Lauren Tobey began working as a bench jeweler in 2001 and in 2006, she opened Meltdown Studio here in Albuquerque, NM. Meltdown is a jewelry school/studio that not only offers jewelry classes, but provides an open studio and workspace for other artists to use. The space has created a community of artists who are interested in teaching, learning, and sharing techniques within the field of small metals and jewelry.

Lauren Tobey at her bench

Last year, I asked Lauren if she could make some pieces that showed off the potential of the new Swanstrom Rectangle and Oval Cutters. She created two intriguing cuff bracelets with geometric patterns, one of which can be seen on the cover of the 2012 Tools Catalog.

Cuff bracelet by Lauren Tobey, made using the Swanstrom Rectangle Cutter.

I asked Lauren if I could interview her for The Studio so we could learn more about these bracelets and the artist who made them.

 SB:  What made you decide to open Meltdown?

LT: When I went to UNM, I worked a lot at their studio, but after I graduated, I noticed there’s no place in town where you can do metal work unless you set up your own studio, and that’s a big investment. That’s what made me start Meltdown. It was the kind of place I was looking for when I graduated. I thought other people might be looking for something like this too.

 SB:  Like you said, a complete jeweler’s studio is a big investment. How did you pull it off?

LT: I did my business planning for Meltdown while I was working as a bench jeweler for another artist, and when I started the place, I started out small. Meltdown has grown incrementally, and it’s always just been what I can afford. I’ve never taken on debt to grow the studio—everything’s been out of pocket. Meltdown started as a very small space with just a little bit of equipment, and we just grew according to the demand. As more people got involved in our classes and studio time, I bought more equipment. We moved into a bigger space in 2009. With the bigger space we could accommodate more students, which allowed us to invest in more equipment. And of course I shopped for deals. I bought used equipment. I looked for opportunities to buy from companies that were going out of business. And we’ve continued to grow, mostly thanks to word of mouth.

Bench space at Meltdown Studio.

SB:  What do you think you’ve accomplished with Meltdown?

LT: I just want to provide something there’s a need for and meet the demand. Everyone has some sort of creativity inside them – they come to class and say “I’m not creative,” then they work with metal for five hours and see the transformation on the piece, and understand that they did it–that they are creative. I love seeing that, and it happens all the time. I love seeing students come back, I love watching their skills grow. Meltdown is becoming a creative, fun, supportive community for anyone who wants to express themselves artistically through metal.

SB:  Talk about your Studio Bench Mates Program.

LT: We’re housing 5 permanent bench set-ups at Meltdown now for students who have a firm understanding of techniques and studio policy and want to continue to create. The Bench Mates get 24-hour access to the studio, we provide the bench, they can store their tools and materials, and they can come work whenever they want. The Bench Mates are Tamara Trejo-Perez, Michele McMillan, Cornelia Sachs, Justine Ortiz, and Bernadette Jobs.

Michele McMillan, at work on her bench at Meltdown. When I visited, Michele had just returned from Tucson and was at work making use of all the treasures she’d found.

A silver cuff with a geometric pattern made using Swanstrom Round Disc Cutter

SB:  We asked you to make some pieces for us to show off the potential of the new Swanstrom Shape Cutters, and you made two beautiful cuff bracelets with mesmerizing geometric patterns. How did you come up with these?

LT: I had actually worked on a series of cuffs using the Swanstrom Round Disc Cutter. Those cuffs had done really well in the galleries. When I saw the new shapes, my mind immediately went to an extension of that series, using the new shapes to come up with clean, geometric designs that maxim ized the use of the metal. I made both of those bracelets, the round and the oval, with almost no scrap at all. I’m happy with how they turned out.

SB: We’re happy with how they turned out too. Thanks for showing off the potential of those tools, and thanks for taking the time visit us at The Studio, Lauren!

Want to see how to make the rectangle bracelet shown at the top of this post? Check out this step by step project on