MSmade: Fine Jewelers

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by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace Daffron

Mississippi roots, Mississippi girls – this is MSmade.

A lifeline of life-long friendship

These three friends, who graduated from high school and college together, have pulled each other out of grief and hard times, and unexpectedly into the jewelry-making scene. In the summer of 2017, Dr. Teresa Moore Mendenhall, a retired physician, approached Gabrielle Cooper, and told her about a jewelry-making class she wanted to attend. She asked Cooper to come with her, and initially, Cooper declined. At the time, her mother was on hospice. But a while after her mother’s funeral, Mendenhall approached the subject again; this time, maybe knowing her friend needed a getaway, she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“She said, ‘Fill this out, we’re going.’ And I was like ‘OK,’ reluctantly kind of,” Cooper said. “But I was looking forward to the opportunity to spend time with her because she lives in Ridgeland, so I haven’t seen her a lot over the past decades.

So, they went. They attended courses on the art of wire-wrapping jewelry. After the week ended, Mendenhall returned to her home in Ridgeland, and Cooper returned to Tupelo. She showed their mutual friend Julianne Goodwin the pieces they had made, and Goodwin decided she would tag along to the next year’s class. 

In the summer of 2018, the trio attended more classes at the William Holland School of Lapidary Arts, located in the mountains of northern Georgia. The school offers week-long courses on wire wrapping, stone and gem cutting, metal clay, and many other jewelry techniques. The week is intense, and offers little free time. Goodwin said the classes run from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., only breaking for lunch and dinner. However, by the end of the first day’s classes, Goodwin had made up her mind.

“‘We need to start a business, we could sell this,’” she told the other two. “I think they thought I was kidding.”

They finished out the course and returned to their homes. Goodwin, who owns a business in Tupelo with her husband, said it was clear to the others she was no longer kidding when she had printed business cards. On them, MSmade.

“We wanted to pay homage to our state,” Cooper said about the name. “We’re 50th in so many things, that we wanted something really positive to shine through.”

For the good of others

Now, Goodwin functions as MSmade’s business manager and Cooper, a retired banker, is the brand’s chief marketing officer. All three create jewelry, with each one finding their particular niche. Cooper tends to make more bracelets, Goodwin more earrings, and Mendenhall enjoys making both. MSmade also makes pendants, along with rings and baby bracelets.

The inspiration behind each design can spark from anywhere: architecture like Cooper’s staircase in her home, geometric patterns and even scrolling through Pinterest. But perhaps the inspiration most fulfilling to the three women: designing for a cause. The group has created three different designs for two different fundraisers.

“It’s really a wonderful feeling to be able to do something and help a cause or somebody,” Goodwin said.

To assist with the Tupelo Humane Society, they designed earrings to look like cats and dogs. The other fundraiser was to help a nurse who was battling stage-four lung cancer. When approached about the fundraising opportunity, and with Mendenhall being a breast cancer survivor, MS Made jumped at the chance to help any way it could. They gathered information about the beneficiary in order to design a bracelet she would like, and named the style after her. They donated 50% of the design’s proceeds to her medical fund, totaling about $1,350.

The process + materials

Once a piece is designed, the creation process can vary. It is hard to predict how long each piece will take, though some intricate pieces are clearly more involved. For the more complicated pieces, it’s not uncommon for the women to use a saw, a drill, and countless steps and hardware from start to finish. The first step is to select wires. Cooper said she first learned about the different wires at the William Holland School of Lapidary Arts.

“I didn’t know there are so many different types of wires,” Cooper said laughing. “I was just kind of there to hang out and (the instructor) was like, ‘OK, you’ve got square wire, you’ve got flat wire, you’ve got round wire, you’ve got all this,’ and I was like ‘What difference does it make?’ But it does make a lot of difference.” 

While the types of wires vary, they stick to two materials: sterling silver and 14K gold filled. The gold-filled wires they use have 20 layers of gold around sterling silver. They have also started using rose gold wires, to provide customers with more options. MSmade can create pieces that include crystals, like Swarovski or CZ crystals, and sometimes stones like jade, onyx or jasper. Each of their pieces can be customized, and they said customers will regularly request a piece be two-toned, or a crystal be replaced for another color.

They acquire their wires from online retailers, one of which is based in Israel. This retailer specializes in intricately patterned wires, which the trio has really grown to love and use regularly in their work. These patterned wires, which are usually thicker, require cutting with a small saw. Next, they begin attaching other wires alongside it. Sometimes, these are twisted or braided wires. For those, Cooper uses a drill to carefully twist it, or will braid wires together by hand.

“It’s frustrating at times, just because it’s so detailed and you want it to be perfect to sell or for someone to wear it,” Cooper said.

Throughout the production process, MSmade saves every piece of scrap wire. Their suppliers will buy back their unused materials to be recycled.

While they each have materials in their own homes, Cooper has three desks set up in her studio, in the upstairs of her home. On occasion, they will all congregate to Cooper’s house, sometimes in the Jackson area at Mendenhall’s home instead, and they’ll have a making party while enjoying each other’s company.

“It brings us a lot of joy and a lot of fun times together because a lot of times,” Cooper explained, “we’ll all be together. So girl friend, girl friendship.”

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