By Lauren Miller
For John and Christine Strobel, creating fine jewelry is not about making a sale—it’s about telling a story. In chatting with John and Christine, their dogma became obvious as every piece, every question, and every detail came with its own anecdote.
For over 30 years, John/Christine Designs has been producing masterful works using a variety of fine metals and precious and semiprecious stones. Self-taught, John has been goldsmithing for 45 years, garnering numerous honors for his creations, including the prestigious Spectrum Award for gem setting and design and the Platinum Guild Award for his outstanding technical proficiency in metalsmithing. His style is distinct but difficult to define; his designs range from undulating organic curves to precise geometric edges. As a result, John/Christine Designs creations are meticulously rendered and immaculately crafted. After years of practicing and honing his skills, John is confident in producing even his most intricate pieces.
John prides himself on his ability to actualize any client’s vision, even if they don’t know what they’re looking for when they come to the studio. While clients are encouraged to come in with ideas of what they like and, as John explains is often an easier starting point, do not like, the majority of the design process evolves through conversation. John/Christine Designs both strives and thrives on forging meaningful connections with clients, which facilitate the best possible pieces. Every detail of a John/Christine design contributes to the encapsulation and retelling of the story that sparked its emergence. John recalls a piece in which he set three birthstones in a flowing, aqueous-themed gold setting—a gift for the wife and mother of the commissioner’s three children, all of whom the couple water birthed in their home. The piece forever captures that remarkable time in their lives and will be cherished for years and generations to come.
The couple travels the country extensively to fine art fairs to show their unique jewelry and to attend the world’s most prestigious gem show, which takes place in Tucson, Arizona. Gem shows present a complete visual overload of glittering cut gems, raw stones, and minerals, filling visitors with the excitement of potential visions yet to be actualized. John honed his keen eye for particularly striking gems through courses at the Gemological Institute of America; however, Christine comes by hers intuitively. Sometimes inspiration strikes suddenly. John and Christine will be drawn almost prophetically to a stone, occasionally stumbling on an unexpected treasure for their own work or something that will aid a colleague in their own production. At the Tucson show, they have developed close connections with the world’s finest gem cutters. It’s this sense of community among fine craftsmen that has in large kept John and Christine in business all these years.
Almost all of John/Christine Designs’ creations utilize a lost wax process, allowing greater ability to continuously alter a design as the final product evolves. Often spending over 10 hours carefully developing the wax model that will be used to make the piece of jewelry, John is consistently thrilled by the challenge that each design presents. After all these years, he is still excited by, and in awe of, the casting process—as metal becomes molten and shimmers with a magic that only those who have worked with gold, silver, and platinum understand.
Each and every John/Christine Designs creation is unique. Their pieces are as varied as the stories of the individuals that inspire them. John shares his knowledge with his clients, and they learn to understand the process. It’s not just making jewelry, it’s connecting, commemorating, and celebrating.
No stop to John/Christine Designs is complete without visiting their wonderful dog, Misty. Adopted from a local rescue, Misty is an integral member of the family. Her attentive personality and sweet, gentle disposition wins over anyone who meets her. Because of their love for Misty, John and Christine will continue their annual charitable pairing this season with OccuPaws by providing a generous donation from their holiday sales. This Madison-based nonprofit trains guide and service dogs for local residents, allowing those with disabilities to have greater mobility. Christine stresses the importance of small local businesses and organizations supporting one another, and will be hosting the OccuPaws benefit on November 16 at their new Middleton studio/gallery, located at 1835 Parmenter. The benefit evening will also serve as a grand opening, as John and Christine will have departed from their Paoli location after 16 years.
Lauren Miller is an artist, writer, and gallery associate at Abel Contemporary Gallery in Paoli. She studied art history and critical theory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison both in graduate and honors undergraduate programs. She is pictured here with Scene of the Crime by Lisa Granlick at Abel Contemporary Gallery.