Michelle Fernandez, the jeweler behind MeShe Designs, has one of the most well-known social media presences in the #RioJeweler family. What began as a sharing experience has grown into an avenue where she helps other jewelers learn from her mistakes – and her triumphs. In an industry that often clutches to technical and business knowledge as proprietary, Michelle turns this convention on its head. We sat down with her to learn about her work.
How did jewelry making come into your life?
My mother always watched QVC and, as I got older, I grew to love the programs where the hosts worked every angle to sell the items they were presenting. I primarily loved the jewelry programs. I would sit and watch them present all the designers and collections. I was fascinated by the stones, metalwork, and overall passion behind the designers. When I was about 17, I worked in a local metaphysical, new-age shop, where we sold vast amounts of crystals, wands, aromatherapy, spiritual healing items, and (best of all) handmade jewelry. That’s really when I got a true taste of handcrafted jewelry. I was constantly touching it, rearranging displays and selling these collectables to our customers. I feel that jewelry making is similar to falling in love. When you find it inside of you, you just know it’s right.
I began simple wire-wrapping at that point, built up my skills and started my first jewelry line of gemstones and mixed vintage components. From early on, I knew this was a path I wanted to pursue. When people would ask what I did for a living, I would say, “I’m a jeweler.” I took metalsmithing courses for a few years at a local art league with some fantastic instructors. I still continue my education through private lessons and online courses when I have free time.
What inspires your work?
Love, always love. I am really passionate about the relationships in my life, whether they are with my family, friends or lover. When I am surrounded by genuine connections to the people I love most it really sparks my creativity. I think staying inspired is relatively simple when you enjoy the places and people around you. It all comes full circle, eventually, and one crosses over into the other. I really have become a happier person from what I do.
What interests you about working in gold?
I have always loved gold—yellow, rose, green—any shade. What really draws me into gold is how timeless and sophisticated it feels. I love a good classic piece of jewelry, and I find that adding a touch of gold really showcases and enhances the overall quality of the design. There is something about using gold that really makes me feel I hit a milestone in designing.
What’s holding you back from working in gold?
Right now I offer a limited amount of pieces that feature gold, mainly bezels mixed with sterling back plates and bands. I would say making a decision to work with gold is far more thought out than working with silver, mainly due to its price point. I do mostly made-to-order rings; it’s hard to know what will be a hit sometimes in any style with any metal. Offering gold requires me to choose wisely with stone pairings or overall style to make sure the gold functions and is aesthetically pleasing. With silver I can test and try out many stones and styles, and if it’s not a hit, there isn’t a huge pocket loss. I really try to hone in on what styles to introduce in gold to my current customer base to see what will flow with my current line and appeal to both new and repeat clients. There is a major price jump on both the client’s end and mine [with gold], and so less room for mistakes
In your mind, what message or feel would your gold jewelry convey? How does this differ from your pieces made in other metals?
Again, how timeless and sophisticated it looks and feels. Silver has its own elegance that I love and cherish. I feel gold can really showcase some of the more rare and expensive stones that I use. Gold to me serves them justice; pairing a higher end emerald, ruby, or tanzanite with a touch of gold gives the opportunity for the metal and stone to live in harmony both in look and price point.
Who or what has had a significant impact on your work as a jeweler?
My best friend Meghan and my immediate family. Meghan, in particular, has really supported me through it all, helping at shows, fulfilling larger orders, shipping orders while I’m away on vacation. Both my family and Meghan have seen my business and skillset grow from the very beginning. They’ve made it really easy to follow my dreams, even if they were unconventional. Also, my boyfriend, Joe, is a business owner, and he really impacts the way I view my business. He assists me in balancing my emotional, artistic thinking to channel it to business-minded endeavors. This allows for future growth in both revenue and creativity. I’ve always said that in this field of business, sometimes you can’t think with your art heart. Allowing both your artistic side and business side to have a place makes for a better harmony all around at the end of the day.
What motivates you to create such informative content for other jewelers on your social media, blog and YouTube channels?
I started my YouTube channel to simply connect with other people; working solo most of the time can be isolating compared to a 9-to-5 job. I wanted to start my YouTube channel to connect with an audience that appreciates and is interested in the day-to-day things I do for my business. I figured if it takes off, I can educate people on the behind-the-scenes of a working metalsmith, and if I help a few people along the way and also bring more business in at the same time, it’s a win-win for both the viewer and myself. As for my other social medias, it’s more about photo sharing and keeping the content relevant to my audience.
How do you bring exposure to your work/brand?
Besides YouTube, I use Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. I post regularly to all four, and all four have different target audiences. I find that consistency is key, and not over posting on any one outlet helps. I established my business, MeShe Designs, in 2011. As time has gone on, I have acquired more and more clients this way. Customer service will speak for itself when it comes to repeat business, which to me is some of the best exposure you can ask for. I really believe in being kind, fair and courteous in all situations.
Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry that you’ve made? Tell us about that process.
No, I don’t. I have new favorites all the time. I really don’t have one that I favor over another. I really get excited when I develop a new skill or technique that I tweaked myself and that isn’t necessarily “the right way;” it’s more my way. It feels tailored to my skillset and designs. I find that for me, instead of sketching new ideas, just jumping in and playing in metal or wax is when I develop new techniques that really get my creative process rolling. I tend to sit down at my bench, break out a few stones, start creating and try things that aren’t by the book. This is when my out-of-the-box process really serves me well; I sometimes fail, and sometimes win by creating something extraordinary.
Where do you see yourself a year from now?
In one year I would like to have a helper on a more permanent basis. I have a family member who will stamp boxes or help with listings once in awhile. I’m a bit of a control freak with my business, so letting go of some tasks and inviting someone else in to assist would further my business in many ways. I would really like to continue refining my line, what works, what doesn’t, and continue using more precious gemstones and gold. I would like to see my overall average sale increase. This way I can really feel limitless with tools and the materials I want to use/purchase.