Eternal and Sentimental: Heavenly Vices
Pietra Communications recently had the opportunity to interview Samantha Jackson, Founder of Heavenly Vices Fine Jewelry. Seeking out the best hand engravers, Samantha creates pieces that become a a part of your life story, meant to last a lifetime. She discusses her creative process, her design inspiration, and why she donates part of her proceeds to animal rescue.
When explaining the name “Heavenly Vices” to those inquiring, you describe the “intoxicating thrill of finding a piece you can’t live without.” What is a piece of jewelry that you personally cannot live without?
That is not an easy question to answer – I’m a serious jewelry addict and I have many pieces I can’t live without. A friend of mine had a milestone birthday recently and is trying to find the perfect antique piece to commemorate it. She was going back and forth over a potential candidate and I told her that you should only buy jewelry that will always make you happy when you see it, as if every time is as exciting as the first time you laid eyes on it. And that’s how I feel about all of the jewelry I own. Having said all that, I have a love token that is engraved with a French restaurant menu that probably makes me the most happy when I look at it. It is a marvel, and there was a marvelous story behind its creation that unfortunately was lost along the way. But rather than lament the lost story, I have made up my own!
What was it like to grow up in New Orleans? What do you miss the most from your childhood?
A lot of fun – there is always something to celebrate. I have loved Christmas for as long as I can remember, and even though I was sad when it was over and my parents took the tree down, the sadness didn’t last because Mardi Gras was just around the corner.
There is so much to love about New Orleans, but I love the beautiful homes the most. My dad still lives in the house that I grew up in, and I feel the same way about it as I do my jewelry; amazed by its beauty every time I go back. I miss walking or driving around and looking at the beautiful homes, or even better, being invited into a home I have never been in. I’m like a kid in a candy store taking in all of the gorgeous architecture.
As you mentioned, you have a love for Mardi Gras. Have the colorful parades and its inspiration made its way into any of your collections?
I think a lot of things I love today are born from other things I love about New Orleans, including Mardi Gras. Each parade is a public facing event hosted by a krewe, and culminates in a private tableau which comes from the phrase tableau vivant, or living picture. While this specifically refers to the invitation only formal events after parades, parades themselves were conceived as a series of rolling tableaux. To me, the appeal of love tokens is that they too are a living picture, whether or not they are engraved with pictures, words, or a name, they are all visual representations of a story that has been told, and in conserving them, I keep the tableaux rolling. The same can be said of Mardi Gras – each krewe picks a theme for their tableau and tableaux and retells it, often current events recounted through a humorous lens And if you knew how many times I have reached for a doubloon, you wouldn’t be surprised at all that coins speak to me in the way they do.
Tell us a bit about your creative process. What is the most exciting part?
As you know, my collection centers on antique coins that were engraved in the Victorian era, called love tokens. They are highly sentimental, and most people who buy them do so to commemorate a sentimental part of their life story, whether as a memorial piece for a loved one who is no longer here, to celebrate the birth of a new family member, or some other big event. It is such a tremendous honor to have one of my pieces chosen and to be invited into people’s lives in this way. My creative process varies whether I am working with a client to customize a love token bezel to tell their story, or creating one to complement the design of the love token.
While one could argue that jewelry has always been about sentiment, it was the era of love tokens when sentimental jewelry really took off and all forms of jewelry were designed to communicate sentiments of love, friendship and affection. This is seen a lot in love tokens, and when I am designing a bezel, where appropriate I echo the sentiment of the coin, whether that be using a gemstone that has a similar meaning or in the use of acrostics to spell out a word using the first letter of the gemstone.
What has been your favorite piece that you designed? Can you tell us the story behind it?
Without a doubt my Health & Prosperity signet ring. It was inspired by a love token and embellished with engraved relief wheat sheaves on the shoulders (wheat is a symbol of prosperity). It took almost a year to get right, starting with finding the right person to execute my vision. Hand engraving is a dying art; good people are hard to find, especially someone capable of the level of execution that I wanted. After looking at thousands of love tokens over the years, I am very particular about engraving and can spot something modern in an instant. I do not mean to diminish the considerable talent of modern engravers, but to be cohesive with my antiques I needed someone who imbues an old world feel in their work. I was beyond thrilled to find my engraver and even more so with the final ring; it is really quite incredible to see what was just an idea in your head come to life.
You mentioned that you love the idea of making jewelry that might become a family treasure. Do you own any pieces that carry a family history, which you can share?
Unfortunately, no. But it’s never too late to start! I have a 4 ½ year old niece, and I have started to pass down some jewelry that was given to me when I was young. The first piece I gave her was a sapphire and diamond heart shaped pendant that was her christening gift. She wore it to school recently and tried to give it to her “boyfriend.” I have also given my sister-in-law love tokens with my niece’s initials and nickname to pass down to her when she is older.
We love that you donate part of your profits to animal rescue. Where does this love for animals come from? How did you come to decide that this was the right place to give back to?
I do not remember a time when I didn’t love cats. I was watching one of my brothers play soccer when I was in elementary school, and a little tiny kitten with a missing eye ran up to me. I was smitten with her and wanted to take her home, but the number of pets we had was already causing problems with the asthmatics in my family. I had to tell her goodbye, but I promised her that even though I wasn’t able to give her a home, one day I was going to help all the kitties I could.
I was in a transition period a number of years ago after leaving a long career in corporate America and for the first time in my life, found myself with a lot of free time. I never thought I could stomach getting involved in animal rescue but saw a Facebook post about a mama cat and her seven kittens that urgently needed transport from a rural animal control; the runt of the litter had badly ulcerated eyes that required urgent medical care. I went to pick them up for the rescue that was taking them in and that was the beginning of my rescue journey. I have fostered dozens of cats and kittens, driven countless miles all over Georgia getting animals to safety and even co-ran a rescue for a year. Rescue is really tough – every day your heart is ripped out by a suffering animal, or a story of a cruel human and put back together by incredible people trying to make a difference in these precious little lives.
Animal overpopulation is the core of so much suffering and money is needed to alleviate it. In the short term, rescues need funds to be able to take animals out of animal control and get them adopted – animals are frequently sick, injured or not fixed when they are surrendered or found. But rescue is just a band aid – what is really needed is more accessible spay and neuter services for underserved communities to address animal overpopulation. My long term goal is to be able to fund mobile spay and neuter operations to reach people who have no means – money and/ or transportation – to properly care for their pets. And maybe one day, all of the little girls who want to rescue sick animals will have to find something else to occupy their time!
How have you been keeping yourself creative throughout the pandemic? Did you find any new hobbies?
There are always ideas in my head that need my time and attention to flesh out – I don’t need any new hobbies to keep me creative or busy. Plus new hobbies can be dangerous to me – I joke that if procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would easily beat Michael Phelps’ gold medal record. I have been working on improving my Photoshop skills during quarantine. It is such a powerful tool, which means there is a lot to learn! While this in itself is not necessarily creative, being able to use Photoshop really allows me to get creative with my Instagram posts as well as to help customers I am working with on a custom piece to visualize various designs we are kicking around.
One of the most fun creative endeavors I undertook last year was to plan out a photography campaign with the photographer Alain Simic. He did an in studio campaign for me early in the summer, and when we were reviewing the initial pictures, I made an off the cuff comment that the only thing that would have made it better is if we had done a quarantine centric, jewelry and jammies theme. The thought stuck, and as I thought more and more about it, I became obsessed with the idea. It is a little atypical for a jewelry campaign in that it really reads like a magazine editorial, but I’m not afraid of breaking rules.
We spent a lot of time tossing ideas around to flesh out the concept to make sure the details were just right, and then it was time for me to trust the process, which is very easy to do with Alain. Even though the shoot took place in New York, on the day of I woke up in Atlanta feeling like it was Christmas. It was executed perfectly and I could not be more thrilled with the final photos. I cannot wait to do another – in fact we have already conceptualized the next two shoots.
Who has been your biggest mentor/inspiration throughout your journey?
Without question, my jewelry bestie Beth Bernstein. She is a jewelry historian and journalist and the first person I met whose love for jewelry is on par with mine. We can talk for hours about jewelry; it’s probably a bit of a dangerous friendship. She taught me a lot, shares my love for sentimental jewelry, really helped me focus my collection and hone in on what I am truly passionate about. Like most jewelry designers, it took me a few iterations to find my voice, and it was Beth who really encouraged me to go for it with love tokens.
What is your future plan for Heavenly Vices? Any new collections in the works that you can share about?
I stumbled upon love tokens purely by accident. I don’t even remember how I found them, only that I was looking for a way to differentiate myself from the many other talented people trying to break their way into this industry. It was love at first sight when I discovered them, and as I started to find more and more of them, I was amazed that no one was doing anything with them on a large scale. I decided I was going to bring them back into fashion, and I have a long way to go! This is a labor of love that is as much a conservation effort as it is a jewelry business, and it is my goal to find homes for all of the love tokens I have – which I don’t have an exact count of, but it is in the thousands. That will take a lot of my future.
Additionally, I have been working for the last couple of years to augment the love tokens with original designs, to date a number of hand engraved rings and earring. I am starting on a collection of huggies that incorporate colorful gemstones and echo the lines of my acrostic bezels. Hopefully these won’t take a year to come to fruition!
Samantha Jackson has beautiful pieces and we love her for bringing back this sentimental style. Her jewelry is a true reflection of her roots, and places an important part in keeping memories alive, with the ability to pass them down. Be sure to check out more of her pieces on heavenlyvicesfinejewelry.com