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Romancing the Stones With Inlay Settings

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thane DeLeon uses gemstones the way an artist uses paint.

He puts stones together in unusual color combinations to create rings, earrings and pendants that his customers and jewelry store owners consider works of art.

The curvy, irregular shapes of his pieces recall the mountains of Arizona, where he lives. The colors--the iridescent opal, violet tanzanite, chrome tourmaline that “looks like the most beautiful emerald you’d ever see"--are inspired by the Southwest terrain.

DeLeon inlays the colored stones in gold so the surface of his pieces is smooth--but with plenty of curves, swirls and movable parts.

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“I don’t want my pieces to look flat,” he says. “They’re not one piece of metal. They move. They’re more like little people.”

Some pieces are inspired by Navaho spirits and even have abstract faces. Southwest themes such as bear-shaped fetishes and uneven horizons are prevalent.

DeLeon began making jewelry as an apprentice in 1980. That job lasted 1 1/2 years, during which he was given an unusual amount of freedom to practice all aspects of the trade, from gold-smithing to wax-carving. Most work years before learning such skills.

“They didn’t care what I did,” DeLeon says.

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Before long he was on his own, making custom jewelry at his apartment. It wasn’t until friends encouraged him to visit Santa Fe to see the inlaid jewelry being produced by Southwest designers that he began creating his own line.

“Santa Fe is the mecca of jewelry inlay,” he says. “For me, it was a different form of design. You can do complex designs within that (technique).” He began producing his inlaid pieces (in which the stones are set in channels rather than raised prongs) and opened his shop, Thane DeLeon of Scottsdale, in 1985.

DeLeon draws inspiration for his creations from the gemstones themselves.

“I go for the beauty of the stone and modify my design to accommodate it,” he says. He searches out stones on trips to Bangkok, “the mecca of gemstones,” as well as Australia, his back yard and other sources.

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He uses sugalite, a vivid purple gemstone from Africa, because it is said to have positive effects on the wearer. “Sugalite is metaphysical and is a very healing stone,” he says.

His favorite gemstone is tourmaline “because it comes in every color.” He also works with a large palette of gems, including sapphires, blue violet-colored tanzanite, opals, lapis, jade, diamonds and coral. His jewelry starts at $250.

“I like pieces with unusual colors and gemstones that can still function as jewelry,” he says.

DeLeon will appear at a showing of his designs Saturday and Sunday at Zia Jewelry Co. in San Juan Capistrano.

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Thane DeLeon, Jewelry Designer

Age: 33

Home: Scottsdale, Ariz.

Formal training: Worked as an apprentice at a jewelry studio.

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Where he started: Selling custom jewelry from his apartment.

Where he is now: Owns a jewelry store in Scottsdale; also sells his pieces at galleries and jewelry stores across the country, including Zia Jewelry Co. in San Juan Capistrano.

Signature style: Contemporary with a heavy Southwest influence.

Medium: Primarily gold and precious stones.

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In the future: Hopes to become a nationally recognized jewelry designer and “have a line of jewelry that’s different from everybody else’s.”

Attitude: “I like to think my work is thought-out. It doesn’t just sit there. It has direction, meaning.”


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