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Jim Jenkins

Online marketplace Etsy is home to some of the most unique handmade items in the world -- and some of the most intriguing crafters. Case in point: Jim Jenkins, a former theater designer and custom furniture maker who is now the sculptor behind the eye-catching wooden jewelry boxes on sale at Jim Jenkins Designs.

The idea for Jenkins' handcarved masterpieces came about by accident a couple of years ago. While between furniture projects in his workshop, Jenkins started playing around with some materials. He ended up with a rather unconventional jewelry box that resembled a miniature piece of furniture.

A short while later, a friend came across Jenkins' new work, loved it, and bought it on the spot. So Jenkins decided to make another. And another.

Eventually, he began churning out the one-of-a-kind jewelry boxes in his spare time, and Jenkins' mother-in-law suggested that Etsy might be a good venue for his uncommon works. Jim Jenkins Designs opened its virtual doors a couple years ago, and has been a popular store on the site ever since. Jenkins makes and sells about ten boxes per month, ranging in price from $150 to $450.

Alfalfa (left) and Jersey jewelry boxes. Photos: Jim Jenkins Design, Etsy

Jim Jenkins' Process
Jenkins first sketches a jewelry box on a blank piece of wood. "I wait for the pencil to create a design I like," he says. Sometimes the grain of the wood leads the way. Other times, just a line he's drawn suddenly demands what the rest of the box's shape will be. When he's not feeling any inspiration, he'll set aside the wood and do something else until he's feeling creative again.

Each curiously shaped box can take three to five days to produce, depending on how intricate the detailing. Some of the boxes have simple, symmetrical shapes with three or four drawers; others are a labyrinth of twists and curves with up to eight compartments for rings, earrings and more. One of Jenkins' more complicated projects was an Eiffel Tower jewelry box that needed to be constructed out of three different boxes that he first built, then attached together.

John Marshall jewelry box. Photo: Jim Jenkins Design, Etsy

Sanding is the most time-consuming step of the process, says Jenkins. The more intricate the design, the more surface area there is to sand. But he knows the shiny surface of these gems is one of their most exceptional details. "In my dreams, I would have a platoon of elves that would arrive in the darkest hours of the night to sand all the projects that I have left for them on the work bench," he jokes.

When Jenkins first began, his jewelry boxes were smaller and simpler. Over time he's challenged himself to create works that are larger and more elaborate. By experimenting he realizes that many of the more ambitious patterns that he initially thought he couldn't achieve actually came out beautifully. "Don't say you can't do something until you've tried to," he says. "That's the best lesson I've ever learned."

Jenkins understands that he's working with precious natural resources, so he tries to be as green as possible. His one-of-a-kind pieces are made primarily from domestic hardwoods harvested from sustainable forests; Black Walnut, Cherry, Poplar, and Bird's Eye Maple typically make the cut. Occasionally, he'll use more exotic woods like Eucalyptus; the shades help complement each piece.

Asked if he has a favorite jewelry box, Jenkins says, "Ask me today, and I'll give you one answer. Ask me tomorrow, and it will probably be different." How many boxes has he created so far in this new career? "I've actually lost track. I'm not making any furniture right now simply because the jewelry boxes are working for me. I guess I found my niche."

His pieces, he says, are like his children. He keeps track of where his "kids" end up, and keeps a map of the world with dots on the cities he has boxes in. So far, his family is in Spain, Russian, Australia and more.

Alyssa Ettinger is a ceramicist and freelance writer. Shop her handmade porcelain wares at her Etsy Store,
alyssa ettinger design.


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