My name is Robin Largo, and I live in Libertyville, Illinois. I spend most of my time making jewelry for Hot Rox Custom Jewelry; I also have a men’s jewelry shop called Rustic For Men. When I’m not working, I’m walking my dogs, practicing yoga, or playing golf.
People always ask me how long I’ve been making jewelry. It’s easy to calculate, because I took my first metalsmithing class just after I got back from my honeymoon, twelve years ago. I had originally planned to take a life drawing course, but because of my day job, I was forced to select another medium that worked with my schedule. I chose Introduction to Jewelry Making, and I was instantly hooked: I converted our basement workshop into a studio, bought books, networked with other artists, and continued to take weekly classes. I even completed my graduate gemologist designation from GIA — all in my spare time. For the record, let me just say that passing that colored stone exam was harder than any finance class I took while getting my MBA!
My early designs were somewhat biker chic, partially influenced by time spent traveling across the Southwest on a motorcycle. The American Southwest, specifically New Mexico and Arizona, continues to influence my work: I love the powdery blue color of turquoise combined with silver. The challenge for me in working with turquoise is to showcase it in a way that honors the stone without mimicking traditional American Indian designs. For me, that means simple lines and a contemporary look. Mixed metals and raw or rough gemstones are key to my work as I develop my own style of rustic, alternative wedding jewelry.
I’m constantly designing jewelry in my head: while driving, getting a massage — even while my husband is talking to me about car parts. I keep a small sketchbook in my purse to jot down ideas as they come to me, and there is a Post-it pad in the bathroom drawer for when I think of something in the shower. Eventually, these scraps of paper make their way into my studio, where I might match them up with a gem or a piece of metal. I approach each piece as a sculpture — a work of art — and I try to arrange the composition of textures, metals, and stones into a pleasing display. While I spend most of my studio time on custom pieces, I do allow myself a window of time for working on new forms and experimentation.
I opened Hot Rox Custom Jewelry in 2010, after a close girlfriend urged me to consider Etsy as a vehicle for selling my designs. My sales grew slowly for the first couple of years; then, I listed one of my speculative designs — a hammered silver ring with gold drops randomly melted all over. I was pleased with the organic texture and colorful surface, but didn’t think the ring would sell. Boy, was I wrong: I began receiving inquiries from people who wanted that style in their own size. Soon, I was offering variations of this original design and my sales began to grow in a meaningful way. Taking customer requests and comments to heart allowed me to zero in on what the market wanted, visually and price-wise, in an alternative style wedding band. Combining their inspiration with my design aesthetic has enabled me to offer a variety of edgy, affordable, handmade rings.
This year has been a milestone for me. I opened my second shop, Rustic For Men, to give my customers a place to view my line of rustic men’s wedding bands. I also hired my longtime friend and supporter, Janet, to manage customer communications, social networking and accounting. Our vision for the future includes expanding the line to include unique and uncommon wedding jewelry for women. Even as we grow, it’s important to me to offer rings that cannot be mass produced. My clients are looking for something that is made by an individual who cares about the craft.
All photographs by Bill Oakes.