When I joined Jim at J.H. Breakell & Co a couple of years after we got married, my job was making sure our customers were happy and our checkbook was balanced. Advertising, payroll, shipping, window washing and lunch-making were also my department. Occasionally, I’d sketch a design that Jim would use to carve a model. I loved seeing my Straw Hat and Hippopotamus transformed from two dimensional sketches into detailed wax carvings and finally into silver and gold. I wasn’t exactly making jewelry, but it was exciting to be part of the creative process. It would be a few years before I had a chance to see how far I could take that.
In 1994, Jim began having problems with his vision. We were told that a rare retinal disease would gradually rob him of his ability to see fine details and slowly, over several years, it did. Eventually, it was clear that someone else would have to carve models for our lost wax cast designs and that someone was me. I was thrilled and at the same time terrified. But mostly terrified.
Funny thing is, Jim never doubted I could do it, he just assumed I could. As it turns out that’s very powerful motivation. My first “from scratch” design was the Feather Pin. The carving wasn’t nearly as good as Jim’s would have been and it took way too long to finish but I felt like a door had opened to another world- and it was fun! Jim is a gifted teacher. He doesn’t hover and he expects you to ask questions if you want information. He encourages experimentation and he’s generous with both advice and criticism, a delicate balance when your student is also your wife. That said, this method of instruction had its ups and downs. I’m not a silversmith, so the tools of the trade were a complete mystery. I made my first few models using two or three tiny files and a drill before I started asking the right questions and poking around drawers filled with tools. Before long, I made the Lily of the Valley, my favorite flower, and it’s still one of my favorites after all these years.