SUSAN NIELAND SELLS FLOTSAM-AND-JETSAM JEWELRY BY THE SEASHORE
Even when it’s expensively done, “beach jewelry” can be a total souvenir-store cliché. Seagull charm, sailor’s knot bracelet, gold-plated shark tooth. . . . But what Susan Nieland does is something entirely different: Her precious stones are actually stones, unpolished, that she finds while walking at the ocean three or four times a week. The pendants and bracelets and rings she crafts in her home studio in East Hampton Village have a pleasing heft in the hand and the feeling of connection to the earth that some people seek from crystals. They hold the warmth of the body when worn close to the skin.
“Each beach has something different to offer,” Nieland says, “so I go to different beaches for different types of stones. For instance, I like to go to Georgica and Sagg Main for the small white-quartzite stones. And Montauk has all manner of stones, including lots of granite, gneiss, quartzite, and black slate. I find super-interesting larger stones there, too, which I can’t identify.”
She used to sell a very different line at Barneys New York — “an Etruscan look, using 18-karat gold and colorful fine gemstones” — but time and tide changed her style. “When I decided to return to jewelry making after taking time off to raise my kids, the price of gold had tripled (or thereabouts), so in addition to political, environmental, and humanitarian reasons, that was another reason to switch to brass. . . . Anyway, I love brass and the way it ages.”
Sometimes, her clients bring in an item of sentimental value for her to work with. Usually, it’s a beachcombed treasure from their travels, a special stone or shell invested with personal meaning, but occasionally it’s a more offbeat raw material. “The reasons have run the gamut from heartbreaking to hilarious,” she says of these custom orders, “but they are always really meaningful.” On the unusual end of the spectrum was a friend who asked her to set a large tooth from her deceased horse. “It was very unusual, and I was skeptical,” she says, “but it turned out so cool.”
We think Nieland might just have the perfect job. It requires frequent beach walks, relies on sustainable materials, is completely creative, and even involves quality time with her loved ones: “I have trained my daughters to find good stones,” she says, “so it is a good family activity, too.”