MJSA. Professional excellence in jewelry making and design.

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Leo Fried and Nanz Aalund

Blue Heron Jewelry Co.

Poulsbo, Washington

A Siege of Herons

Responsible Practices Distinction

By Irina Missiuro 

Nanz Aalund was looking for a way to thank Leo Fried, owner of Blue Heron Jewelry Co. in Poulsbo, Washington, for offering her a shot. After returning to Seattle upon earning a bachelor’s degree in jewelry design, Aalund says that it was tough to find work despite being a skilled bench jeweler. “Jewelry manufacturers wouldn’t hire me because I was female and had a college degree, whereas Leo never accepted that kind of discrimination,” she explains. Now, three decades or so later, she found a way to thank him—by entering a ring they collaborated on in MJSA’s Vision Awards…and winning.

While she would soon go on to work for other jewelers, Aalund “was delighted to come back” in 2014. She feels that Fried’s mission to adhere to responsible practices reflects her own personal commitment. “Everything we have is sustainably made and ethically obtained. It has been Leo’s lifelong dedication,” she says. 

The ring’s components certainly reflect this. Fried purchased the 3.47-carat oval tanzanite from Godwin Selembo, a Washington gemstone dealer and an African safari guide who obtains his stones from a co-op of Maasai miners. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the stone goes back to the co-op to be used for funding teachers’ salaries, housing, clean water wells, schools, and whatever else is necessary in the village. The 14k white gold is sourced from Hoover & Strong’s Harmony metals, a line manufactured entirely from recycled precious metals. And the accent diamonds are either recycled from customers’ own goods or purchased from dealers who adhere to the Kimberley Process.

In addition to sourcing materials ethically, Fried makes sure that the company’s casting and manufacturing processes adhere to or excel advisory guidelines established by the Department of Toxic Substance Control of the State of California, which were created to offer guidance to jewelry manufacturers for the handling and processing of materials. Although the company is located in Washington, Fried was trained as a young jeweler in California and believes that adhering to that state’s stricter guidelines is the right thing to do. “We choose to follow these rules because the Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful natural environments anywhere, and all of us at Blue Heron Jewelry are motivated to preserve the beauty of the nature around us,” says Jessica Endresen, a designer at Blue Heron.

Endresen is the designer who created her namesake Jessica Earrings, which ultimately inspired Nanz to create the Jessica Ring. When Nanz saw the earrings, she thought that the concept would work nicely for a ring. Even though the pieces feature different stones and metals (the earrings are made in yellow gold and sport vibrant pink tourmaline trillions), you’d see the dangly earrings if you “cut the ring in half, down the stone center and the overlapping braid,” Aalund says.

Despite the fact that the ring was Aalund’s idea, it was a product of a close collaboration among Fried, Endresen, and Aalund. “The earrings were designed with the intent to present the gemstones in a soft sweep, but with an edge. The layering of the metal, as well as the contrast of the crisp high polish and soft bead-blast finishes helped to achieve this goal,” explains Endresen. “Nanz translated these features and amplified them, bringing strength and substance to the thickness of the ring while making sure the sweeping movement on the sides supported the soft yet strong appeal.”

While the ring is more substantial than the delicate earrings, it reflects its inspiration. Referring to her pencil drawing, Aalund says, “I made sure I was getting the feel Jessica wanted.” The three of them refined the idea, figuring out whether the ring would manufacture easily and anticipating the possible issues that might arise with the design.

After hand-carving the wax model, casting it in silver, and making a rubber mold, they cast the ring in white gold, believing the white metal would set off the tanzanite well. “The secondary flashes of color in this gem made it work better with a white metal,” says Aalund.

The team then decided to apply two finishes—a bright polish and a bead blast. The juxtaposition of finishes emphasizes the dimensions of each layer and achieves a softer, more fluid look. To complete the look, the team added diamonds for some extra sparkle. “We felt that the shank needed a bit more oomph,” Aalund explains.

Aalund says that the biggest challenge was setting the brittle tanzanite—the last step. They trusted the challenging process to Fried, who managed the task expertly, setting the stone in a basket-head mounting, an open style that’s perfect for attracting more light.

The end result turned out to be not only a winner but also one of the most in-demand styles in the company’s portfolio. “I knew it would be popular!” says Aalund, who is “overjoyed” with their win. “I’ve known Leo for 30 years and know how dedicated he is. I wanted him to be recognized for his career on a larger stage.”

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