The quaint streets of Apalachicola with its eclectic small town feel and stunning coastal landscape seem to attract creative personalities of all types – from artists to architects. Marilyn Brogan chose to relocate her custom jewelry studio, Marilyn Brogan Jewelry, from San Diego to the Forgotten Coast after visiting and feeling the area’s inexplicable draw. Marilyn recently shared the story behind her studio located at 236 Water Street in the heart of historic downtown, and where she finds inspiration for her unique, handmade pieces.
How did you become a jewelry designer?
Circuitously! I came to jewelry through sculpture where I tended to work in multiples, and in repetitive processes that had a meditative quality for me. I earned a BFA in Sculpture from the top-flight program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where the program required a wide variety of skill-based courses like welding, aluminum and bronze casting, mold making, and even carpentry. This exposed me to different modes of creating and working with a variety of materials and helped shape my philosophy about how I choose what I use in the creative process.
After college, I was selected for the Core Fellow Program at Penland School of Craft in the mountains of western North Carolina, where I spent two years in residence refining my skills through the workshop-based format there. Penland is where I took my first metalsmithing class, following recommendations from several of my mentors and colleagues who saw the connection between my approach to sculpture and the detail-oriented demands of metalsmithing and jewelry-making. Once I had a successful day of soldering, I was hooked! I have always liked working on a small scale and enjoy order and polish – so this medium just clicked with me.
After Penland I moved to San Diego, CA, and once settled I found a studio space and started working on my own production line. The designs were all made of silver and had a line-drawing quality to them. I sold this work online and through galleries and boutiques but began exploring gold as an alternative. I spent several years working at Taboo, one of the galleries that carried my work, which is an anchor of the Southern California jewelry world. Taboo represents dozens of highly regarded independent designers, and stocking and selling their work was a sort of additional education in technique and material that built on what I had developed since my time at Penland. Working at Taboo helped give me the confidence to focus more on gold as a material, and to think increasingly about the pieces I designed as small sculptures. I realized I didn’t want to produce wholesale lines – I wanted to make special pieces for special people.
What kind of pieces do you design – is everything made in house?
I design all kinds of pieces: rings, earrings, hand-made chain, bangles, and pendants. I use a variety of techniques. Some pieces are hand-fabricated from sheet, wire, and gemstones in my Apalachicola studio using tiny saws and files, and the littlest torch you’ve ever seen. Other pieces require equipment that is highly specialized, and I have a small group of collaborators – mainly in San Diego where I started my business in 2008 – when I need specialized 3D computer modeling for an intricate design I’ve created, or to have a piece cast (still using SCS-certified recycled gold or silver) rather than hand-fabricated. Regardless of process, each piece is designed and started by me, and ultimately finished by me, by hand, before it leaves my shop.
A lot of my work is one of a kind and my other pieces are limited production. I am always working on a small scale – I don’t mass produce anything.
What is unique about your jewelry – where do you find inspiration for individual pieces?
What makes my jewelry unique is, among other things, specificity of place. I draw inspiration from the natural world around me, and if you know Apalachicola and the Forgotten Coast, you know there is no shortage of inspiration! But I don’t enjoy literal translation – my design aesthetic primarily centers around pieces that are evocative of the Forgotten Coast but are familiar enough to allow you to see and feel what is important to you about each one.
Specificity of place informs my materials choices, too. I only use recycled gold and traceable, ethically sourced gemstones in my jewelry and that is quite unique. What that means is knowing where exactly a stone has been mined and the hands it passed through to get to mine, and to my clients.
How long have you been in Apalachicola? Why do you feel it is a great place to own a business?
I have been in Apalachicola since 2016 and have been visiting since 2007. The first time I visited, I knew I needed to find a way to be here full time – and I’m so glad I did. Apalachicola is a supportive town that understands folks who work with their hands, who create, and who are rooted, emotionally and physically, in the local environment – from artists to musicians, from oystermen to Oyster City Brewing.
How can customers purchase your jewelry?
Online at marilynbrogan.com or in my showroom in Apalachicola at 236 Water Street. I always have a selection of ready-made and one-of-a-kind pieces in stock and am happy to schedule an appointment to discuss custom work and special pieces. Some of my all-time favorite designs have come out of the collaborative creative process of custom jewelry appointments.
Do you have any interesting stories about custom pieces you’ve created?
So many great stories! I had a client who hiked Mount Kilimanjaro and bought herself a gorgeous tanzanite as a reward – I made her a pendant that showcased the stone perfectly, and so she can wear the memory of that amazing accomplishment and feel temporarily transported back. I have also had the honor of repurposing heirloom diamonds – I love antique diamonds = to make engagement rings for a new generation. Seeing great-grandma’s engagement ring getting the chance to shine again is really special.
Honestly, some of my favorite pieces are the ones where the client and I get to know each other a little and go on a hunt together for the perfect stone that satisfies their desire for both stunning sparkles and social responsibility. I’m working on a really special piece right now for a 15th anniversary gift that will feature a nearly 100-year-old diamond in a “transitional cut” that pre-dates mass machine-cut diamonds and is a historic stone in its own right. I can’t give away too many details = the recipient I’m sure reads your newsletters! – but this will definitely become a family heirloom for her, and I love working on these kinds of projects.
Please share any additional fun or important details about your business!
In addition to my own jewelry, I stock a small, tightly curated selection of objects from other craftspeople I know and respect – handblown glass and letterpress cards from North Carolina, ceramics from Tennessee, and gorgeous wooden jewelry boxes made right here in town.
Marilyn Brogan jewelry is proud to be an independent, woman-owned business in Apalachicola. I live here, I love it here, and I want to share this place with other people. Support small business and see you soon!
Stay in touch with Marilyn Brogan Jewelry on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marilynbroganjewelry, or Instagram at @marilynbroganjewelry.
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