Designing Woman

Women to Watch Jewelry Designer

W2w Jewelry Main2

Like many artists, MACON THORNTON, jewelry maker and owner of Tallulah Jewelry, is inspired by the world’s colors, textures, and tones.

But, Thornton is equally inspired by the women who wear her jewelry even though she often doesn’t know them. As Thornton makes a piece of jewelry, she imagines a woman wearing it and whether the jewelry will be worn daily or only for special occasions. The result is classic but distinctive, jewelry that appeals to women of all ages and styles.

“I walk a line of simple and classic, but it offers a different look,” Thornton says. “My work speaks to a lot of different tastes and different types of people. Women who are preppy and women who are edgy are interested in my jewelry.”

Necklace2Thornton designed the custom-made bracelets this year for the seven Women to Watch award winners. Each year, WILMA features a different bracelet from a local designer for the awards.

Thornton’s foray into jewelry making began as a whim. On vacation out west, Thornton bought some turquoise beads without any plan for their use. At home, she learned beading basics from a friend and started making simple, single-strand beaded necklaces and bracelets as a hobby. Thornton’s interest and skill in the craft grew, and in 2005 she displayed her jewelry in her first show.

Thornton says being a self-taught jewelry maker has given her certain advantages, the most important of which is the uniqueness of her jewelry. That uniqueness, along with its natural beauty and simplicity, can be seen in every piece Thornton creates. In her necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, Thornton combines quality gemstones or freshwater pearls with silver and gold fill – an unexpected pairing that is a hallmark of Thornton’s work. Although the stones and metal contrast with each other, they also complement each other, she says. Thornton also uses wire wrapping techniques that highlight the gemstones and add to the interplay of the design elements.

“You don’t see many people wire wrapping the way I do,” Thornton says. “It’s one of the reasons why my work is so unique. Wire wrapping adds another dimension as well as color and texture.”

Nearly 75 percent of Thornton’s jewelry designs are one-of-a-kind, and it’s the challenge of creating the new that she finds so rewarding. Ensconced in her home office, Thornton starts her day by taking a look at the many designs in progress on her desk. Her excitement about a particular piece dictates which one she works on at any given moment.

It’s a process that looks a lot like putting together a complicated puzzle. Thornton lays out the piece to get a feel for its fit and arrangement. Each design must come together so that it’s the perfect combination of colors. The colors must work together, but in an unexpected way, Thornton says.

“One design may be only three stones, but each stone must go together just right,” she adds.

NecklaceJewelry making is an inexact science, however; despite Thornton’s careful planning, her designs can surprise her. Sometimes they match the picture in her head, sometimes they’re worse, and sometimes they’re better, she says.

Thornton’s work is constantly evolving. She often gets new ideas from jewelry she designed in the past and says that even a small tweak can result in a major change in her designs or be the impetus for a whole new design. She relishes such spurs to her creativity and growth.

“It’s through new ideas that I push myself,” she says. “When I get new ideas, I need to learn new techniques.”

When Thornton has sold her jewelry at art festivals in Richmond and throughout North Carolina, she always tries to ensure her customers get the perfect piece of jewelry. She asks customers if they plan on wearing a piece every day; if so, she also asks about their normal work attire. If they will wear her jewelry to an event, she asks them about the special dress they will wear. If her jewelry is to be a gift, she asks for a description of the woman who will receive it.

Since the pandemic has closed the festivals, Thornton usually can’t offer such personalized service. The one place at which she meets with customers is the Riverfront Farmers’ Market in Wilmington. Otherwise, Thornton’s jewelry can be purchased on Etsy.

Thornton will celebrate fifteen years of jewelry making this month, and her enthusiasm for her craft is stronger than ever.

“I really love what I do,” she says. “I get excited about going to work. I so appreciate that something I’ve done for this long still ignites this passion in me. This is what I am meant to be doing.”

To view more of photographer Megan Deitz’s work, go to

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Categories: Features