Growing up in rural Vermont, the coast was another world. I still remember my first trip to Virginia Beach as a young farm girl of seven. The sound of the ocean waves lapping the shore, and the sensation of soft, cream-colored sand pushing up between my toes were feelings I wanted to take back home with me. On the boardwalk, we found a jewelry artist making shell necklaces. My father secretly bought me one, and gave it to me when we returned to Vermont so I could hang on to those memories of being by the sea. I still have it 40 years later.
That yearning to hold on to the experience of coming to the coast is present here in the community of Panhandle visitors. And, like that boardwalk artist of my youth, there are unique jewelry designers in our midst creating pieces you can take home, wear, and remember those blazing Gulf Coast sunsets, sugar sand, and serene aqua-colored water. These artists are not only inspired by their environment, but they honor it as well with eco-friendly packaging and sustainably sourced materials.
Jessie Taylor is a beach girl from way back. Her love affair with the coast started with visiting her grandmother on Fripp Island, South Carolina, and continued as she spent her adolescent summers in Grayton Beach, Florida. But, jewelry design came later. Taylor was on vacation collecting shells along the shore when inspiration struck.
“I went to the hardware store, figured out what I would need to drill through these shells, and I made a couple of pairs of earrings,” she recalled. “I posted them on my Instagram, and everyone freaked out wanting to buy them.”
Taylor said one of her favorite things about creating Reshelled Jewelry has been the local female support.
“I’ve made many connections and seen my friends come together to support me and other local female creatives,” said Taylor. “For example, Tori Von Hoene of Ophelia Swimwear let me raid her store for the shoot and then sell the earrings in her store. It’s much easier to start a venture when your friends and surrounding women build you up.”
Taylor is inspired by the beauty of the ocean, but she is also cognizant of running a business with an eco-friendly outlook.
“I do my best to be as sustainable as possible,” she said.
“I know that buying anything new is not the sustainable way to do things. But when I package anything, it’s all reusable, or reused packaging. I never buy packaging to ship in the mail because I think that’s such a huge source of waste in the world.”
Many of Taylor’s creations are made from shells she collected while visiting her grandmother on Fripp Island, but she’s always on the search for new material too, recruiting help whenever possible. “Shell collecting is a family event,” she said. “We all get in the boat, go to this specific spot, and pick up shells together.”
In Pensacola, Florida, Holly Vaughn finds inspiration in her coastal surroundings, translating it into unique jewelry. Vaughn, a teacher at Pensacola State College, has worn many hats, including graphic designer. Now she spends her free time making jewelry she sells at The Blue Morning Gallery in Pensacola, on Etsy and Instagram, and at local art shows across Florida’s Panhandle.
“It’s so pretty here. You go to the beach, you sit there, especially if it’s the low tide and the sun is setting, and you just look out at the colors,” she said. “They’re amazing—the white sand that turns tan where the waves are lapping up on the shore, and then the light aqua color of the water with a tinge of emerald that gets a little darker. The colors are just amazing.”
Vaughn works with shells, beach pebbles, precious stones, and petrified wood, but her work with local Pensacola beach sand stands out. She compresses it under a crystal and bezel sets it in the traditional jewelry-making style. For Vaughn, it is about always innovating. “I like pushing designs. I like experimenting, always, always thinking ‘What if I did this? What if I incorporate this?’ I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over.”
Like her iconic pearl jewelry, Wendy Mignot has traveled the world. But when Mignot and her family landed in Seaside, Florida, by chance on their way back to Central America in 2004, she knew this was her new home.
“We stopped in Seaside and fell in love,” she said. “It’s very much like an island, and I saw how the arts were so accepted here. It was a different place, a very art-driven community. And, I actually fit in, which is hard for an artist sometimes.”
Mignot has since established herself as an iconic Gulf Coast artisan. Her offerings include precious stones such as turquoise, unique pieces of sea glass, and recovered treasures like shipwreck coins, always paired with her signature pearls and leather.
“The ocean is my heartbeat,” said Mignot. “Growing up in Connecticut, my father would take us to the beach every weekend. I feel so connected to the ocean because she is always constant, yet ever-changing. Evolving and creating beauty.”
“The moon tides, the waves, the stillness, the raging. I have so much respect for her, and it shows in every one of my pieces.”
The coins are sourced from shipwreck diver, and well-known coin specialist and dealer, Danny Edwards. One of the coin collections comes from the 1641 Wreck Concepcion, a Spanish Galleon run ashore after devastating hurricane damage on the reefs north of Hispañola, the present-day Dominican Republic. The “Silver Shoals” treasure trove was discovered in 1978, and now pieces of it adorn Wendy Mignot’s pearl and leather jewelry.
Website: La Vie Est Belle Gallery
Merry Beth Myrick has been playing with jewelry her whole life — from a little girl breaking up her grandmother’s old necklaces to make something new, to designing her prom jewelry in high school, to making custom pieces for icons like Martina McBride (who incidentally nudged Myrick into the jewelry business when she was a wardrobe stylist in Nashville). Most days now you can find her at her studio in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, torching and hammering at her latest piece.
Myrick is not a classically trained artisan—she actually learned the craft of silversmithing at a senior citizen center, of all places. “They were the only people who offered a silversmithing class in Nashville at the time,” Myrick said. “It was really cool because my grandparents died when I was young, and through this class I got to hang out with these older people, and learn how to be a silversmith.”
Myrick’s signature Stingray Collection was a happy accident. Making a small tube, she left it in too long and the metal blistered, giving the finished product that stippled effect that looks very similar to stingray skin. Like many artists, Myrick wears her mistakes. The surprise came when she started receiving compliments and inquiries about these “mistake” pieces. This sparked an idea for Myrick.
“I had this stingray skin I found from probably 15 years ago,” she recalled. “I was going to make cuffs with it, but then I thought, oh my goodness, that might give the same bubbly effect as my mistake piece. So I tried it, and it worked. Now I use that mold for all the pieces in the Stingray Line. I love stingrays because they are so sweet, and playful. But if you mess with them, they’re gonna sting you. I love that attitude. They stand up for themselves.”