By Shawna Kulpa
A young couple dedicated to protecting the natural environment is at the center of this year’s MJSA Online Design Challenge. For the ninth year, we’re hosting this online-only project, a favorite among our readers and website visitors. Last year, we asked nine designers to create a special gift featuring three blue sapphires from Sri Lanka in our "Celebrating a Life Lost Soon" Challenge. The winning entry by Liz Sabol was featured in the December 2017 issue of MJSA Journal.
This year’s Design Challenge features a collection of responsibly sourced gemstones from the project’s sponsor, Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, Washington. The stone collection includes one Oregon blue hyalite opal, 22 Nyala Padparadscha pink sapphires, and six Rock Creek Montana denim blue sapphires. We’ve supplied nine designers with the fictional scenario featured here about a husband wanting to give his expectant wife a responsibly sourced gift for their anniversary. Every month from January through September, we will post a design from one of our nine participating designers. Check out each of the designs below:
Growing up on the outskirts of Billings, Montana, Lila Tucker always loved nature. Her parents owned a small ranch, and from an early age she was taught the importance of respecting the environment—her family’s motto was, "You take care of the environment, and it will take care of you."
Lila was also concerned about the levels of poverty afflicting certain areas of the world, so after graduating from college, she joined the U.S. Peace Corps. She was stationed in the African nation of Malawi, where she taught science and English at a village school. It was here that she met Mark Callahan. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Mark worked with the local village leaders on sustainable ways to use their natural resources. Inevitably, Lila and Mark fell in love, and as their two-year volunteer assignments were coming to a close, they decided to get married, inviting the entire village to celebrate the occasion.
Inspired by their mission in Malawi, Lila and Mark applied for and were accepted for a second Peace Corps assignment, this time in Tanzania. During their time in Africa, they realized how much they enjoyed living close to nature. When their second assignment was over and they returned to the U.S., they decided to settle down in Boring, Oregon, a small town that was an easy drive to Portland, where Lila had secured a job teaching second grade. It was also near Mount Hood, which Mark used as the central base for the outdoor adventure company he started, taking locals and tourists whitewater rafting, kayaking, snowshoeing, and hiking.
They bought a small home on an open tract of land with plenty of space for a garden, including about three dozen berry plants, which Lila harvested and turned into jam during the summer months when she wasn’t helping Mark lead rock climbing and canoeing tours. They also drew up plans to build a small barn on their property, as Lila was interested in raising alpaca; she planned to use their fleece to help support a women’s knitting initiative she had worked with while volunteering in Malawi.
Lila became pregnant with their first child shortly before their five-year wedding anniversary, and Mark wanted to get Lila a special gift to mark the occasion. Before he had asked her to marry him in Africa, the locals had helped him craft a simple silver band to offer her. He wanted to give her a nicer piece of jewelry, but he shared her concerns about how some precious metals and gemstones are sourced, and the damage that mining can do to the environment and the miners themselves.
After speaking with a jeweler in Portland regarding the availability of recycled precious metals, Mark reached out to a gemstone buyer he and Lila had befriended in Malawi. The friend understood Mark’s concerns and offered to send him a mix of Nyala Padparadscha sapphires that were not only responsibly sourced, but also came from a small mine not far from the Malawi village where Lila and Mark had served. This gave Mark the idea of making sure that all of the stones used in the piece held significance for her, and his friend was able to also provide Mark with six small Rock Creek denim blue sapphires sourced from Lila’s home state of Montana, as well as a blue hyalite opal that came from a mine in Oregon, the place they decided to call home.
Your mission is to create a special piece of jewelry for Lila with some or all of the responsibly sourced stones Mark has obtained, along with any other responsibly sourced and conflict-free materials you see fit. The cost of additional materials and labor cannot exceed a budget of $5,000.