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Local jewelry store owner develops custom creations

By John Gibb

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Petit Jewelry Designs doesn't have any sophisticated equipment. It doesn't design jewelry pieces using modern or urbane methods.

Instead, owner Scott Petit prefers to use an ancient practice dating back thousands of years, also known as lost-wax casting, to custom make pieces for his customers. He uses a kiln, crucible and a centrifuge -- three pieces of equipment needed for casting.

The shop, located at the Bridge Road Shops, has specialized in fine jewelry since its inception in October 2001. They are known for their custom-made jewelry, in which they turn a vision into reality.

"A customer walks in here and tells me what they want. I or the customer will draw a picture of what exactly they want their piece to look like," Petit said. "It is somewhat difficult to translate the customers' vision into an actual piece but we make it happen."

The 45-year-old married father of three does make it happen. He's done it for nearly 25 years -- 12 years as owner of Petit Jewelry Designs and the remaining time at other jewelers in Charleston and Lexington, Ky.

The Kentucky native began working in the jewelry business while studying at the University of Kentucky. He worked part-time in a Lexington jewelry store, which was owned by a family friend.  

While at UK, he switched his major from art to business.

Considering his passion for both disciplines, it seems as if Petit got the best of both worlds when he opened up his shop in 2001.

"I had always dreamt of opening my own store," Petit said. "I've kept drawings throughout the years of jewelry pieces I hoped to make someday."

Petit opened his shop with the hope of attracting customers with his unique jewelry designs. He began by stocking his shelves with jewelry that would not ordinarily be seen in West Virginia -- these items consisted of sterling silver pieces from Nepal, as well as Australian-made jewelry.

Petit doesn't go it alone, though. He works alongside partner Michael Childers. Childers worked with Petit at one of the Charleston jewelers before joining him a year later.

"Scott is the brains of this operation," Childers laughed. "I do most of the work. We take a design and I have to figure out how to bring it to life. It is sometimes a challenge but it's fun."

Childers' workstation is loaded with all sorts of gadgets, including an assortment of tools like magnifiers and drills. He knows where everything is, though.

The process of how they make jewelry is quite complicated. It's an undertaking in which the two men are skilled -- they know every step by heart.

To begin, Petit translates his paper designs into solid chunks of wax. The men use files and rotary tools to make the wax mock-ups look like the finished product.

From there, the wax piece is encased in a liquid plaster and allowed to set. The mold is then placed into the kiln so the wax can melt. A reverse cavity of where the wax once was is then left behind in the plaster.

The mold remains inside the kiln for a certain length of time so it can cool to a temperature appropriate for casting. The mold is then put into a centrifugal caster with the crucible attached to one end. The metal is melted in the crucible and thrown into the mold via centrifugal force by the caster.

The new piece of jewelry is released from the mold by being dipped in cold water.

Childers then takes the piece and files, polishes and shapes it accordingly.

"That's the process," Childers said. "It takes a while but it's worth it."

Petit said customers often drop off their old gold and they are able to melt it and turn it into a piece of jewelry.

"We recycle gold here," Petit said. "Having a piece made with their old gold has sentimental value and it's cheaper to recycle gold."

Petit is definitely a pro at jewelry making. He claims many things can be done with metals and stones.

He points to a stone necklace in his display case dedicated to merchandise that was made at his store. He was able to set a stone he had lying around his shop for months into a necklace that has garnered much attention.

In addition, he was able to recycle some gold that was given to him and transformed it into three metal rings.

His merchandise ranges from $50 to $3,000. He claims the months around Christmas are some of his busiest times of the year.

"We're all booked till Christmas," Childers said. "It's just the two of us and we can only do so much. We've been busy for 10 years but this year has been significantly busy."

Childers said he was unable to take a golf vacation because of the amount of work they've had to do.

Petit's line of jewelry is called "One." He specializes in making earrings, pendants and other fine jewelry. He is working on becoming a certified gemologist, a designation received after intensive course study.

For more information, call 304-343-0003 or visit www.petitjewelrydesigns.com.

Contact writer John Gibb at john.gibb@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1796.


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