John McFadden’s petite Jewelry Design Studio and nearby watch-repair shop in eastern North Carolina may look like sister storefronts for a very tiny business – but behind both little shops is a lifetime of experience and outsized passion for what the transplanted jeweler calls the “queen of crafts.”
McFadden, who has operated the Jewelry Design Studio on Main Street in Clayton, N.C., since 2009 and the nearby Garner shop since 2012, has been a jeweler since 1976. He is an award-winning designer, an educator, a Guild Gemologist and a Diamond Council of America Certified Diamontologist. His life’s work started in Euclid, Ohio, where he grew up, and eventually took him to Belize before he settled for good in North Carolina.
“When I was a child, I did all kinds of crafts – stained glass, leatherwork, printing, painting, photography. I had a loom that I’d weave hats and scarves on and sell to the neighbors,” says McFadden. “Then when I got out of high school and started looking for a job, I listed 30 things I was interested in, and it was all these creative things. I saw this ad for a jeweler’s apprentice at Alson Jewelry in downtown Cleveland – buffing rings, engraving, sweeping floors, everything a jeweler’s apprentice does. That lasted six months, and I loved the jewelry industry, jewelry is the queen of crafts. I knew that was my calling.”
While still in the Cleveland area, McFadden worked as a mold maker and later as foreman for Ringco Manufacturing, a high-tech jewelry manufacturer with about 40 men and women operating in a former newspaper plant.
“That was where I learned lost-wax casting,” he says.
Eventually McFadden moved on to open his own jewelry business, doing watch and jewelry repairs in four Cleveland-area Sears stores.
A chance meeting with a pastor who was starting a church on Euclid Avenue proved pivotal in his life. Although McFadden was raised Catholic, he found the Baptist pastor’s ideas persuasive enough to convert and go to Bible school. He earned his first bachelor’s degree, in religious education, while working long days – from 8 a.m. to noon in school, then after lunch until 9:30 p.m. repairing jewelry at a mall. Ten years later, he earned a Bachelor of Divinity.
He met his wife, Jovi, online.
“She was from the Philippines, and she told me flat-out she was tired of American guys, they just tugged at your heart strings and let you down. I promised her I’d be there to meet her the day after I finished Bible school, and then we were on the phone every day for over a year while I finished up.”
They married in 2005, by which time McFadden had built a career in Ohio that included teaching jewelry-making at the Canton Museum of Art and the Massillon Museum and managing Lindenwold Fine Jewelers and U.S. Commemorative Gallery.
In 2006, McFadden created two pieces that won three prizes in the Ohio Jewelers Association Design Competition – first place, third place, and best in show – at the old Columbus Jewelry Show.
“They were people’s choice awards, not a judge’s award. I was looking at all the pieces on display, and one woman said she liked No. 6 and No. 13 – and I said I did too, and not only that, but I made them!”
The McFaddens left Ohio in 2007 for Raleigh, N.C., en route to work as missionaries in Belize, where jewelry designer Vernon Wilson had established a vocational ministry at the Hattieville Central Prison.
“That was my ministry,” McFadden says. “I taught the inmates how to work in pewter, white metals, silver. There was a store in the tourist area where all the cruise ships came in, and we sold the products that were made in the prison.”
Thanks to an economic downturn, the couple came back to the states in 2009 – but instead of returning to Raleigh, near Jovi’s sister, they settled in nearby Clayton.
“I started my jewelry business in an upstairs office on Main Street. For six months I didn’t have any customers, but it was the most productive period for me, I made creative jewelry from scratch, hundreds of pieces.”
In 2012, McFadden suggested operating a watch-repair kiosk in his friend Barry Partlo’s giant Agri-Supply store in nearby Garner.
“He told me it was crazy enough it just might work, but he wanted me to work there personally,” McFadden says. The island kiosk eventually became a destination, and two years ago he expanded to a roomy corner that formerly housed a gun shop.
The Jewelry Design Studio closed for two months at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, but the repair shop stayed open because the Agri-Supply store was considered an essential business. When the studio reopened, people came in “droves.”
“We were swamped. … We were four, five, six weeks behind. It was way more than I could do, and I was getting really burned out. I wanted to quit, but Jovi said she would help me get through this. She put up a sign in the Garner store saying that we couldn’t accept anymore repairs until we got caught up, and it worked.”
Now, McFadden spends most days in the Garner shop and visits the Clayton studio two days a week.
“People used to go in there and ask for me. Now they see me and ask, ‘Where’s your wife?’”
Jovi, who manages the design studio, recalls his introducing her to jewelry making when he took her to the museum in Ohio where he taught.
“We went one night and saw jade, tiger eye, star sapphire – and I was making a jade ring my first night,” she says.
John taught her how to work gold, reshank rings, solder, and design her own pieces. He continues to teach several crafts in North Carolina, including enameling and calligraphy.
As business conditions evolve, McFadden sees increased demand for diamond remounting. Jovi works with more gold at the Clayton studio, while the Garner store draws primarily repair business.
“Now the only time I design is when it’s for a custom job, when it’s prepaid or half down,” McFadden says, admitting a little envy for those who create full-time and sell their wares online.
After committing wholeheartedly to his community as a designer and educator, McFadden enjoys the loyal customers who have been with him from the beginning.
“The people are so friendly in the South. I love it here!”