Julia Winter at work in her studio.

Webster’s defines jewelry as “personal ornaments…that are typically made from or contain jewels and precious metal.” The word derives from the Old French “jouel” and the earlier Latin “jocale,” which means “plaything.”

This root notion of “plaything” gets at the heart of why we love jewelry and why, after hunting and gathering, making jewelry actually may be the world’s oldest profession. All through human history, beautiful and inventive “personal ornaments” have lifted our spirits, lit up our eyes, drawn attention to our assets and power, and communicated our moods.

I’d been hearing some buzz about local jewelry artist Julia Winter of Jewel Ya, and decided it was time to track her down and get a look at her elegant, inventive pieces for myself.

I met with this remarkable artist, who combines business savvy with a penchant for sophisticated design, in her home studio in Midtown‘s Alvarado Historic District near the Heard Museum. I began “oohing” and “aahing” the minute I stepped through the door and couldn’t help reaching out and touching the pieces to better understand the feel and the quality of her work.

She creates her pieces with elegance and playfulness in mind. The mainstay of her work is changeability.  She produces a variety of silver and gold chains that can be worn individually or layered with added elements like precious stones or pendants, or as pieces unto themselves.

Mix and match hoop earrings.

The same goes for the beautiful, hand-hammered and shaped hoop earrings, which can be worn with mixed and matched drops. The drop choices include precious metal discs and a wide variety of stones and pearls, including the exquisite Sleeping Beauty turquoise, which is mined right here in Arizona, just outside of Kingman.

All of the gem and chain options work together beautifully to allow you to change up your look to suit the occasion and mood (see the helpful how-to videos on her website).

The variety of chains, pendants and drop choices are delicate, elegant and timely. While silver was the metal of choice for a long time, Julia noted that, increasingly, people are turning to gold and are excited by the light, versatile quality of her pieces. “We try to stay clean, sophisticated and refined, but the work has to follow the trend,” said Winter.

For all of their refinement and delicacy, the handwork and detail that go into each piece requires striking the right balance. Handmade jewelry is delicate, but it also has to survive. As Winter says, “You have to make a lot of mistakes until you figure out what will really hold up.”

Winter had a long corporate career at both IBM and Xerox, before choosing a new direction that would keep her closer to home and her family. She began creating jewelry over ten years ago and her signature style has evolved over time.

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise is mined in Arizona.

She sells locally at private trunk shows, in retail outlets like the Arizona Biltmore and Spa and The Willows Home and Garden boutique at The Union in Biltmore Fashion Park, as well as direct through her website.

Her corporate experience helped her develop her small business savvy. I say business savvy, because I was immediately struck by the care she’d taken to display samples of her work in a way that was both aesthetically pleasing and immediately communicated what was compelling and unique about her pieces.

Jewel Ya also features simple, but equally refined packaging, which helps prevent tarnishing or damage and gives the customer a safe option for storing the pieces when not being worn.

In addition to her precious metal necklaces and earrings, Winter’s Jewel Ya Designs include leather and metal bracelets, and the youthful line of affordable gel cord charm necklaces.

The next time you have a yen for an elegant piece of jewelry, check out the beautiful “playthings” crafted by this midtown artist and have some fun mixing and matching to create your special look.

Jewelry images provided by Julia Winter.