By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks
Whether designing from his own mind or building something to a customer’s taste, Peoria Heights jeweler Brad Pettet loves creating unique jewelry.
Brad grew up in suburban Indianapolis, building backyard forts and tree houses during his playtime. “I’ve always built things, even as a kid I built things,” he said.
He studied sculpture at Bradley University, where he met his wife. They stayed in Peoria after school because she didn’t want to move to Indianapolis and he didn’t want to move to Chicago, her hometown.
College was a seven and a half year process for Brad, who studied part time and worked full time at Continental Can for much of his college career. His dusty blue eye filled with excitement as he told stories of his fraternity days in Lambda Chi Alpha.
After graduating in 1974, he continued working at Continental Can in Peoria Heights, where they produced cans for the Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery. His gallery at 4541 North Prospect Road in Peoria Heights was part of the PBR administration building. He still keeps a few of the cans he made back behind the bar, which serves as the main desk – don’t worry though, they’re empty.
Later, he worked selling jewelry at Garrett Jewelry. With his background in sculpture and experience with casting, he knew he could do more than just sell jewelry, he knew he could create it. “Jewelry is sculpture, you’re just making a specific thing,” he said.
“[Sculpture is] the same exact process used to make jewelry except the sculpture is bigger,” said Brad. “When I started this, all I had to do was learn to work on a smaller scale.”
When Garrett Jewelry became for sale in 1993, Brad bought it and started Pettet Jewelry Designs.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own business,” he said. “I never knew what the business was going to be, I just always knew I wanted to work for myself.”
Brad takes care of much of the business side of the store himself, but what he really enjoys is creating each unique piece. He creates his own designs, as well as designs custom pieces for clients. Other than structural advice, he tries to let his clients be an integral part of the design process.
“If [the clients] want to design a ring, my personal taste has nothing to do with it,” he said. “I spend a lot of time and effort to get them to design their own ring… because then when the project is done they are going to enjoy the ring more.”
From the inception of the idea to the completed product, Brad imagines the jewelry in his head. Without sketches or digital mock-ups, he constantly changes the design until it’s completed, and sometimes even afterwards.
“Making jewelry is the fun part of the jewelry business for me,” said Brad. “The stuff I design is basically just stuff I like. I’ve got unusual stuff, the stuff that people come in and look at and go ‘what is that?’”
After opening his own gallery, Brad studied gemstones through mail with the Gemological Institute. Learning about the formation of the stones and what gives them different colors enlightens him and allows him to explain those things to clients.
“Sapphires occur in every color of the rainbow, if it’s a nice dark red, it’s a ruby,” he said, holding a few tiny gems between the blackened tips of his forefinger and thumb. “Ruby and sapphire are the same mineral, corundum. It’s just that red corundum has always been called rubies.”
His education is critical in the jewelry world where it’s important to know where and who the gemstones are coming from in order to avoid unreliable or fraudulent dealers or counterfeit stones.
For Brad, jewelry design is all about “finding an unusual gemstone and designing a piece for it.” He can find inspiration in anything from a door knocker to a clock.
“Sometimes the ideas come from the stone, either its color, its shape, or its texture, and sometimes the ideas come from something like an architectural feature on a building… every now and then you’ll see shapes in nature,” said Brad.