Caitlin Velazquez-Fagley

My name is Caitlin Velázquez-Fagley and I’m the maker behind Aguja y Clavo Jewelry Designs. Aguja y Clavo translates to Needle and Nail from Spanish; I named it that because my father builds adobe houses and my mother is a quilter. I began my company in 2016 and am based out of Central New Mexico.

I started doing beadwork when I was 15 years old. Masters like Margo Field and Leah Henriquez Ready taught me about bead-weaving, intricate peyote stitch, and bead embroidery. I was completely into making jewelry, but was too young to see that it could turn into a career. I went on to study architecture in college, but it wasn’t my calling. Shortly after graduating I moved to Spain to teach English for several years and did a lot of traveling around Europe on my own. When I returned, I worked construction and loved it, but still had an itch for jewelry. In 2015 I took my first silversmithing class with Kristin Diener and that’s what brought me back into jewelry-making.

My original mission was to figure out how to marry beadwork with metalwork. I found that I could do bead embroidery and bead-weaving techniques and combine them with metal that I had stamped, riveted, and formed with hammers. It was all very low-tech at the time, but I wanted to understand the best way to work with metal while keeping beadwork in my designs. I found a program at Santa Fe Community College that offered jewelry classes, and continued taking classes there to improve my metalsmithing skills.

A few things happened at once that changed both the way I design, and the direction of my company. I gave a lecture in front of a jewelry-making association and realized in the middle of the lecture that I didn’t have a solid purpose with my work. For nearly three months I began researching and asking myself questions on how better to proceed. Around this time, I also met my muse. I met the woman who loved (and still loves) my work but wanted me to go bigger and bolder. That was when I realized that I needed to make pieces that were statement pieces- ones that told a story or recalled a moment in history, and were the only one of their kind. Essentially I had to restructure my marketability by making pieces that really spoke to women and spoke to their style and identity. This meant that I had to focus on moments in history, retell that story through jewelry, and conjure images/feelings within the wearer to make her have a sense of her past all while maintaining her independent style.

I work in Collections, meaning that I create pieces based on a central theme and develop a set of design elements within that framework. My work is different in that I create only one of each design. I’m constantly experimenting with a set of ideas and jewelry-making techniques to achieve an overall feeling or vibe to each Collection. My latest body of work is called Helen of Troy Collection and I’ve been designing pieces as if Helen of Troy (the main female character from The Iliad and The Odyssey) was the woman wearing my work. She was a queen first in Sparta, then in Troy, so I’ve used imagery from both Ancient Greece and Troy to create pieces that are both nostalgic yet contemporary. I can plan, research, and anticipate how a Collection will turn out, but it’s always changing, always surprising me, and I let the process of creating just flow and be in the moment. I usually happen upon happy coincidences and that’s how my jewelry is made.

There are many layers to each piece, many questions I must answer to myself as I’m making my work like, “How does this relate to my theme? Is this a statement? Am I creating with my muse in mind? Who is this piece for? Is this exactly what needs to be made right now?” Then I’ll ask myself the technical questions like, “what’s the largest piece I can make, while keeping it lightweight? How will this feel against the body? What’s the best way to assemble this? What pieces can be purchased (ie beads) and what elements need to be handmade?” My mind is constantly swirling with thoughts and visions and ideas and often I can’t keep up, but I don’t obsess over that. If the thought was meant to be, then it’ll return to me and I’ll find a way to make it.

The bigger I make my pieces, the more I think about and am inspired by people who live large. I’m attracted to the people who speak up, stand out, live out loud, dream big, and aim high. It’s fascinating to design with that in mind. We tend to turn people into legends after they’ve passed and I think we’ve got it all wrong. I like to think of my pieces as glorifying, or at least highlighting, what makes the wearer special and unique in this moment, today, right now.

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