Southern Style

In Praise of Wearing Your Most Precious Jewelry

The Atlanta jeweler Mary Frances Maker celebrates—and sometimes repurposes–heirloom pieces

Photo: courtesy of Mary Frances Maker

Mary Frances Maker in her home studio.

What’s the point of having it if you can’t enjoy it?” Mary Frances Maker wonders aloud. 

Maker, an Atlanta resident by way of New York, Asheville, Raleigh, and Charleston, South Carolina, doesn’t believe in jewelry that’s too fine to wear. She launched her eponymous business, Mary Frances Maker, in 2014 after using what she’d gleaned at the benches of both fine and fashion jewelers to cultivate her own aesthetic. From her home studio, she crafts pieces in precious stones and metals (although her favorite medium is 14-karat yellow gold) meant to celebrate and elevate the memorable milestones in life. “Fine jewelry is for everyone,” she says, “to commemorate everything from a promotion to a new baby to your dog who you loved more than anything.”

In the last year, her focus has shifted to custom designs with one particular goal in mind: to make the past presentable. We chatted with Maker to learn more about how she got her start, her pivot into custom heirloom redesigns, and her secret to perfect gift giving.

Early on, creating birthstone pieces was big for you. Where did that idea come from, and why do you feel connected to it? 

I love to design sentimental pieces, and the birthstone semi-custom design was a great way to help get people’s creativity flowing. I recently had a client who wanted to design a birthstone-inspired piece, but instead of featuring an actual birthstone, she included six stones for the month of June when her son was born. She called me halfway through the project, beaming, and said, “I just realized that these diamonds came from my Aunt June!” Those little winks and moments of connection where my clients get to represent people they love are really special.

Your new work focuses on taking heirloom pieces and making them wearable. Talk a little about a memorable heirloom redesign.

Heirloom pieces are transcendent. They can hold a specific place in time, but they can also grow, evolve, and collect stories as they pass from one generation to the next. The piece starts to mean something different to each person who wears and receives it. 

There’s an emerald pendant I worked on in Charleston that had been passed down from a grandmother to my client. It came to me in a dated, yellow-gold claw setting. We modernized it with a bezel setting, then made it a little funky by including an offset diamond on the chain. Before, it only looked appropriate for a Gilded Age cocktail party, and it was so much more wearable when we were finished! You never want something that special to sit in a box.

photo: courtesy of Mary Frances Maker
Maker’s reworked design for a client’s heirloom emerald.

The holidays are in full swing, and I know from Instagram that you’re such a thoughtful gift giver. What’s your strategy? 

Gift giving is a love language that I really enjoy speaking. My best advice is simple: Listen! People will often tell you, sometimes by accident, exactly what they want if you pay a little extra attention in the months ahead of Christmas. I actually keep a running note in my phone to quickly type in a new idea as I hear people drop hints throughout the year. 

If you’re truly unsure, it’s still possible to give with thoughtfulness. For example, I have a consultation option where someone can put a deposit down, schedule an appointment with me, and then let the recipient decide how to spend that time (and what piece to create). We also have a concierge program that allows clients to provide a list of gift-able dates. From there, I create custom jewelry that arrives wrapped and ready. One of my concierge clients has actually been with me for five years, and his wife and daughters are clad in MFM season after season! Of course, if all else fails, head to the G&G Fieldshop. (Editor’s note: We promise we didn’t ask Maker to plug our store, but we do in fact carry some of her beautiful designs.)

Find Mary Frances on her website to schedule a virtual consultation, or follow her on Instagram to scout one of her quarterly pop-ups at a city near you.