Photograph by Bob Rozycki
This month, Samantha Levine will receive the results of the state bar exam.
But she’s not biting her nails, worrying when she can start practicing law.
That’s because the 26-year-old has already launched another career – as a jewelry designer.
Through Auburn Jewelry, Levine handcrafts one-of-a-kind pieces in a Mount Kisco studio.
“I love doing this,” she says as she walks a pair of visitors through her tools and methods on a recent afternoon. “It’s a lot more fun than working at a desk.”
Though not throwing a potential career away, Levine says for now law will remain “a nice thing to be able to fall back on.”
Keeping a hand in both the practical and the creative is nothing new for Levine.
“I always tried to balance my course load in school between arts and academics, so it’s been something I’ve been used to.”
And that goes back to high school, when jewelry design caught the attention of the then 14-year-old.
Levine, whose family moved from Manhattan to Mount Kisco when she was in the sixth grade, remembers the moment she became infatuated with jewelry design.
It was on a tour of Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, when she spotted a metals studio as part of the art-department facilities.
“I was like ‘Wait a second. You can use a blowtorch in school?’”
The answer turned out to be yes – and Levine had found her calling, with her college-prep work augmented by jewelry making.
“I had always been very artsy growing up,” she says. Painting, with studies at the Katonah Art Center, was her specialty. While her work, from animal portraits to seascapes, decorates her apartment, jewelry design offers something more.
“It’s a fun craft because you’re not just painting. You sketch. It’s building and finishing.”
Levine graduated from Skidmore College in 2009 with a bachelor of arts degree in American studies and a minor in jewelry and metals. In 2010, while attending Western New England University School of Law in Springfield, Mass., she enrolled at Metalwerx in Waltham, a school and community studio where she further advanced her skills while also working toward a 2012 doctor of law degree.
Since then, Levine has worked part-time at a law office in Yorktown but turned all her attention to Auburn Jewelry in May.
So, how did Levine come up with her company name?
It’s simply her middle name, given to her by her parents in honor of the Massachusetts mall they frequented in their younger days.
Now, it’s become Levine’s calling card – and the path to a most creative future.
As she says with a laugh, “I always hated my middle name, but I guess I’ll embrace it.”
And embrace it – and the business – she has.
Except for a break to study for and take the bar, the past few months have been all about the jewelry, with Levine working primarily with sterling silver, 14- karat gold, copper and enamel. She’s using hammers, blowtorches and saws to create pendants and bracelets, necklaces and rings, cufflinks and key chains.
Levine, who has her own apartment carved out of her parents’ home, asked for something unique for the holidays back in 2011 – a metals studio.
“I asked my parents for all the jewelry equipment for Hanukkah,” she says. “You can’t really do anything with metals until you have all the materials to do it.”
And now, she has a basement space as workable as it is convenient.
“I don’t have to worry about when I can get to the studio,” she says.
In the studio, Levine is often focused on her newest pieces, the small, circular pendants of the Elle Collection. These now-signature charms, which feature hand-cut initials or symbols surrounded by enamel colors, have recently expanded from sterling silver to also include gold.
Designs and colors are always being updated, with the fall collection coming in chocolate brown, hunter green, teal and dark red.
“The pendants are really cool, because I pretty much can put anything inside it,” she says.
Designs range from anchors to seahorses, a cross to the Star of David, flags to geographic images, including Texas, New Jersey and Cape Cod.
All share a proprietary enamel process. (Ask Levine about it and she’ll playfully tell you “It’s a secret, a trade secret.”)
Down in the studio, she’ll cut and buff, saw and solder at any time of the day or night.
She’s surrounded by examples of her work both current and past. All share, she says, a common link.
“I only make jewelry that I would wear. I like very classic pieces that can be worn with everything, anything.”
And that has definitely helped Auburn Jewelry find an audience.
Jewelry lovers can order directly from Levine, but also find her designs showcased in a handful of shops in Westchester, including D’Errico Log Cabin Jewelers in Scarsdale and Mount Kisco.
“I always liked the idea of supporting local people, especially someone who is young,” says Allison Kadanoff, the manager of D’Errico on East Main Street in Mount Kisco.
She says Auburn pieces, which she describes as “very wearable,” have found a fast audience, including a bride who bought initial pendants for the members of her bridal party.
“It’s the same idea so they go together, but it’s personalized,” she says.
Another memorable sale, Kadanoff adds, was by a young man who bought a double-circle sterling necklace for his girlfriend. As they were each off to separate colleges, the necklace, he told Kadanoff, was symbolic of their connection.
For Levine, being in stores is part of the business plan that is keeping her moving ever forward. In addition to working with a small-business coach, Levine also relies on the expertise of her boyfriend, who’s in finance, to help with the business side of things.
“It’s tough. There are so many aspects to running your own business,” she says. “When I feel overwhelmed I just head down and make some jewelry.”
The jewelry also encompasses charitable projects, such as the dance-themed pendant created for an American Ballet Theatre benefit auction. Levine also has an ongoing relationship with the SPCA of Westchester, donating 10 percent of the sales of her dog bone and fish pendants to the local organization (which has been the source of her family’s rescue animals).
While Levine finds her work fulfilling, it is also a challenge, which she welcomes.
“There’s a lot of things that I want to do. I have so many ideas that I can’t get to them.”
But, she says, there’s time in what she hopes will be a long career in jewelry design.
“I’m going to take it day by day. I would absolutely love to do this forever.”
For more, visit auburn-jewelry.com.
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