantic and mysterious," he says with an optivisor — used to magnify his work — strapped to his head like a hard hat.
With rough-hewn edges, scattered inlaid diamonds and nature-inspired elements such as leaflike textures, the pieces Pownell creates as co-founder of Tap Studios meld romanticism with modern-urban flair. Raw diamonds from estate sales and recycled metals are reincarnated as rings, earrings and bracelets he sells online and at Juicy Lucy in Chagrin Falls.
Pownell's foray into jewelry-making began in a Niles McKinley High School shop class about 25 years ago. "When I first saw metal melt, it was like an epiphany," he says. "I watched it move through heat and become malleable and manipulative."
He studied jewelry fabrication and stone setting at Ezra F. Bowman Technical School in Lancaster, Pa., forging miniature metal boxes with copper and precious metals such as sterling silver and gold. He met his wife, jewelry artist Debra Rosen, while working at a local fine jewelry store.
A decade ago, the duo opened Tap Studios in MidTown's Loftworks Building. The live-work space functions as a classroom where they instruct students how to make their own jewelry or teach soldering, stone setting and wax carving.
"The students feel closer to the object when they can learn and be a part of creating their jewelry," says Pownell, "rather than just going to a traditional jewelry store and picking out a mainstream ring from a cold counter."
Circle of Life
Jackie Ferguson's husband Mike Taylor, a critical-care physician at Fairview Hospital, lost his wedding band when he removed it before performing surgery. While he purchased a $38 pewter replacement from Etsy, the couple wanted something more meaningful. Ferguson tells us about creating their matching white gold bands at Tap Studios.
I took four small diamonds from a necklace my dad gave me before he passed away. Then we took white gold pebbles and melted them down. A blowtorch changed their color and produced these beautiful orange jelly beans as long as matchsticks. We hammered away. We fed the flat pieces through a machine that looked like it was 4 million years old to make the metal leaner, then soldered them. I joke that I'm barely a girl — I'm all jock — but I shed tears when we were hammering test patterns onto copper pieces to figure out which we liked for our rings. Todd added my four diamonds, all askew on the band. Every time I look down at my husband's hand, I think, Oh my god, I made your ring. And I love looking down at my finger and seeing the two loves of my life: Anyone who's met me after eight seconds knows I miss my dad every day, and Mike is my best, best friend. — as told to KAC
Forge Your Future
Instructors Todd Pownell and Debra Rosen teach a workshop on how to design your own ring from a family heirloom or using 18-karat yellow, white or rose gold granules. Here's a rundown.
Melt your metal: Place your old rings sans gems (the instructors use a prong puller to remove them) or metal grains into a crucible. A torch liquefies the metal. Pour the molten concoction into a steel mold, which turns it into a bar of raw metal. Hammer away at the screw-length bar to begin flattening it.
Form the new rings: Take a steel rolling mill and go over the metal several times, until it's about 2 millimeters thick and 3 inches long. Curl the flat bar into a circle by massaging it over a ring bender. Saw and file the ends of the unfused circle, then weld the seam with a torch.
Work on the details: A variety of textured hammers, chasing tools and stamps help you achieve the distinct pattern you want. A buffing machine yields either a satin finish or high polish. Drill holes for your diamond, while Pownell handles setting the jewels. Celebrate a job well done with a Champagne toast.