Jewelry designer Colby Shelton Byrd pays homage to the ocean through his craft
By KIM HENRY
Life is made up of stories and storytellers come in many forms. Some use words, but others find different ways to capture the moments that give our journeys meaning. For Colby Shelton Byrd, it’s metal and stones - treasures collected from grandmother’s attic and the far corners of the world. A man of many stories himself, this bespoke jewelry designer combines the elements that inspire his soul with his chosen medium, and the outcomes are stunning, raw and unique.
Clearly the captain of his own ship, Byrd has always had the courage to follow his true calling. He recalls his grandmother often telling him, ‘You have to learn the rules before you can break them,’ and listening to this advice has served him well. After studying many different art forms at ECU, Byrd discovered his connection to metal work in his final year and left before graduating. “I knew I wanted to be an artist, and that I needed to teach myself the business of art if that dream was going to come true, and I was not learning that at school,” smiles Byrd, who at just thirty years old is selling his work in designer jewelry stores across the country and receiving commissions from all over the world for his own brand - Shelton Metal.
Byrd set sail to find his personal treasure chest and landed in a small town near Tuscany, Italy where he studied under some of the best jewelry makers in the business. This life changing experience allowed Byrd to come into his own as a designer and combine these new techniques with two of his greatest inspirations - his love of stories and the ocean. He continues to return to Italy whenever he can as, ”A piece of my heart is always there,” say Byrd.
Fascinated by the ocean, Byrd also loves living so close to the water here in Wilmington. “The contrast of the power of the sea with the softness of the waters edge is reflected in a lot of my work,” explains Byrd surrounded by his signature designs. There’s a raw quality to his pieces that often contrast the rough and the smooth, contain unfinished edges, and involve hand-forging techniques that mean no two pieces will ever be identical. Drawn to the darker aspect of the oceans crustaceans, you will find its treasures embodied within Byrd’s collection. From sharks’ teeth, to rope replications and abstracted skull and crossbones, Byrd’s designs pay homage to the many gifts of the ocean.
“Every piece of jewelry I make is like a lost piece of treasure that I’ve found,” laughs this romantic artist, who excels in taking old pieces of jewelry and transforming them into something new. Passionate about his commissions, Byrd explains, “there’s no point having a piece of jewelry sat in a box that belonged to someone very special but will never be worn again. I love to create something new for people while also preserving a special quality or memory from the original piece. I’m not looking for a flawless diamond to work with, I’d rather have something with more depth.”
His process involves a range of skills including; carving a design in wax, making a mould and casting, enameling, hand forging, setting stones and of course, breaking the rules. Exploring his craft is a huge part of his creative work and how he’s evolved such a unique aesthetic. Working mainly but not exclusively with gold, and a range of precious gems, Byrd is keen to make sure that his materials have been sustainably and ethically sourced as much as possible. “It’s very important to me that the stones I work with are conflict free and coming from a source of integrity,” affirms Byrd.
Ever prolific, Byrd has dedicated the last ten years to building his brand, Shelton Metal, taking the leap into being a full time artist in 2018. Leaving behind the life of working multiple jobs to make ends meet, Byrd committed to his art and has never looked back. The main individual behind his website, photography, designs, marketing and making, he is the creative director of Shelton Metal. “Sometimes I question if I’m being selfish by giving so much of myself to my work. I mean, I’m not saving someone in a hospital,” shares this thoughtful young man. But, the more he connects one on one with people from around the world, providing them with their dream wedding ring for their special day or sharing his techniques with other designers, he finds confirmation in following his path. And as we all know, imagine a world without artists?
Byrd has also taught at Dreams, a local after school art center for kids in-need. He enjoyed giving back to the next generation, inspiring them to stay true to themselves and being a positive, artistic role model. Words of wisdom for aspiring young jewelry designers? After pausing for a moment, he breaks out into his contagious laughter, “learn the rules so that you can break them well!”