Jamie Reynolds, a 35-year old vintage jewelry artist, has always loved turning something old into something new.
As young as age 6, she made a doll’s wardrobe out of old socks.
“I reversed the sock, so the top part with the ruffle is the bottom skirt,” she said. “I made slits on the side for arms and used yarn to tie the seams. We didn’t have a ton of money growing up. My mom would keep cereal boxes, odds and ends, and I would make dollhouses with staircases out of them. I’d take fabric scraps for carpet and gift wrap for wallpaper.”
Seven years ago, the Tooele resident decided to turn her lifelong hobby of repurposing old stuff into a business. She called it AJ Jewelry, taking the “A” from Andrew, her husband’s first name, and the “J” from her first name. Initially, she enjoyed modest success. In 2009, she decided to go above and beyond a small, home-based business.
Today, her vintage jewelry and whimsical creations can be found at local boutiques like Homebodies and Hometouch, as well as boutiques along the Wasatch Front. Since March, she’s also run an online shop on Etsy.com.
From the items she sells at stores and fairs, she makes enough money so she doesn’t have to look for a job outside the home.
“The last year and a half, part of my profits go to supplies, and part of it goes to my household,” she said.
Her style is vintage, so she’s always on the lookout for materials at thrift stores, garage sales and eBay.
One of her top sellers is her steampunk jewelry. Steampunk refers to literature that features steam-powered machinery during the 19th century. The jewelry reflects this genre’s fascination with machinery. As she’s sold her cog- and key-festooned necklaces, she’s made a surprising observation.
“You’d be amazed at how many men like to look through the jewelry, because they have old trinkets on them,” she said.
With her fascination for cogs and innards of clocks, she taught herself to solder two years ago, so she could include them in her steampunk jewelry. While the soldering iron is hot, she applies melted metal that acts as glue onto a dog-tag metal plate, then layers cogs, metal trinkets and keys on them.
“I like keys, especially the barrel-style keys from the 1800s,” she said. “When people find out what I’m doing, they give me keys. I have about 100 keys waiting for me.”
From friends, she gets other vintage materials, like a room tag dating back to the late 1800s. The father of one of her daughter’s friends found it while he was detecting for metal in Nevada.
Reynolds also makes custom vintage jewelry. She takes trinkets that mean a lot to a client and puts it all together into a one-of-a-kind piece.
“One lady brought me her grandma’s watch, wedding bands, her grandfather’s medals for water polo in the 1940s, old brooches and rhinestone earrings,” she said.
The resulting bracelet, Reynolds said, meant a lot to her client.
To store the jewelry she sells, Reynolds rescued a battered, olive-green suitcase, painted it pink with black and white accents, and added four knobs on the bottom for legs. Nestled inside the suitcase are zipper rings she made using metal zippers she salvaged from her kids’ outgrown jeans.
In her living room, a gold curio cabinet, which used to be an “ugly” black, houses glass flamingoes she got from Italy when she was 18. It also has bird figurines and dishes from her grandmother, whom she credits for her love of jewelry.
“I lived with my grandma the summer I was 16 and helped take care of her,” she said. “She loved jewelry and had jewelry box upon jewelry box. She had boxes of little trinkets. She would let me go through it and tell me about each one’s history.”
The curio also shows off flowers Reynolds’ son made and a clock her husband gave her. She uses clocks generously in her decorating. On one wall of her kitchen, she had to have a clock, but her clock wasn’t big enough for the space, so she filled the rest of it with vintage picture frames.
When she can’t find what she wants, she makes it. She did this with her wedding dress.
“I didn’t like the cost and didn’t have good experiences going to dressmaker shops,” she said. “I wanted more of an A-line, empire-waist dress, but I couldn’t find what I wanted. My mom said, ‘Why don’t you work on it?’”
So on her wedding day, she finished the dress at 10 a.m., painted a trellis at 11 a.m., and got married at 3 p.m. in her parents’ backyard.
On most days, her house looks like a showroom, with her vintage jewelry on display. With her four children ages 5 to 16, she’s not too worried they’ll damage anything.
A regular at craft fairs, she participates in one fair a month from June to December. This past June, she sold her vintage jewelry at the Tooele Arts Festival. It was a weekend of high winds that about blew the vendors out of there, but sales were still brisk.
“There was a huge turnout,” Reynolds said. “I made a lot of sales and just enjoyed it.”
An exciting component of fairs for Reynolds is getting feedback from the public.
“When I work on my jewelry at home, I generally don’t hear compliments, or hear people’s reaction to it,” she said. “I like to watch what color schemes people are drawn to.”
After the fair season is over, she takes six months off.
“That’s when I don’t do public stuff,” she said. “I just make jewelry. I’m already planning my new stuff.”
During her creative period, she has a daily routine.
“I get up to make my husband’s lunch,” she said. “Then I sit for 45 minutes with my cup of coffee and the computer, finishing projects from the night before. I catch up on Facebook or process orders.”
She then gets the kids off to school, and creates away until they’re ready to get back from school. After dinner and once the family is off to bed, she’s back to creating, sometimes not sleeping until late at night.
For Reynolds, one of the hazards of her occupation is getting attached to each piece she makes. “Sometimes, I will make a piece that I hold for three months,” she said. “If there are pieces I absolutely can’t part with, I give them to my daughter.”
Her 16-year-old daughter has an armoire full of jewelry Reynolds has made. Fortunately, the sting of separation is eased when Reynolds sees her jewelry go to a good home.
“I like knowing where they go,” she said. “Seeing people buy them makes me happy.”