Sophie – Today
Sophie Stradley, Today. A love of history and travel influences the designs she creates using a blend of traditional old-world methods and cutting-edge technology.
Sophie’s Design Philosophy
“Late have I loved you, O’ beauty ever ancient, ever new.”-St. Augustine of Hippo
“Every once in a while, people ask me why I do what I do—after so many generations in this business, isn’t there a drive to break out of the mold and do something else? It crossed my mind when I was younger— heck, I even have a couple of degrees in fields that are totally unrelated to the jewelry industry. But like many in my family who came before me, something about this ancient craft kept calling me home.
One of those degrees had an emphasis in human anthropology. Some of the classes I found the most engaging were the ones that talked about ornamentation. I was always so fascinated with the way that jewelry, more than nearly any other object, is endowed with meaning and ritual. It can denote status in society, it can tell where a person comes from, or it can just be worn for aesthetic reasons. Jewelry is passed down from generation to generation; a beloved aunt’s wedding ring, a father’s pocket watch. It is prized as the spoils of war and it is the object of legend–even dragons covet it for their hoards. It is buried with kings and pharaohs to accompany them to the next world. The most interesting thing about it? It lasts longer than the people who wear it, and it leaves behind clues about who they were.
Just imagine all the things that had to go right in order for us to get these rare glimpses into history. Mankind had to develop the technology to mine for stones and ore, then understand how to refine ore into alloys and craft those alloys into jewels. We had to have economies to support the sale of those goods, trade routes to transport them over sometimes unfathomable distances. Imagine how many hands each piece might have passed through before ending up lost to time. Imagine the luck to find them again after so many years, to carefully dig them up and restore them. To place them in a museum and study them and share their secrets at last.
I think that’s what ultimately brought me back to this field. There’s just something so mystical about being able to dig a stone out of the ground—a secret treasure buried for millennia— and reveal its innate beauty. I love gathering these treasures from far-flung corners of the earth, piecing them together and creating a new thing that tells a story that never would have been written without a nudge from my pencil. These beautiful stones often start as far apart as they can possibly be. They begin their lives unappreciated, hidden under the dirt. Some unenlightened souls might even find them ugly. But the invisible threads of their fate are slowly, inescapably knitted together into something beautiful that will outlive all of us.
People are the same way. You often can’t recognize someone’s true value at first glance. It takes someone with the ability to look inside to see their beauty. As a designer, my favorite moments in my work are when I can connect with someone and help them tell their story.
I spend a lot of time meeting people at important moments in their lives. People come to me to celebrate important occasions like weddings, baptisms, and promotions. They often mark profound moments like 30 years sober or the passing of a dear friend with jewelry. Some people I meet just once and then they fade back into the flow of humanity that walks by the doors of our little shop. Others, I get to know over the years, meeting them again through small snapshots at these high points in their lives. It’s like reading the abridged version of a life.
These stories are almost always about connection. They connect people, places, sometimes objects. They connect us across time and space, they connect us across ideological divides and they connect us to our human experience. When I design a piece, I always try to keep in mind the person who will wear it and how rare and unlikely some of those stories are. I imagine all the things that had to go right for that person to end up across the table from me. I think about the circumstances of their life and the way they perfectly converged to create a person who might be a bit rough at first glance, but if you take a moment to look inside, is always a treasure. I think about how rare it is that through my own human intervention, humble though it may be, a rock that formed millions of years ago in a far-flung corner of the world, will be cut and polished, set into a piece of jewelry, and end up worn around the neck of this person who might pass it down to her granddaughter.
Where it might go from there? Who knows? We’ll be long gone, but our jewelry will still be telling our stories.”
-Sophie Stradley, fifth-generation jeweler