June 23, 2024

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Kierston Aiello at her metalsmithing bench

Artist Q&A: Ornery Metalsmith Kierston Aiello | Jewelry

Metalsmith Kierston Aiello discovered jewelry making as a college student and has not looked back. Kierston is the driving force behind TierraCast pewter jewelry component designs and she is also steadily building her own line of one-of-a-kind jewelry, Ornery Metal Studio. She brings fierce technical knowledge and artistic skills to the jewelry studio so makers can create stylish jewelry with inspiring components. We asked artist and product development pro Jill Mackay to interview Kierston for this jeweler profile.

Above image: Kierston Aiello at the workbench. All photos courtesy of the artist.

Made with Love

Q. When did your interest in jewelry making begin? What first led you into jewelry making?

I have always enjoyed crafty hobbies. As a kid I made friendship bracelets and hair-wraps and potholders galore! My mom was an artist, and she had a small side jewelry business called “Wired Hangers” in my childhood. She taught me how to do simple jewelry assemblies. My dad owned a small Woodwind and Brass instrument repair shop, so he enlisted us kids to help with minor repairs. That gave us exposure to lots of hand tools like stakes and hammers, and a basic familiarity with soldering and polishing.

Q. Where did you learn to make jewelry?

I studied Jewelry/Small Metals at Humboldt State University (now Cal Poly Humboldt) under the incredible Kris Patzlaff. I was majoring in Art History and intended to go into museum work. To get my degree, I had to take studio courses. I begrudgingly signed up for Jewelry to avoid taking Painting. As soon as I used a jeweler’s saw, it was a done deal. I fell in love immediately and basically lived in the Jewelry Lab. I continued my education independently after graduation, taught myself graphic design and took advanced jewelry courses whenever I could.


woodlands collection designed by kierston aiello for tierracast
The Woodlands collection for TierraCast. Kierston enjoys the challenges of designing for production.

Working Artist

Q. How long has jewelry making and design been your main gig? How did you make the jump to full time?

After I graduated from HSU, I went to work full-time at Holly Yashi Jewelry in Arcata, California. I started in the gift store and then talked myself into a Production Artisan position where I continued learning and driving everyone crazy with questions. When I moved to Sonoma County, I took a tour with a friend of her dad’s company, TierraCast! I began working in Customer Service and worked my way up from there. Jewelry Making and Design has officially been my full-time job for about seven years.

handmade belt buckle made in memory of kierston's brother
Joshua tree belt buckle for Kierston’s little brother, the dreamer.

Jewelry Making Inspiration

Q. What fills your inspiration reservoir, and why?

On the days I occasionally work from home, I luxuriate on my couch with all my pets and endless coffee and draw uninterrupted for hours. My personal studio is a short, beautiful walk from my house so I also work there whenever I can! I also like to take artistic “field trips” to museums or just stroll around San Francisco. If that doesn’t work, I pour myself into a personal jewelry project such as a gift for a friend or something for myself.

Q. What is your favorite piece of jewelry you have ever made and why?

A hollow form silver ring in memory of my father. It has a carved magnolia on top made of Tagua Nut and opens to a locket with pictures of my dad. It has some of his cigar trapped inside so it smells like him forever.   


kierston aiello selling her ornery metal jewelry at a local market
Kierston selling handmade jewelry at her local Sonoma County market.

Lifelong Learning

Q. What is the single most important jewelry making skill you’ve learned and why?

Humor! Jewelry can be such a fickle thing. Sometimes you work for hours and then destroy something, and sometimes you just whip something up and it is a beauty! Inevitably you are going to have bad days at the bench. If you can learn to go with the flow and have a giggle, it makes it a lot less painful.

Q. Name two jewelry designers you admire from any era.

I love the impeccable handcraft work of Southwestern artist Cory Lenherr. And, of course, I admire René Lalique, who was a renowned Art Nouveau jeweler in Paris. If I can choose one more artist, I also adore the enameled vessels made by Harlan Butt.


statement rings made by kierston aiello for ornery metalsmith
Statement rings by Kierston Aiello for Ornery Metalsmith. Kierston says, “Understated is overrated.”

Ornery Metalsmith

Kierston is an Interweave Top 20 Honoree of 2022 in the emerging artist category. In addition to being a sassy metalsmith, Kierston is a proud dog mom, roller derby maven, and pinup enthusiast. She says if this metalsmithing thing doesn’t work out, she daydreams about being a librarian at the Los Angeles Central Library.

Follow @ornerymetalstudio on Instagram for a love story about a lady and her torch.

Did any of Kierston’s answers resonate with you? Let us know in the comments!