The Rolling Stones of Adornment

Jewelry designer Jimmi Buell is inspired by her favorite bands.
Photo by Sabrina Hill

Born and raised in Canton, Jimmi Buell left Haywood County after high school and moved to Charlotte. In the “big city,” she got a job in the jewelry department at Ivey’s, a now-defunct retail store. It was there, behind the jewelry counter, that she developed an appreciation for sterling silver and precious gems. 

“I was always around jewelry, and was interested in all the different designs,” Buell remembers. 

Yellow Submarine, after the Beatles, yellow jasper and onyx
Photo by Sabrina Hill

But the fledgling fascination was overshadowed by family matters when Buell’s stepdaughter was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Disorder. In her research about the condition, Buell read The Feingold Cookbook for Hyperactive Children. In the book, a pediatrician argues that a diet free of artificial colors, sweeteners, and preservatives can improve children’s focus and attention span. 

Much to Buell’s surprise, it worked. “That got me really curious,” she says.

Intrigued by the power of food, Buell moved back to the mountains to study nutrition at Western Carolina University in the 1990s. That’s also when she began taking workshops at Studio3 School of Jewelry Arts in Canton. 

In the Arms of an Angel, after Sarah McLachlan, turquoise; a whimsical hollow-form silver statement ring
Photo by Sabrina Hill

In the ensuing years, Buell earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in nutrition. She also worked as a health educator with the Department of Public Health in Jackson County and as an extension agent for Polk County. She continued taking jewelry classes, too. But it wasn’t until two years ago, when she retired, that jewelry became her full focus. 

Today, the Columbus-based metalsmith crafts wearable art inspired by everything from simple forms like circles to steampunk-esque bicycle gears. Her most recent pieces symbolize songs by iconic bands. Pendants with wings, for instance, symbolize “Angel in My Heart” by Mick Jagger and “In the Arms of an Angel” by Sarah McLachlan.  “Wild Horses” is another pendant inspired by a Stones song. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” are other works in the series.

Cat and Mouse on the House, that won Best in Show at last year’s Animals in Art exhibit at Tryon Arts and Crafts School
Photo by Sabrina Hill

“I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, when there was a lot of good music,” says Buell. “I can hear a song and almost instantly come up with a piece of jewelry that goes with it.”

Her designs begin with a cabochon (a gemstone that has been shaped and polished) and evolve from there. “I sketch out the piece in my journal and make notes,” she explains. “It’s fun to put an idea on paper and then see it come to life.”

Some of her pieces tell whole stories in the space of a few centimeters. Last fall, for instance, she designed a hollow-form ring for Animals in Art, a show at Tryon Arts and Crafts School. The ring, which Buell dubbed “Cat and Mouse on the House,” depicts a scampering rodent running straight into the path of a slyly stoic kitty cat. Both are perched atop a brick building, dwarfing the house in an amusing reversal of scale. 

“It won Best of Show,” Buell says proudly. Successes like these validate her circuitous path.

“When I discovered the amazing world of gemstones and all the creative possibilities they could provide, I was hooked,” says Buell. “… My sense of spontaneity and style have helped me create jewelry designs that not only speak to me but [also] to my audience.”

Jimmi Buell, Columbus. Buell is represented by Smitten Smiths Gallery (3636 Brevard Road, Suite 1, Hendersonville). Buell teaches a make-your-own sterling spinner-ring class at Smitten Smiths each month. For dates and details, visit  

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1 Comment

  1. says: Sylvia McQuaide

    Jimmi has also been a great mentor to a group of us at Tryon Arts & Crafts School as well. She is a great teacher, with great patience, and a huge store of knowledge. Now that I have moved out of the area, I really miss her guidance and the camaraderie of our group.

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