Samantha Levine launched her branded jewelry line, Auburn Jewelry, in 2012. She’s since found a niche in combining sterling silver, 14k gold, and enamel in one-of-a-kind pieces, employing monograms, silhouettes and logos into her necklaces and keychains. She first learned about metalsmithing in high school, and her passion developed when she minored in studio art with a concentration in metalsmithing at Skidmore College.
We invited Samantha to take over our Instagram account for a day back in July. She was a huge hit, so we thought we would share a little more of her story with you here. You can see the photos from her Instagram takeover of the Rio account here.
How were you introduced to metalsmithing?
I began metalsmithing at the ripe old age of 14. My high school had a metals program. When I learned I could use a blowtorch in school, I signed up and never looked back! I then went on to a minor in metalsmithing in college and launched Auburn Jewelry a few months before I graduated from law school. The business took off, and I ended up sticking with Auburn Jewelry full time instead of pursuing a career in law.
You make a very distinctive style of jewelry – can you explain how you arrived at this design?
One day I was on Google Chat talking to my best friend. I asked her what I should make and she said, “something with color!” I decided to make a piece using a technique I had learned in high school that incorporated colorful enamel and sterling silver. The first piece I attempted was an “S” in mint green. I posted it on social media and everyone loved it. The line grew from there and now includes everything from initials and monograms to dogs’ ears, ballerinas and the New York City skyline!
What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I’m sure you’ve all read those articles on productivity that tell you not to check your email first thing in the morning, but that’s just crazy. The first thing I do is check my email for new orders and inquiries. I spend a good chunk of the day working on new pieces—piercing designs, enameling and finishing. I also give private lessons on metalsmithing, so depending on the day, I usually have a teaching break at some point.
Once I’ve deemed myself done for the day, which can be anywhere from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., I take my computer upstairs with me and update the Auburn Jewelry website, work on social media posts or answer emails while I sit on my couch and watch Friends. I try to go to sleep by midnight and then do the whole thing again the next day.
Describe your bench.
My bench is usually a mess. There are tools everywhere, along with bits of sandpaper. I try to straighten up the area as I work, but typically I end my days surrounded by tools, paper towels and pieces of jewelry.
I use an old, wooden, dining room table as my main bench. I also have a soldering bench and a finishing table in the studio, as well as a space for inventory and packaging.
When did you know that jewelry design was a passion of yours? What persuaded you to become a full-time jeweler instead of pursuing your law career?
I knew jewelry design and crafting was a passion of mine from the second I picked up my first torch at the age of 14. I took jewelry classes every semester of high school and when looking for colleges to apply to, I made sure they had metals programs. I was also very interested in law and from a young age planned to attend law school and become an attorney. I launched Auburn Jewelry while still in law school. It took off, so I decided to stick with it instead of practicing law after graduation.
Who makes up the team at Auburn Jewelry?
The Auburn Jewelry team is comprised of myself and two apprentices who assist with everything from making pieces to helping with customer relations, social media and website design.
How did you decide custom work was right for your business?
Honestly, I didn’t launch Auburn Jewelry with the goal of customization, but sometimes your audience dictates your product. The more pieces I added to the collection, the more apparent it became that my customers wanted to be able to customize every aspect of their jewelry. They wanted to wear pieces that were meaningful and to give gifts that were thoughtful and truly loved. Due to the fact that I was making every piece by hand, it was quite easy to allow the customers to choose the design, color and metal of each piece. I absolutely love being able to create jewelry that touches so many people’s hearts.
I can think of two examples that were extraordinarily special. I was asked to create a necklace with two pendants. One pendant was the silhouette of a couple’s wedding picture where the husband and wife were looking at each other. The second pendant on the chain had the words “Love Beats Fear.” The necklace was being given as a gift to the wife, whose husband was battling cancer. It meant so much to me to be able to make this necklace for someone who I knew would truly cherish it.
The second example is our “Where’s Dexter?” line of pieces. Our customer sends us a picture of their pet and we use their pet’s ears to create a one-of-a-kind custom piece of jewelry. We’ve made many as memorial pieces. Our customers have told us how very special their “Where’s Dexter?” pendants are because they feel like they always have their pup or kitty with them and close to their hearts.
Tell us about one piece you’re proud of.
One of my all-time favorite pieces is a bloated cube, which I made in college. All six sides are a sterling silver and brass marriage of metals, which I formed, planished and connected at the corners. My favorite piece that I made recently is the silhouette of a ballerina playing the flute. It was a graduation gift for a girl who loves to play the flute and also dances ballet. I was able to sit down with my customer at the computer and design exactly what she wanted. The whole experience was very rewarding, and the final piece turned out great!
How did you get your foot in the door at the retail spaces/ trunk shows you’ve attended?
Back in February of 2014, I decided I would take a chance and go to the Open See at Henri Bendel’s in Manhattan. I waited in line with about a hundred other designers at 7 a.m. for two hours in 20 degree weather on a New York City street before they let us upstairs. They had us fill out a card with our information and we waited to be called to get on another line where all the emerging designers were quickly shuffled by the Bendel’s team to see if anything caught their eye.
Bendel’s wasn’t interested in Auburn Jewelry, but I was fortunate enough to meet the president of the Accessories Council, who was also partaking in the talent search. My line of handcrafted colorful enamel and sterling silver jewelry caught her attention. We set up a meeting and shortly after I became a member. The Accessories Council has been instrumental in putting us in front of the right people. Luckily Auburn Jewelry’s pieces speak for themselves, which has lead to relationships with AhaLife.com and Bloomingdale’s.
Can you give us a behind-the-scenes peek into what doing a trunk show with Bloomingdale’s is like?
Before I get into what goes on at the actual show, I’ll give you a little background on what is entailed in becoming an approved Bloomingdale’s vendor. This isn’t a walk in the park. If you’re lucky enough to get picked up by Bloomingdale’s, even as just a trunk show vendor, there are tons of hoops to jump through before you can even dream about booking your first show. I had to fill out lots of paperwork, create pages on my website and sign contracts. Once everything is submitted, you wait.
That wait took about a month and a half. Once I became an approved vendor, I started receiving emails almost immediately from Bloomingdale’s stores around the country asking me to book shows. When the Bloomies at one of my favorite malls contacted me, I jumped at the chance.
We booked our first show. Here’s a brief synopsis of what goes down: You have to arrive at the store about an hour and a half before opening to make sure you’re all set up. Expect to be at the mall from about 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (the shows are usually 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). There are no breaks and definitely nowhere to sit. You’re working retail all day. It’s hard, it’s grueling and your feet will be sore. The stores encourage you to book shows that are at least two days, and they push you to do three days. That’s two or three days of being on your feet, smiling, friendly and being asked, “where’s the baby clothes department?” multiple times. It’s exhausting!
You may be thinking, “why would someone put themselves through this?” (and I haven’t even told you the cut of the sales Bloomingdales gets). Well, you know that thing you’ve been working on for years and you’re extremely proud of? Now it’s being sold at one of the biggest retailers in the world. Seeing your product being packaged up in Bloomingdale’s glossy black boxes and placed in a Small Brown Bag is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. I have been shopping at Bloomingdale’s since before I can remember. And now MY jewelry is being sold at this store that I hold at such high regard! It’s amazing.
It’s worth the hours on your feet and the stack of paperwork, and even the time you have to spend organizing receipts in order to get paid. It’s all so very worth it, just to see your product on display in an amazing store.
You can see more of Samantha’s work at auburn-jewelry.com.