Who's That Gal: Sophie Hughes, Jewelry Designer and Sustainable Metalsmith
Occupation: Independent Jewelry Designer (and maker, and store owner)
Hometown: Kennebunk, Maine
Current ‘hood: Fort Point, Boston
Favorite autumn activity: Hiking!
Currently reading: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
How did your journey of jewelry making begin?
I was fortunate to grow up in coastal Maine town that offered a high school metalsmithing class. I had always felt creative, but recognized that my drawings and paintings were a struggle and weren't as strong as my artistic peers. Making jewelry, however, instantly resonated with me. My metalsmithing teacher helped me get an apprenticeship with a local jeweler, and by the time it came to applying to college, there was no question what I was going for! I went on to MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) to earn a BFA in Metalsmithing. I opened my first studio in SoWa shortly after graduating in 2008, and kept working for other jewelers (who were hugely supportive and influential to me, and I'm incredibly grateful to) until my brand was strong enough for me to shift to full time. Fast forward a few years of slow build on the brand, and I opened my storefront on Dartmouth St in the South End and moved the studio there - lofted above the shop. And that's where the journey currently continues!
You handmake every, single piece using ethical materials! Do you have a favorite piece? Do you have a favorite tool that you use?
I am so in love with my vintage hammers. I just went to Brimfield for the first time (I know, sorry!), and the booth I spent forever in was this one with old, rusty tools. I was caressing them, completely enchanted by the beautiful rusted textures on their faces. The only thing I might love more than my hammers is the newest piece of jewelry I’ve made. I fall in love for a moment just about every time at that moment of completion, and then just as quickly I have to let go so it can move on into the world! Whenever I have a chance, I wear our samples of the newest pieces, so I can extend that “moment” with them. Until I fall for the next newest piece. (Thank goodness I’m more loyal in my personal life!!) I’m fully committed to using ethical materials though. It’s not a question: recycled metals and reclaimed stones.
We love your philosophy of creating for “sophisticated, fearless wearers,” exactly how do you describe this Boston gal?
She’s a woman who lives with intention, is ambitious, and isn’t afraid to pursue what she wants. She’s got eclectic style and is a bit edgy, but in a restrained way that comes across as “refined creative” perhaps. I think SH wearers want a visual expression of their values sustainability, uniqueness, directness, strength, and appreciation for simple, wabisabi beauty. I find jewelry to be a badge of strength, feeling instantly empowered when I put it on, and I imagine that experience being true for my clients too.
As an entrepreneur, you have to tackle the time consuming process of creating your own brand. What was this process like for you?
It’s been a natural evolution; although I would say I’ve developed it on the fly as needed, I think that truthfully, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s been within me all along. The development has been completely authentic, and the challenge and the joy has been discovering that it’s not something to be fabricated, but rather I need to look internally to really define what’s important to me and what I want out of life. Those standards need to be articulated for others to relate to and translated into a visual presence. I’ve really had to be in tune with balancing myself and what my audience responds to. And every time I think I’ve hit on “it” the perfect articulation and visual representation of the brand’s essence I soon find again that it’s a constant cycle of revision and is ever evolving.
Tell us more about ethical metalsmiths what does this mean? How do you source materials?
We source our metal from a refinery in Virginia called Hoover and Strong. They’re an industry leader for sustainability. Basically, they collect and melt literally tons of precious scrap, recarat and mill it, so when it arrives in my studio it’s a pristine sheet of metal. Our diamonds are reclaimed, which means that they’re salvaged from discarded heirloom jewelry as it goes to the refinery. We joined Ethical Metalsmiths so that a third party could vet us and affirm our sustainable standards and processes, and to be part of a community of jewelers who hold the same believes and are working towards the same goals. Twenty tons of earth need to be moved to mine the metal for just one ring? We’ll recycle, thank you. We hold human and environmental wellbeing at the forefront of all we do, and strive for quality not only in the materials we use but in the lives and world of the people who supply them.
Onto more honors.... Our readers most definitely know your name from being awarded Best of Boston three (3!) years running now! How has this shaped your business?
It’s been incredible, and I am so humbled. I can barely believe that it’s been three years running! I think the most significant influence we see from the award is referrals. We hear all the time that they found us through Boston Magazine’s “Best Of” and often those clients are shopping engagement rings. They do their research first with such a significant purchase, and they come in knowing what their options in Boston are and feeling confident that there’s a reason we’ve earned a strong standing.
What has been the toughest challenge as a business owner? Biggest payoff?
I’m going to start with the positive: the biggest payoff is the freedom of my schedule. I work a ton and I work hard, but being able, as they say about entrepreneurs, “to choose which 14 hours in the day I work” is invaluable. Toughest challenge...time. How does that work?! I don’t have the answer, but it seems to me there aren’t enough hours in the day! Also it’s been really tough learning to run the operational end of the business over the years. I don’t have any business training, so I’ve had to figure it all out as I go by trial and many errors. Getting there, though.
We just have to know; any favorite celeb clients?
I wish I could tell you that I get to meet these ladies in person! But alas, we have teams between us, and they’re still cloaked in mystery to me. That said, Taylor Schilling also grew up in Maine, so hands down she’s my girl.
You offer custom engagement rings. What does this process mean to you as an artist?
Making custom engagement rings is completely rewarding and challenging simultaneously. A person comes to me with their dreams with and for their partner, and I’m tasked with designing something that their partner will wear (and love!) daily for the rest of their lives. I listen really closely to the client’s desires, and try to balance that with the desires I imagine of the partner I haven't met. Is this a person whom, based on what I gather of their lifestyle, I interpret may want a flashy statement ring; or is this someone who prefers a more practical piece? Are they a rose gold, white gold, or yellow gold person? We look at pictures of the “intended” (and maybe their Pinterest!), ask questions about who they are, what matters to them, and how they live their life, and try to conceptualize a ring that will be everything they could want. The rewarding part comes when we get it right; incredibly, so far we’re all wins!
Your location is a dream spot for a boutique! Was this the “I’ve made it!” moment?
I adore my space: we have the studio lofted above the retail store, and a “behind the scenes” team office a floor below. Small in terms of square footage, but the way the areas are broken up is fantastic for work flow, and the huge, myriad windows are a dream! It absolutely was the “I’ve made it!” moment...for a moment. I have a tendency to kick the goal post forward every time I’m within reach of my goal, so I’m never satiated and always pushing farther. It’s completely unintentional, but I feel like it’s this nature that keeps me engaged in the business (rather than design) side of things.
What is next for Sophie Hughes Jewelry?
We just this past weekend debuted a new collection in NY. It was so well received by press and by wholesale buyers, and I’m really excited about it myself! I think it’s a strong, beautiful collection; I’ll be making just limited editions of 25, to keep it really special. I’m so looking forward to hearing firsthand feedback from clients instore and seeing in the coming months which new styles people are most attracted to. Looking further ahead, I’d love a second location, possibly in Brooklyn but that’s the dreamer in me and not necessarily what’s actually “next”!