Catherine Nearhos’ metalsmithing journey began with a search for a necklace to cover a skin-cancer scar.
“I said, ‘I’ll find a signature piece of jewelry I’ll wear all the time,’” says Nearhos, who’d been beading “colorful, sparkly” jewelry since 2006. “I never found it.”
Frustrated, she decided to make her own necklace and in 2008, she enrolled in a jewelry school. She was hooked.
She later established herself in the Boston and Cape Cod area, where she has a studio. In 2016, after her husband retired, they purchased a North Naples home, but she didn’t want to leave her craft behind for the winter.
When she heard about the more than 80 artists at Naples Art District on Shirley Street, she got on a waiting list and landed a tiny, shared sublet in 2019. But she needed more room, so when the last non-artist at Artisans Plaza left, she snapped up the large space. She asked jeweler and geologist Tekla Taylor to share 5760 Shirley St., No. 2, where Catherine Nearhos Unique Jewelry and Tekla Taylor Designs joined 25 artists there in November.
“Being in the Naples Art District is so cool. There are people who come by every month,” she says of the three art walks. “They want to see what’s new, and there are people who keep coming to look at a piece and return to buy it later.”
Creating contemporary jewelry is a stark contrast to the corporate career Nearhos left in 1996 after earning a business degree at Boston College. “It was not what I wanted to do. I’ve always been creative. As I got into jewelry, asymmetry became more important to me. Maybe it’s because of years of looking at credits and debits,” she says.
Her distinctive style melds sterling silver, 18-karat gold or oxidized silver with traditional elements, such as pearls, in a contemporary setting. When she lived in the Boston suburbs, she named pieces after plants in her garden. “Eight years ago, I moved to the Boston waterfront and my work evolved from the glossy high-rises and old buildings,” she says. “Without realizing it, my surroundings influenced my work.”
She continues taking classes. “There is so much to learn,” she says. Last year, she took a lapidary course and learned how to cut and tumble her own gemstones.
“I’ll do custom work, as long as it fits my style—minimalist elegance, something a woman can wear every day or for a special occasion,” Nearhos says, adding that if a customer asks her to incorporate a beautiful piece of sea glass she found into a piece, she enjoys that.
Her jewelry hangs from magnets on white metal walls, or is displayed on tables and pine shelves that she and Taylor built using soldering torches and dark stain to achieve a burnished look.
When she designs, she spreads out stones on a table, sketches and creates a copper mockup. Her pieces, which are hammered and texturized, involve a painstaking process of filing, soldering, flattening, pickling with citric acid, cooling and hammering.
She and Taylor invest in the most expensive equipment together, but her two most important tools are files and hammers, a planishing hammer and an embossing-texturizing hammer.
Instead of her distinctive oblong or round pieces, Naples inspired her to create rectangular pieces with a single pearl. “My work is constantly evolving. It changes depending on where I am and what I see,” she says. “I imagined the gold and pearl to represent the sun and moon on the dark water.”
She likes amethyst, jasper and agate, but her favorite is iolite, a dark blue gemstone. To create an oxidized piece, she rubs off a chain’s high points, creating a silvery sparkle. “You get the depth and dimension of the chain,” she explains. Pointing to two necklaces with a circle holding a pearl, she notes, “These pieces started off identical and I patinaed one.”
Customer Janet Rogers says she’s drawn to Nearhos’ jewelry due to its simplicity, creativity, attention to detail and craftsmanship. Since 2008, Rogers has purchased more than half a dozen pieces, even duplicates with different stones.
“There is an aesthetic beauty and calm to her choice of stones, from ocean blues to seagrass greens and golden citrine,” says Rogers, who lives in Naples and Massachusetts, adding that she gravitates toward silver with pearls or blue topaz. “A part of herself is embedded in each piece, and her joy in her creations is mirrored in her work. I feel that sense each time I wear one of her pieces.”