Jewelry designer Jonathan Lee Rutledge describes his work as “neat, clean, sharp and classic, but also very simplistic in nature.” But the ease of his designs belies the intricacy of his craftsmanship. He uses an ancient process called granulation, first used over 4,500 years ago, which involves the meticulous placement of granules of gold so tiny he needs a microscope to finish his pieces. While his jewelry appears streamlined from afar, on closer inspection it’s rich with detail. He’s drawn to the intricate process because “I like to put things in order, and here are tons of tiny little things to be put in place.”
Rutledge has an unconventional background for an artist. After graduating from Evanston Township High School, he spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Germany. There, he discovered his love of art and culture while he maintained the sheet metal on F-16 fighter jets. Later, on a whim, he took a metalsmithing class in college. “I thought to myself, ‘This is a perfect fit. If I can work with metal on a macro level, I can do it on a micro level.’” It became his passion. In 2004, he entered the American Craft Expo, and his first show was so successful (he won the People’s Choice Award) that he started designing jewelry full time.
The biggest highlight of Rutledge’s career (so far) was winning the prestigious American Gem Trade Association Spectrum Award for his Blue Waters opal necklace. Major works, like the opal necklace and his recently completed Floating South Seas pearl necklace, are “huge pieces that take an immense amount of time,” he says. “They’re ideas that are in my head for years.” The pearl necklace took two months to create, and the clasp alone is exquisite. Rutledge will be bringing these, plus many more pieces, to the One of a Kind Holiday Show. Dec. 6-9, booth 8061, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, oneofakindshowchicago.com