Stephanie Maslow Blackman, a New York City–based designer who specializes in responsible handmade jewelry, won the 2023 MJSA Challenge: Responsibly Sourced designs, a fundraiser that this year raised more than $12,000 for CCRIFs, a nonprofit dedicated to wildlife conservation in Mexico.
Held annually, the Challenge is co-sponsored by MJSA and Columbia Gem House, a renowned U.S. supplier of responsibly sourced colored gems. It invites select designers to render a piece of custom jewelry based on a fictional scenario and featuring gems provided by Columbia Gem House. This year's selection comprised cultured mini mabe Cortez pearls from Mexico,3 mm grape garnet rounds from India, 3 mm Neon Green beryl triangles from Nigeria, and teal tourmaline baguettes from Nigeria.
Blackman—the CEO of Metalicious,a New York design firm that specializes in sustainably sourced and ethically made handcrafted jewelry—created a necklace in response to a scenario in which a newly divorced mother of two, Tracy, who is starting life anew and is very adventurous (she especially loves motorcycles and roller derby). Her daughters celebrate this second chapter of her life with a piece of jewelry.
Blackman says she opted for a necklace because of Tracy's active lifestyle: "I wanted her to have something that she could put on and just leave on, as it’s worn close to the body and is not fussy. Plus, it holds memories: Every time she sees it, Tracy will be reminded of why it was made for her.
"Although I wanted to use as many of the stones as possible," she continues, "I knew I needed a focal point for the necklace. I chose one of the mabe pearls because I wanted to incorporate Tracy’s and her daughters’ initials on the back of the large bezel. I like to customize things with hidden meanings, and although Tracy and her daughters would know that the initials were there, no one else would see them. This way, her girls will always be close to her heart.
"I also wanted to incorporate her interests within the piece. Tracy’s love for motorcycles and roller derby are very cool, and I wanted to include them in a way that wasn’t obvious, so I created a detail on the side of the pearl bezel that is an elegant representation of motorcycle tire treads. For her love of travel and beaches, I scattered my signature swirls throughout the piece. The swirls are like waves, which can also represent the ups and downs in life. Each wave seems challenging, but when seen together over time, they become a beautiful, sculptural work of art."
This year’s Challenge featured nine participating designers. Their entries were featured throughout the year on MJSA.org and in the alliance’s monthly magazine, MJSA Journal. In October, readers and site visitors were invited to vote for their favorite design in an online poll. In addition, Columbia Gem House donated stones and metal for the designers to turn their renderings into finished pieces, which were then raffled online. The more than $12,000 raised through the raffle's ticket sales supported CCRIFS in its efforts to build a saltwater tank for sea turtle rehabilitation.
“We work on a variety of different elements within the supply chain, and the environment is one of them,” explains Eric Braunwart, founder and president of Columbia Gem House. “Selecting CCRIFS as the recipient made this year’s project a really fun and lighthearted one. So, we were excited to share how the environment relates to this supply chain and, at the same time, be able to support a group that contributes to the sustainability of our Cortez pearls.”
“Not only was this project able to highlight how wildlife and the environment are in fact part of the gemstone supply chain, but it also got more consumers interested and involved,” says Natasha Braunwart, brand and corporate social responsibility manager of Columbia Gem House. “We saw the highest participation we have ever seen and had tickets purchased from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, and Ireland.”
In addition to Blackman, the designers were:
- Andres Cardenas-Whorton of Nobles Metales in Marietta, Georgia.
- Megan Cochran of Megan Cochran Jewelry Design in Oceanside, California.
- Claudia Gutsch of Goldammer Jewelry in Menlo Park, California
- Kindred Lubeck of Jewels by Lubeck in Neptune Beach, Florida.
- Amelia Mickelsen of Amelia Ray Jewelry in Lockhart, Texas.
- Olivia Shih of Olivia Shih Designs in Oakland, California.
- Hannah Smythe of Toast Jewelry in New York City.
- Liz Stefany of Carrabassett Valley Jewelry in Carrabassett Valley, Maine.