What draws us to a piece of jewelry? Beauty, fashion, and craftsmanship, to be sure, but for Ivry Russillo, creator of Ivry Belle Jewelry, it’s also about the connotation behind each metalsmithed work of art. “I love symbology,” said Russillo, whose “Freedom Collection” features icons of luck and protection. “I feel like a lot of people gravitate toward meaning. People buy jewelry because it’s pretty, but when it has a meaning behind it, it’s almost like a slam-dunk.”
Make no mistake, Russillo’s jewelry is a far cry from the hokey charm bracelets you wore in middle school. Her creations run the gamut from oversize precious stone rings to leather wrap bracelets with metal detailing, to intricate beflowered amulets and talismans. Most of Russillo’s pieces are adorned with her signature metal rose blossoms, which further tie the collection together. And the best part is, they’re all handcrafted by Russillo herself.
Russillo had always loved wearing jewelry, but when she first set out to attend the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston, she had no specific intention of studying the medium. She registered for a jewelrymaking class, and her inspiration was sparked immediately. “The initial intriguement of making jewelry was to make it for myself, and make stuff I had never seen before,” Russillo said.
She became so hungry for instruction in jewelrymaking that she severed ties with the Museum School and enrolled at the Art Studio Fuji in Florence, Italy. “Things really started to take off there,” Russillo said. Her instructors employed an old-school method, requiring students to become intimately acquainted with metalwork, creating their own metal findings, sheet, and wire to use in their designs. “Any project we would make took 10 times longer because we actually had to make the metal too,” Russillo said. “It conditions you to become so familiar with the medium when you make your own supplies.”
Russillo departed the program with skills in two methods of jewelrymaking and production. The first was this old-school method of fabrication, where the artist cuts the “bones” of a design from sheets of metal, then solders them together. The second is lost wax casting, in which the artist sculpts a prototype with wax by hand. A foundry then creates a mold from the prototype, and pours molten metal into the mold to produce a metal replica of the original wax prototype. The artist can trim off any excess metal, sand, and polish the product until it is wearable. In Russilo’s case, she often adds a high polish for detail, and oxidizes for dimension. She then creates a mold from the finished product so she can easily reproduce items for her wholesale buyers. “I work in both fabrication and lost wax casting daily,” Russillo said. “I think it’s important to know how to do both.”
Russillo’s ability to design and reproduce works in both methods gives her pieces an air of intentionality — the key ingredient that makes an otherwise slapdash grouping of jewelry into a refined collection. “When I’m designing, I don’t want to just design random pieces,” Russillo said. “The studs relate to the necklace that relate to the ring that relate to the bracelet, but it’s not too matchy-matchy. I want my pieces to be recognized because I use a certain flower or a certain crystal, so when people buy it or wear it, others can recognize that it’s Ivry Belle Jewelry.” Russillo said it’s only been about five years since her work finally matured into a cohesive collection, but the Freedom Collection evolved from both personal and universal themes.
“The Freedom Collection to me represents a feeling of being grounded when you’re seeking direction,” Russillo said. Many items in the collection were developed as Russillo, feeling stagnated on Martha’s Vineyard after 10 straight years, departed for Miami. “The collection started on that journey of independently going down a path that was unfamiliar,” Russillo said, “but in a sense I felt freed.”
That feeling of freedom is evident in the equestrian-inspired horseshoe pendants, evoking the energy of the wild mustang, the hamsas symbolizing universal protection and love, and the pentagrams representing the five lifegiving elements. “I love being able to take a pre–existing meaningful symbol and put my interpretation on it and put it out in the world,” Russillo said. But there are also traces of home, in the flowers that Russillo cultivated as a longtime gardener and landscaper, the sharks’ teeth that persevere even as the clay cliffs around them crumble, and even the occasional touch of iconic Vineyard wampum. “I think about the simple compositions that Mother Nature has to offer, that are everywhere around us,” Russillo said. “I definitely pick up inspiration from that. The collection, however feminine, has this rustic edge.”
Now that Russillo has returned from her flight to the South, she’s thinking of ways to maintain her freedom while letting her roots return to Vineyard soil. The jeweler says she’d love to one day own a brick-and-mortar, where she can showcase her work as well as her education background with jewelrymaking classes.
But for now, it’s summer. The Vineyard Artisans Fair and the Chilmark Flea Market are in full swing, and Russillo is simply happy to have fresh work in her booth week after week. “All I know is the ideas never stop, and I’m thankful for that,” Russillo said. “It’s the momentum that inspires me.”