Minneapolis Jeweler Named All-Around Champion at Smart Show Dallas
On August 23, Minneapolis jeweler Kelly Williams arrived at the 2013 Smart Show in Dallas with a tackle box stuffed with her favorite tools, ready for her biggest career challenge yet. After placing third in last year’s Instore Bench Pressure CAD challenge, she was returning to compete in this year’s All-Around challenge—one of only two people versatile enough to make the leap.
Each Bench Pressure competition sets four master jewelers head-to-head in a contest described as reality TV for jewelers, but with more education and less spectacle. Contestants undertake three two-hour challenges, and the person with the most points overall claims the trophy. The show provided some materials, but the contestants had to supply their own tools.
“That was actually the first challenge,” Williams said. “We all brought as many tools as possible with us. I did some practice settings ahead of time, just to be sure that I brought the right sizes of burs.”
That practice prepared her for diamond setting, the first challenge, in which contestants set 14 stones in French bead style, with hand-cut seats and prongs. “All four of us had different interpretations of the setting,” Williams said. “It was inspiring just to see our different takes.”
The second competition, hand engraving, required complete engraving of a 6mm wedding band in any design. It was here that Williams’s professional focus on engraving technique paid off. “I used a rope edge technique that was new to me,” she recounted, “a Western bright cut that really set my piece apart.” She finished the day as the winner of the second challenge, but with the mystery freestyle challenge—revealed as a gem signet ring with a 6.5mm stone and assorted colored stones—already sparking ideas.
That evening, Williams stopped by the Smart Show’s reception, planning to chat for a while and turn in early. Instead, she batted ideas around with Lisa McConnell, a jewelry designer from Fort Worth, Texas, until late in the night. “Lisa suggested a Texas lone star engraving,” Williams noted. “I ran with it and added hand engraved scrollwork, olive and laurel branches, and red, white, and blue gems, all evoking the Texas flag.” The next day, Williams made that shared inspiration a reality. “That was where I nailed it,” she recounts. “I was really excited as everything came together. It proved that it’s not just what you know, it’s who you meet, too.”
Williams won the freestyle competition and, with the highest number of points overall, took home the All-Around trophy. But once again, she found that the experience itself was most valuable. “It was a really cool vibe,” Williams said. “The prize was a trophy and bragging rights, not a million dollars. We swapped tools and helped each other out. We were there to challenge ourselves, and learning from others—and supporting others—is a huge part of that.”
The trophy has a place of honor in Williams’s studio, but the exhilaration of competing and collaborating with other artists continues to fuel new work at her shop, Whiplash Designs, especially in the launch of her new bridal line, Hitched. “There’s nothing like the challenge,” she says. “It’s intense—and I want to keep that spark in every piece afterward.”