Helen Chantler Wins 2021 Design Challenge for Responsibly Sourced Designs

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December 1, 2021 — Helen Chantler, CEO and creative director of Reflective Jewelry in Santa Fe, New Mexico, recently took top prize in MJSA’s 2021 Design Challenge for Responsibly Sourced Designs.

Her winning entry, a hand-fabricated pendant made from sterling silver, karat gold, and responsibly sourced turquoise, comprises layers of metal that together form the "marriage" of a bear and a hummingbird, accented by bezel-set stones.

The annual contest—a partnership between MJSA and Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, Washington—invites designers to create custom renderings based on a fictional scenario published in the organization’s monthly magazine, MJSA Journal. Each entry must incorporate several responsibly sourced stones available from Columbia Gem House. New entries are posted every month on MJSA.org, and in the fall an online poll is conducted to select a winner.

The 2021 competition featured a new twist: The six participating designers received the supplies they needed to bring their designs to life, and Columbia Gem House auctioned off the finished pieces to raise money for the medical needs of the Navajo Nation (from which the gemstones had been sourced). The auction collected more than $3,400 for the Navajo Hopi Health Foundation to help the community recover from the hardships it experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I grew up believing that what you create can have a bigger meaning, and this project was a culmination of that,” says Natasha Braunwart, brand and corporate social responsibility manager for Columbia Gem House. “What a great experience working with designers inspired by a location our gems are sourced from and seeing how working together can have a positive impact.”

This year’s story, “Honoring One’s Heritage,” focused on a wedding gift for a Native American woman, Haseya Yazzie, who had dedicated herself to issues affecting Indigenous people worldwide. Chantler's entry, a silver and gold pendant, featured the face a bear.

"To me, a bear is about strength, playfulness, and all that time in hibernation from which they emerge in the spring, a starting-over place," the designer said. "I thought perhaps that was appropriate for Haseya, as she is obviously courageous and isn’t afraid of rising up and venturing out into the wider world in beauty after a long winter dream."

The pendant also featured a hummingbird "whispering in the ear of the bear—[hummingbirds] represent joy and connection and after after the sweetness in life," Chantler added. "I thought that combining the two was symbolic of marriage in a way."

In addition to Kuvin, the designers who participated in this year’s Challenge were Jennifer Dewey of J Dewey Designs in Ridgway, Colorado; Betty Padilla of Santa Clara, New Mexico; Dana Bronfman of New York City; Dominique Larson of DAL Art LLC in Chicago; and Donna Distefano Thomas of Donna Destefano Ltd. in New York City.

To see all of the participating entries, click here.

About Helen Chantler: Helen Chantler's path to becoming a designer and goldsmith began in 1986 when she took a job making leather belts in a jewelry shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over the next several years, Chantler began learning metal fabrication and other jewelry making techniques from her coworkers, and was inspired to set her sights on a future career as a jewelry designer. After initially developing her skills crafting southwestern-style jewelry pieces, she soon found herself wanting to branch out creatively. In 1994, she set out on her own, intent on mastering a variety of jewelry styles with designs inspired by her love of animals and nature, combined with motifs from ancient tribal Europe as well as other indigious cultures.

Now CEO and creative director of Reflective Jewelry, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Chantler's work continues to echo her natural surroundings and pay homage to her ancient tribal ancestry. She is a passionate advocate for the environment and human rights, using Fair Trade Gold (Reflective Jewelry was the first certified Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the U.S.), 100% recycled metals, and whenever possible, ethically sourced gemstones in her pieces.

About the Sponsor: Columbia Gem House, has been building a mine-to-market supply chain for ethical gems for more than four decades, and it has worked with governments, nonprofits, miners, and cutters to ensure safe workplaces, fair wages, ethical sourcing, and environmentally responsible mining.