After the death of Kimberly Monaco's father 25 years ago, her mother gave her a box of his trinkets, including an antique rosary with black onyx beads trimmed in lacy silver filigree.
"I may burn in hell for this, but I took it apart and made necklaces and earrings for my mom and me," Monaco says. "It was a way to have a little part of him."
The project sparked Monaco's interest in jewelry design, though it remained a hobby as she married, had children and started a company with her husband. That business provided metal finishing for nuts, bolts and other metal parts, and it added metalwork know-how to her jewelry hobby.
"My husband taught me to weld, which translates into soldering," she says. "That's where I got my interest in using hardware and playing with metal."
Monaco's husband died a few years ago, and the company was dissolved, so she channeled her energy toward turning her jewelry-making hobby into a business.
Today, her necklaces, earrings, bracelets and hairpins blend metalwork with semiprecious stones and found objects such as skeleton keys, compasses and old-fashioned bobby whistles, which she picks up at flea markets, tag sales and on eBay. She sells her pieces at local art fairs such as the Hessler Street Fair, online at Etsy and in retail spots like Mezzanine Gallery in Little Italy and Westlake's Sparkle boutique, found inside Vanity Lab hair salon.
Her work plays on contradictions — such as industrial-looking metal combined with a delicate freshwater pearl — and pulls together disparate elements. The "Lucky Charms" necklace incorporates stamped metal, semiprecious stones and found objects on a thin silver chain. The prices are reasonable at $20 to $50 for a necklace and $15 to $25 for earrings.
Monaco, 49, lives in Lakewood with her daughter and 3-year-old grandson, Carter, caring for him while her daughter works full time and goes to school. She sneaks in jewelry-making while Carter is at preschool or asleep. The stories she reads to him each night inspired Monaco's Fables jewelry line. The necklaces invoke fairy tale images like a vintage thimble and acorn — made with a pearl and a bead cap — similar to those Wendy and Peter exchange in Peter Pan.
But catch Monaco in another year's time, and her style may be completely different.
"My work is evolving all the time," she says. "It has to. You can't just stay stagnant."