Crafting Sea Memories
Ari Kwakye combines metalwork and the sea to create jewelry
A sleepy winter spent living in the Outer Banks led to a possible career change for ARI KWAKYE.
After graduating from UNC Wilmington in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, she moved to Kill Devil Hills.
“I’ve vacationed in the Outer Banks before,” Kwakye says. “It’s fun and lively in the summer, but I moved there at the end of summer and it’s a total ghost town.”
The self-described social butterfly didn’t know many people in the small town and was craving a creative outlet. Her mother, who had taken a class a year prior, suggested metalsmithing.
So, Kwakye enrolled in a four-day beginner’s course at Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft in Columbia, N.C. “I fell in love,” she says. “I knew right away I needed to buy my own equipment and continue to teach myself.”
In late 2020, Kwakye launched Sea Bones, a nod to her obsession with collecting shark teeth and fossils from the ocean.
“As great as it is looking for them on the beach, you can find some amazing things while scuba diving,” she says.
Kwakye is a certified PADI Divemaster and has been diving since age 11.
“I’ve been diving all over the world and collected hundreds of teeth, from tiger sharks to megalodons. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Collecting them makes me fall in love with the ocean more and more every time,” she says.
When creating, Kwakye sits with the stones and lets them guide her. Using cabochons of stones like turquoise, opal, dendritic opal, moonstones, and natural items cowrie shells, shark teeth, and even sea glass, she first imagines a theme.
“I want the pieces in the collection to look similar. I take my time because I’m really picky,” she says. An eight-piece collection of rings, cuff bracelets, necklaces, and earrings could take anywhere from four days to two weeks.
Sustainability is a critical component of Kwakye’s work. She spends hours researching the origins of stones, and sources stones from lapidary artists and small businesses who are ethically mining and cutting their own stones.
“I don’t use anything that’s mass-produced, synthetic, or from mines that are not eco-friendly,” she says. Kwakye also reuses discarded materials from other metalsmiths and saves scrap metal to be reused.
Kwakye’s original career path was veterinary school. She has been accepted to four programs in the United States and abroad but has deferred as she wants to pursue jewelry making. She’s even reduced her hours as a vet tech to allow more time to create.
Kwakye says time management, starting an e-commerce site, and finances are some of the most challenging aspects of running Sea Bones.
“I work 11 to 12 hours at the vet, then make jewelry at night. I learned how to design a website and manage social media platforms that I need to be on constantly. And, making jewelry is not cheap,” she says. “Metal prices have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Pricing my work has been a challenge. I want to make my jewelry accessible, without sacrificing quality and sustainability.”
Kwakye hopes her jewelry will inspire people to fall in love with the ocean and nature every time they put on one of her pieces. “So often we separate ourselves from nature and in turn, we can lose touch with a part of who we are.”
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA newsletters and announcements.