Mary Ellen Byrne

The Pearl and Briolette Necklace from "The Young Victoria"
Meet the Designer-Artist

Where do you live?
Camillus, New York

Describe your artistic style.
Western European, I'd say. I am drawn mostly to the Regency and Victorian era styles. I really, really love cameos. I like floral patterns. I like pastel colors. Surprisingly, I find I like pearls, which is something I didn't like when I first started out. I figured they were too plain and I wanted my designs to have LOTS of sparkle.

What inspires you as a designer-artist?
Movies and television! I would describe my ability at this point is a better copier than creator. I have made jewelry pieces I've seen from "The Young Victoria," "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex," and the Sherlock Holmes series produced by Granada Television. The jewelry in each of those episodes is fabulous!

The Holy Grail, though, is the 5 strand pearl necklace with the cameo focal from the 1938 movie "Jezebel."

What materials do you most enjoy working with?
Mostly beads, but I love any sort of dangle. I like focals and charms as well.

What is the name of the piece you submitted with your success story?
The Pearl and Briolette Necklace from "The Young Victoria"

What inspired this design?
I was watching the movie and when this necklace came on the screen I thought it was stunning.

How did it come together?
Well, going back to the idea that talent knowledge is power, I came to realize that with my skills I did not have to settle for "Oh that is such a beautiful necklace. How I wish there was some way I could have one made for me." I have the skills! I have the knowledge! I have the power! It was just a matter of putting in the DVD, running and re-running every scene this necklace was in and getting a look at it from every angle the camera shot. The only down side to it all was each scene was shot in historically accurate Victorian era lighting. I didn't get as clear a look at the necklace as I would have wanted.

I figured the necklace was resting right at the bottom of Victoria's neck so it was probably 18 inches. 16 inches would be right tight up against the neck and this necklace was resting right at the neck base so I guessed it to be 18 inches long (which for my neck would be 20 inches). I figured from the looks of the necklace, the bead size was probably 6 mm but 8 mm was also a possibility. I had to pick one size and hope for the best.

I counted 7 briolettes with one marking the center of the necklace and three more going up each side. The back shot of the necklace (there was only one) showed a line of pearls only so the briolettes only went half way up each side. After that it was just a matter of figuring out the math. Going to the trusted Fire Mountain formula for how many beads one would need if one knows what size bead one is going to use and how long a necklace one is going to make. Then take that number and divide it into quarters with two quarters representing the back and two more quarters representing the front. Then one more piece of division to find out how many beads go between each briolette and there it was.

The hairstyle Emily Blunt wore blocked her ears so there was no way to get a look at what kind of earrings she had on. You can see in the tight shots of her face during the chess scene there are fleeting glimpses so she is wearing them, but the ringlets on either side of her face are just too large to get a good look at the style. I came up with what I thought would be an appropriate style.

Share Your Background

When and how did you begin making jewelry/beading?
I started back in 1985 when I joined Our Lady's Rosary Makers and began making rosaries to be sent to mission countries. I started out learning how to make chain rosaries then a few years later learned how to make cord rosaries.

Who introduced you to beading?
I would say when I learned how to make the cord rosaries about 1990.

Do you have an artistic background?
Ask my mother about that one! The story is that I would hide a pencil somewhere in the dining room and when I figured it was safe and everyone was busy doing something else I would retrieve my pencil and draw very large doodles on the dining room wall. I have no recollection of this, mind you, but my mother swears to this day it is true, so who am I to question the wisdom of my elders?

How did you discover Fire Mountain Gems and BeadsĀ®?
I was asked by a co-worker to make a rosary for her daughter's First Communion and I was also invited to the party back at her house after the ceremony. Among the guests was another friend of hers named Michelle, who was a full-time jewelry maker. At one point in the party, I saw Michelle take a look at the rosary and I heard her say to Cheryl "You're kidding! This is hand done?!" She then let the rosary fall full out and she got it underneath a lamp in the room and examined it very close up. I thought 'Oh, great! Now she'll see every scar on the metal, every scratch on the beads, all the imperfect loops. She's going to see just how badly this rosary was done.

Michelle then came over to me and said regarding the rosary "This is really good. Do you do anything else?"

The answer was no. At that point in my development, all I knew how to do was rosaries. Michelle told me that if I knew how to work beads and wire there was a lot more I could do besides rosaries. She then gave me two addresses of jewelry suppliers. One was Fire Mountain Gems and the other was--a member of the noble competition. I ordered from both equally in the beginning but then I began to notice that Fire Mountain has a much larger selection of jewelry parts and eventually I moved into ordering from Fire Mountain exclusively.

What other hobbies do you have?
By way of the Kindle e-reader I purchased last spring, I have rediscovered the joy of reading, especially historical romance novels which I was never interested in before. I also LOVE to bake and especially in the fall so we are moving into my favorite time of the year! I like taking walks and enjoy taking my nieces to the park. I also dabble in fan fiction writing when I get up the nerve.

Do you belong to any beading societies or beading groups?
I belong to Our Lady's Rosary Makers of Louisville, Kentucky through whom I order whatever rosary-making supplies I need.

Beading Success

What role does jewelry-making play in your life?
At this point it's just a hobby. Most of what I make, I wear myself. I'm not at the point of selling yet, but it's an aspect of jewelry-making I am going to have to deal with sometime. My masterpieces are starting to pile up.

The greatest power I have found in this talent is the ability to rehabilitate a broken piece. I purchased a double strand faux pearl necklace whose thread was stretched out by at least 1/2 an inch at a garage sale for twenty-five cents, took it home, snipped off the old thread, re-threaded the beads on tigertail to prevent any worry about a stretch-out in the future and there you go! I now own a double strand faux pearl necklace for twenty-five cents. I once rescued a pair of heart-shaped earrings from being thrown out because one of the earrings had lost its back. There was nothing else wrong with the earrings. They were in perfect shape but because one of them had lost the back, their previous owner thought them worthless.

I think the best story I remember was back in the early '90s, my grandmother had a double strand glass bead necklace with one strand broken. We kept it in a plastic bag since her death about twenty years earlier. I happened upon it one day and thought "Hey! That's right! I've got the parts and the knowledge to be able to fix this now!" I got out two bead tips, some silk thread, a beading needle and following the pattern on the bottom strand as best I could, I re-strung the top strand and put it back on the necklace.

I presented the repaired necklace to my father and I saw tears form in his eyes. I wasn't presenting him with his mother back again, but I think seeing his mother's favorite necklace back in one piece after all these years was the next best thing.

If you used jewelry-making as a way to bring in income, how are you selling yourself and your jewelry?
I don't use jewelry-making as a means of income.

Any advice for aspiring jewelry-artists?
I consider myself to still be an aspiring jewelry-artist. Does anybody out there have any advice for me? ;-)