Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

The Art of Jewellery: Interview with Cathy Whitley of CJW Designs

Story by Larissa Cox

We here at Tack n’ Talk had the opportunity to interview equestrian jewellery designer, Cathy Whitley, about her craft.  A mature starter to both jewellery design and the equestrian sport, Cathy advises anyone who has an adventurous spirit to try something new, and give it your all, as it may lead to a very fulfilling passion.

Cathy, you have recently dove into equestrian sports and the art of jewellery making. What inspired you to take up these endeavours? Would you say the beginnings of these activities had a similar catalyst?

You could say that wanting to try something new was a catalyst for both-I love starting new projects, and learning to ride and learning to make jewelry were certainly both projects!

When I was forty-something I decided that if I was ever going to learn to ride it was time to start, so I drove around looking for a stable and stopped at the first one that didn’t advertise pony parties. I asked the trainer (who turned out to be a wonderful hunter-jumper trainer and competitor) if she taught adults to ride. She asked if I wanted ride English or Western and when I said I didn’t know the difference, she said “learn to ride English and you’ll be able to ride anything”, and she gave me my first lesson on a 17hand, 26-year-old thoroughbred who had been an Olympic jumper.

A friend who makes jewelry and beautiful quilts taught me the basics of jewelry making. I have always liked making things and putting colors together, but have NO drawing or painting ability. My friend was going to help me restring a broken necklace, and when she brought a huge rolling case full of all kinds of beads and “findings” (earwires, clasps etc) over, I was hooked.

Most of your jewellery seem to be with precious stones.  What inspired you to work with these stones?

I started out using glass beads because they tend to be less expensive than – stones (although you can spend a fortune for some gorgeous/fancy glass beads like lampwork). As I became more confident making jewelry I started using more expensive materials like sterling silver, and gemstones just seemed a good match.

What inspired you to incorporate equestrian themes in your jewellery?

Equestrian Cats Eye Necklace

My horse, Silhouette. She’s a beautiful Friesian-thoroughbred cross, and I happened across a horse charm that really reminded me of her. Riding friends liked it too, and encouraged me to make more “horse jewelry”.

Each piece of jewellery seems to be very distinctive and one of a kind in both the blend of colours of the stones and the design. How do you go about the design of each piece?

Different ways. I only buy stones and beads that appeal to me in some way – because of their color, shape, the way they were cut etc. I usually have a general idea what colors and shapes would look good together, and I’ll get a pile of stuff out and lay out a basic pattern, then start altering it. It’s surprising how something that looks good in your head sometimes just doesn’t look good in real life, and alternately sometimes just adding a small accent bead can turn an OK piece into a really interesting piece.  Fairly often I’ll lay out a couple of choices and ask my husband which one he likes better, and why.

Wine Tasting Charm Necklace

The hardest way to design is to have an end product in mind – for example, a friend asked me to make a necklace with a particular shark’s tooth, and it took awhile to find stone colors that would work, and figure out a good way to attach the tooth to the necklace.

Your Etsy shop focuses on the theme of horses, nature and the beach…what is the connection between these?

The essence of things? I love animals, especially dogs and horses. I love the outdoors, especially mountains and beaches. I love flowers and plants, and spend lots of time gardening. To me these all have amazing natural beauty and value, and just seem to go together. I think the natural world is incredible, including the amazing variety of gemstones that are just sitting in rocks all over the world.

Starfish Earrings

Do you have a shop as well or is Etsy your main marketing tool?

I don’t have a “B&M” (brick and mortar) shop. I almost gave up on the idea of selling jewelry because the first several shops I approached turned me down for one reason or another. I was lucky to find a funky gallery where the experienced artist owners encouraged me (I still sell jewelry there, Simple Gestures in St Augustine, FL). Since then I have sold at shows and in several shops and galleries. Etsy is great, but it’s hard to generate web business without spending a lot of time marketing.

What suggestions would you have for someone wanting to begin an Etsy or similar business.
GO FOR IT! …but don’t quit your day job… 😛

Amazonite and Fire Opal Colt Bracelet

For great jewellery, with both equestrian, and non-equestrian themes, check out Cathy’s Etsy shop, CJW Designs! Tack n’ Talk readers will receive 15% off these fantastic pieces!

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