With her delicate features, tiny bones, and tousle of auburn curls, jewelry designer Nicole Rueda Watts has a fragile, bird-like beauty. Add one of her dramatic feather collars, and she seems capable of virtually flying away. But for now, Rueda Watts is quite happy just where she is, in her new light-filled jewelry-making studio in Medford. Though located in a gritty old factory building, her work space is anything but run-down, decorated to be as visually pleasing as it is functional.
Interior design is actually in the blood: Rueda Watts’s mother, Pamela Watts, owns Reside, a mid-century-modern furniture store in Cambridge. Together, the pair recently opened a second Reside shop in the South End, where the jeweler’s latest creations look right at home among the coveted period furnishings. As soon as her eye-catching feather necklaces hit the window, passersby took notice.
“I had some rooster feathers in my studio for years but hadn’t worked out what to do with them,” says the 37-year-old Somerville resident, who was previously unaware of bird plumes as a hot accessory trend. Then five months ago, it suddenly clicked.
“I was playing with the feathers and popped them on my neck, then thought they had a Victorian-collar feel,’’ she says. “It was like starting with a tribal design from Papua New Guinea and then taking it to a French finishing school. Maybe I should call it Parisian voodoo!”
Rueda Watts also attaches feathers to elegantly elongated silver-chain earrings accented with luminous freshwater pearls. “They’re delicate in nature,” she says, but still make a bold visual statement. The same is true of her signature silver-scrollwork detailing, designed to resemble handmade Victorian lace.
Silversmithing is another inherited talent. It was a hobby of Rueda Watts’s Mexico-born father. “I’d spend hours in his jewelry studio with my sister, but we weren’t allowed to touch anything. ‘Watch and learn,’ he kept saying. It was very frustrating.”
After being reintroduced to metalworking while attending the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, Rueda Watts realized that it was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Next came years of classes at a prestigious Mexican artist community in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato State, followed by experimentation with various techniques and materials. Five years ago, she started the Nyx Studio line – “Nyx” has been her family nickname since childhood – with her jewelry retailing for between $125 and $625.
“Fashions come and go,” says Rueda Watts, “but if there’s true integrity in the piece, it will always have a voice.”