Local maker and metalsmith Suzanne Applebaum crafts a tantalizing line of leather and bullet-casing choker necklaces, bolo ties and forged metal collars for ladies (or gentleman) who know what they want. Each powerful and edgy piece is handmade with carefully sourced leather, fringe, brass, vintage chain and sometimes casings from bullets that Applebaum fired off at the gun range herself. The unique look feels like a blend of motorcycle culture and Western wear with a dash of dainty femme thrown in. Her pieces stand out and make a statement.
Behind the scenes, dedicated artist Applebaum is a smiling, metal-working magician — someone who knows just the right chemicals to manipulate a metal, or when to let go of her plan and let the natural piece take shape. She is unafraid to boldly mix styles and materials, and the results are one-of-a-kind pieces with incredible range, borrowing the imagination of costume jewelry and yet having the high quality of a handmade piece. Many have the pleasing symmetry of jewelry that would be right at home in a minimalist Instagram account.
CityBeat: How did your love of working with metal start?
Suzanne Applebaum: It started junior year of high school. I got to choose my electives and I was like, “Oh, jewelry making!” We learned basics, like making chains, soldering jump rings and how to cast. I was hooked. I started taking metalsmithing courses at the Toledo Museum of Art over summers. I went to Bowling Green and majored in graphic design, but I say I minored in metalsmithing. I went through every course but I couldn’t declare it as a minor. I love doing it now. It takes me away from the everyday stress of life and allows me to think without thinking. It’s therapeutic.
CB: What should people know about the process of making jewelry?
SA: It takes a lot of patience. When soldering and setting, you have to be patient. With metalworking you have to work in layers. Sometimes you don’t get it right and you spend all of that time making a mold, and you just have to start over. But the cool thing about metal is that all you have to do is melt it down. I also have to know a bit of chemistry, and I’ll research how chemicals react to metals in different ways. Different reactions give jewelry a marbled look or prevent tarnishing.
CB: What inspires your pieces?
SA: I’m inspired by Art Deco style. It’s a 1920s-’30s style that is a lot less romanticized, unlike the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It has a lot more symmetry and clean lines and I appreciate the timeless and contemporary look of it. I mix that with jewelry that has a rustic look to it, but I’m also inspired by ancient Egyptian and Western jewelry. I make a lot of bolo ties. One day a few years ago I decided to make one, and now it seems that they’re catching on as a trend. They’re fun and different from a typical chain necklace.
I never look at fashion magazines for trends — I go with what I feel looks fashionable to me or what I’d want to wear. I think that’s part of being an artist; you don’t follow trends verbatim, you create your own.
CB: How would you describe your jewelry? What makes it different?
SA: While I do look at jewelry designers in the area, I try not to compare myself to them because I think that is where you lose yourself to other artists. I think my jewelry is pretty different. Everything is made by hand and I’ve been incorporating different elements besides metal (gemstones, rope, horse hair, etc.) I do incorporate vintage chains. I’ll treasure hunt at different antique stores. Nothing is better than finding a cool, old chain, or repurposing something into my own design.
For instance, I use bullet cases for bolos and tassels. A signature of mine is mixing metals, because I want people to find ways to wear one piece with as many looks as possible. I create jewelry that is versatile and can be worn to elevate an everyday look.
I remember when I was younger digging through my mother’s and grandmother’s jewelry boxes of costume jewelry and I’d accessorize with them. I like to make bold statement pieces.
CB: Your "About" page mentions the female empowerment you receive from “your babes.” What role did they play in supporting you?
SA: I have a really great group of girlfriends who are all different, but I think that we are all pretty strong women with our own looks. We are really supportive of each other. I think it is so important for women to support each other, and that wearing a bold piece of jewelry can be empowering. It empowers me to be individual because I like to wear things that are self-expressive of my style. I think that jewelry can take any outfit from run of the mill to “oh wow!”
CB: What are your plans for the future?
SA: I’d love to get into blacksmithing, furniture sculptures and stuff and learning how to weld. I do soldering on a smaller scale. It’s all relative. I think welding would be a badass skill to do. Maybe expand into furniture, but it depends where this goes — you have to do one thing at a time. I love making jewelry right now.
For more information on SUZANNE APPLEBAUM JEWELRY or to shop, visit sapplebaumjewelry.com.