Ruthie Murray uses reclaimed precious metals to create wonderfully minimal, timeless jewellery. With over 20 years of experience in the jewellery industry, Ruthie has designed for a number of big name brands, including Tiffany and Co, before starting her own eponymous line of jewellery.
A native of Kansas and now based in Vermont, Ruthie shares a studio with her illustrator husband and three canine assistants. Her designs are centred around clean lines, bold shapes and sustainable, reclaimed metals, making her jewellery stylish enough for today but timeless enough for tomorrow. We chat to Ruthie about her collection.
When did you first fall in love with jewellery?
“As a child, I visited my grandmother often in Darlington, Missouri, a tiny town with a population of fifty. When she was a teenager, she played centre on the town’s basketball team, and later, had scandalised the neighbours by hanging wallpaper while expecting my father. She was eventually elected both mayor and sheriff, and was generally a woman way ahead of her time. When rummaging through her dresser during one visit, I came across a large gold locket. I opened it carefully, and found a photo of a tall, slim woman in an enormous hat opposite a man in an ill-fitting dark suit. I said, “Wow - look at Granddad!” She looked at the picture for just a moment before replying, “That’s not your grandfather.” It was then that I realised that jewellery could carry a tremendous sense of history, meaning and mystery. I still have that locket today.”
How did your jewellery line begin?
“I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in Illustration, but I abandoned that career path almost immediately in order to return to making things: furniture at first, then jewellery. I wanted to make something tangible that could gather layers of history and meaning. I took metalsmithing classes at RISD, and jumped in. My first collection, not surprisingly, focussed on contemporary versions of my grandmother’s locket. On a visit to Manhattan, a friend encouraged me to approach a woman working in the jewellery department of Barney’s New York, and show her a few of my pieces. She turned out to be a jewellery buyer for the store, and arranged a meeting at their offices the following day to see my entire collection, then placed an order. That’s how it began - with a little shove, and a little luck.”
"I seek out clean, minimal shapes, often from nature, and distil them down to elemental forms that can be worn by anyone, of any age, at any time."
What inspires your designs?
“As my inspiration, I seek out clean, minimal shapes, often from nature, and distil them down to elemental forms that can be worn by anyone, of any age, at any time. Jewellery is a statement about personal identity. It’s part of how we represent ourselves to the world, and I like being a part of that.”
Where do you create your best work?
"My studio was once a carriage house, and is just a short stroll from the house my family and I live in. Even better, we live behind our town’s general store, so it’s easy to keep a generous supply of chocolate on hand at all times! I carry a sketchbook with me at all times, and often find that I like to design work at a coffee shop or a library, away from distractions - reserving the studio for bringing those designs to life.”
"Fine jewellery is an investment, and it should be as elegant and wearable in twenty years as it is today."
How do you want someone to feel when wearing a Ruthie Murray design?
“When you come into contact with something of quality and substance, you know it. There’s a solid feel that you’re instinctively aware of, and when you put a piece of jewellery on that is designed and made with a high level of craft, it’s just very satisfying. This is the kind of work I strive to create, and because my pieces are made to last, I want the design to last, too. Fine jewellery is an investment, and it should be as elegant and wearable in twenty years as it is today.”
What are your core brand values?
“A few years ago, I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with my husband when I saw an amazing ring in a corner of a gallery of ancient artefacts. With its clean lines and bold shape, the piece was 5,000-6,000 years old. I was struck by the fact that, although this ring was crafted at the dawn of goldsmithing with the simplest of tools, it was somehow completely sleek and modern, transcending trends and fashion for millennia. Seeing it gave me a new goal and focus for my work: designing more essential forms like this one and using them to create sustainable jewellery designed to be worn over a lifetime.”
How do you ensure your designs are sustainable?
“Mining precious metals has exacted an enormous toll on the planet. Incredibly, extracting enough gold from a mine for a typical wedding band requires processing a volume of earth roughly the size of a car. Some gold mines are visible from space, and many use cyanide, sulfuric acid and lead to extract gold from ore, then dump those waste chemicals, poisoning streams and rivers. To minimise this impact, I order from suppliers who reclaim and refine scrap gold and silver, and use those metals whenever possible.”
Are there any clients you are particularly proud of?
“A couple of years ago, I was asked to design a brooch, to be made by another goldsmith, for Madeleine Albright. The former United States Secretary of State is almost as well-known for her extensive collection of pins and brooches, so it’s an honour to know that one of my designs resides in her famous collection. I’m just as proud, however, to have made a pair of one-of-a-kind wedding bands for an amazing couple, a bold statement ring for a client celebrating her 50th birthday, a pair of matching bracelets for a father to give his much-loved daughters, and many other deeply meaningful pieces. It’s a gift to be a part of so many special occasions.”
"It’s deeply satisfying to know that something I’ve made has become a part of someone else’s life - I wouldn’t trade it for the world."
What’s been the highest point of your career so far?
“Seeing my name next to my work at Barney’s New York was certainly exciting - it was years ago, but I can still remember how validating it was. You work alone in a room for months on a collection, and you never know what the outside world will make of what you’re trying to do. Having that first success let me know that I was on the right track. So many years later, there’s still nothing like spotting one of my pieces on someone I pass on the street. I get an amazing, full circle kind of feeling, and it’s deeply satisfying to know that something I’ve made has become a part of someone else’s life - I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
What does the future hold for you and your brand?
“This pursuit of the elemental, forms that are both ancient and contemporary, has really consumed me for the last few years. I’m still charging down that path, trying to see how far I can push this body of work. In the past, I’ve confined my work to metals, but lately I’ve been experimenting with wood and stones in my designs as well. I want to keep growing and exploring and putting my work out there. As a child, I was assigned to write a paragraph about what I thought my life would be like as an adult. I wrote that I’d be living on the East Coast, that I’d be married with two kids, and that I’d be an artist. Check, check, and check. What more can you ask for?”