Within two minutes of meeting designer Michelle Pajak-Reynolds I was laughing with her and swapping sustainability events and stories. I met her at the Metal & Smith Jewelry show and was immediately struck by her original and eye-catching designs.
Her necklaces, earrings and other jewelry are bold and striking and definitely not meant for a shrinking-violet; I was not surprised when I later found out that she had been featured in runway shows such as Jody Bell NYC and seen on A-List celebrities such as Raven-Symone.
Michelle Pajak-Reynolds began designing jewelry when she was five years old after being inspired by the power bracelets and tiara worn by actress Lynda Carter in the Wonder Woman television series.
When she couldn’t create her vision out of pop-beads and jelly bracelets, she decided to pursue more formal training, which began in a tenth grade jewelry class at Mentor High School in Ohio.
She went on to earn her BFA in jewelry from Kent State University. KSU’s jewelry program is part of the School of Art with a focus on art jewelry rather than traditional fine jewelry. Later in her career she earned her MBA in Entrepreneurship from Baldwin-Wallace University. This program lead to opportunities and exposure like being placed in New York Fashion Week and red-carpet events including the Primetime Emmy Awards.
When I asked about her relationship with jewelry in her personal life, I felt like I had entered into a Spielberg-esque plotline: I would not want to deprive my readers of the story. Reynolds has a heart pendant given to her by her late grandmother, Irene Pajak, several years before she passed away.
In Pajak-Reynolds’ own words:
She received it as a gift from Leroy Johnson, one of the 35 soldiers she wrote to during World War II. During that time, many churches organized letter-writing campaigns, and women wrote to soldiers from their communities as a way to support the war effort and boost soldiers’ morale.
My grandma participated in a New Castle, Pennsylvania group organized by Father Flannigan. The ladies were told to keep writing even if the soldiers weren’t able to respond. Leroy served in the Air Force and was stationed in New Guinea.
He wasn’t able to write back but he sent her this heart pendant crafted from a bit of aircraft windshield and an Australian coin.
The front of the pendant is engraved with the words “To Irene New Guinea 1944” and the Australian coin is visible through the back of the piece. Sadly, my late grandfather, who served in the 82nd Airborne and also wrote to my grandma, burned all of the soldiers’ letters that she kept in the early years of their marriage.
He was older than her and told her he ‘didn’t want one of those young bucks stealing her away from him.’ She was furious and now this pendant is all that remains from this important time period of my grandmother’s history.
This story reminds me that jewelry that lasts forever–can hold a story and narrative that lasts forever. I am really touched by this story and reminds me of the power jewelry can hold.
INSPIRATION AND DESIGN
Pajak-Reynolds’ jewelry is inspired by—and respects—nature. “I’ve always been inspired by fashion, nature, and my travels around the world,” she says. “The elegant fabrics in a gown, the striking colors in an exotic flower, the mood of a place all greatly influence my work.” The results are exquisite.
Her necklaces are textured and intricate while also remaining classic. The quartz, peridot and tourmaline clusters complement each other in juxtaposition, as if part of a beautifully arranged bouquet of flowers: each element standing alone in beauty but also being a crucial part of the ensemble
The centerpiece of most of her objects is a very special material called Golden Enhydro Quartz (which I shorten to GEQ) that glows from within. These types of stones contain trapped petroleum from hundreds of thousands—even millions—of years ago and shimmer bright blue when exposed to UV or black light. It is truly a phenomenal sight. They held a light up to the stone at the Metal & Smith stand and it lit up like something out of a science fiction movie.
I love the weird, unusual stones that designers shy away from. Right now, I’m obsessed with chrome diopside and Golden Enhydro Quartz. It’s so much fun to design around and introduce my clients to new and less well-known gems.– Michelle Pajak-Reynolds
PROCESS & SUSTAINABILITY
Just as important as the final product is how the jewelry is made, and Michelle’s creation process is sacred and special. The best part (from GoodBern’s perspective) is that it’s sustainable and 100% handmade.
To Pajak-Reynolds, sustainability isn’t settling for only doing some good. It’s about “doing a lot of things that add up to create a better world for all.” As a result, she approaches sustainability with a multi-pronged, multidimensional method that focuses on building sustainable supply chains*, and enforcing ethical business practices and high quality standards to make generational heirlooms as opposed to temporary pieces.
She is committed to:
- Using recycled precious metals in all jewelry collections
- Building relationships with U.S. based suppliers who use renewable energy sources in the manufacturing of their products
- Using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, gift boxes and packaging
- Forming long-term relationships with suppliers and retailers who share our ethical values
Each piece is handcrafted individually in her Ohio-based studio using traditional metalsmithing techniques with the best quality recycled metals. As the cherry on top of a deliciously sustainable sundae, Michelle is also a member of the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA). She has even advertised her sustainability pledge on her website. In her own words: “I hope it’s way more than a trend but the growing interest in responsibly produced jewelry, whether it’s fair trade, recycled or sustainably-sourced, [it is part of] the growing consumer interest in responsible design and the increased access designers have to raw materials that are part of a transparent supply chain.”
GoodBern had the unique opportunity to interview Michelle which you can see below:
Favorite city Sedona AZ. First piece of jewelry My first piece of fine jewelry is a pair of 14k heart earrings with a single tiny ruby, my birthstone, in each. I remember picking them out as my first pair of earrings after getting my ears pierced when I was 12. I wanted my ears pierced sooner but wasn’t allowed until my 12th birthday so getting these earrings was a really big deal. I think I wore them almost every day after it was ok to remove the little gold piercing studs. I still have these heart earrings in my jewelry box and will likely pass them on to my daughter—we have the same birthstone—when she’s ready to have her ears pierced. Favorite kind of stone Rough uncut crystals, rare minerals, and funky shaped gems. Ideal vacation destination Remote locations where I can do a lot of hiking. My two favorite spots are Sedona, Arizona and Hocking Hills, Ohio. What is your design and style inspiration Nature, literature, fashion, travel and extraordinary women have all influenced and inspired my work. How do you source your materials My raw materials come from a variety of U.S. based suppliers. My primary precious metal refiner and tool supplier’s facility is operated on 100% solar power. My gemstones come from dealers who have longstanding relationships with mining communities around the world. These miners use environmentally and socially-conscious practices in their operations. What are your thoughts on sustainability and the sustainability movement in the jewelry industry It’s great to see clients’ growing interest in the stories behind the raw materials that go into their jewelry. What I’ve learned over the years is that the sustainability piece of my work is great for storytelling. If a piece of jewelry is well designed and finely crafted from high quality materials then people will be attracted to it. For the customers who care about sustainability, knowing the origin of the raw materials in the design they like can be the tipping point for them choosing one design and designer over another. Describe the platform of your brand. What causes do you support and why While I’ve always been conscientious of using sustainable practices in my jewelry studio the concept really hit home when I became a mom three years ago. My daughter has been in my studio since she was a few weeks old. Her two favorite questions are, “Who made this?” and “How did it get here?” There’s no bullshitting her, she’ll definitely call you out on it, and I have to give her an answer that I’m proud of, so I crafted a Sustainability Pledge focused on recycled metals, renewable energy, and ethical practices. I also believe in giving back to my community. Each year from Thanksgiving Eve through New Year’s Eve I have a “Gifts that Give” campaign where 10% of my sales (yes sales, not just profits) are donated to the Greater Akron Humane Society Pawsibilities Shelter. We’ve adopted all of our furry children from Pawisibilities and I’m proud to support this no-time limit shelter’s work in caring for abused, neglected and abandoned animals.
Additionally, I also support the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Trails Forever Fund. CVNP is one of my favorite hiking spots near my home and I was on those trails a lot while researching for my Voyageuse Collection, which is inspired by moss. Mosses are the coral reefs of the forest and can be damaged by hikers blazing their own trails rather than staying in designated areas. So, to help preserve the beauty and encourage the respectful enjoyment our natural world, 5% of each Voyageuse collection purchase supports this fund and its focus on ensuring safe trails for all to enjoy forever.
Michelle Pajak-Reynolds jewelry can be both for the subtle and refined and the bold and brazen. You can browse her jewelry on her website.