Volume 14, Issue 51 ~ December 21 - December 28, 2006

Silver and Gold, Silver and Gold

Local jewelers celebrate the Bay with creatures that glitter

by Helena Mann-Melnitchenko

Two Calvert County jewelers have the Midas touch. They turn Chesapeake Bay creatures into gold — silver, too — and garnish their creations with precious and semiprecious stones.

The Bay where Claude T. Dickinson III and Heather Maertens grew up is their shared inspiration. Different are the creatures they commemorate and their methods of transforming them into jewelry.

Claude Dickinson’s Vision

Tiny crabs swimming beneath his pier inspired Claude Dickinson to create tiny crab jewelry.

Dickinson’s grandfather, also named Claude Dickinson, started the jewelry business, opening his first store in Washington, D.C., in 1957. There are now three stores in southern Maryland.

As a young man, the elder Dickinson was a lifeguard at Chesapeake Beach, where he met his future wife. The waters of the Bay run in the Dickinson family veins.

Behind the counter in the recently expanded store at the Dunkirk Marketplace, the grandson adjusts his glasses, then fingers a golden crab and tells its tale.

“One summer evening in 1997, I watched in amazement as hundreds of tiny crabs swam around my pier,” Dickinson said.

Scooping up several crabs, he examined them, paying attention to the minutest detail. Dickinson had caught crabs commercially as a young man, but there was something about these beautiful swimmers that caught his artistic eye.

“I wanted to create an accurate and authentic replica of the Bay’s most cherished treasure,” Dickinson said.

The small crabs’ size was perfect for a pendant, a pin or a slide. Combined, they could chain into a bracelet, perhaps linked by a sailor’s rope. The pincers could hold a ruby or a diamond. The shell could be pavéd in diamonds.

An idea was born. Then Dickson pondered how to make it practical.

A Golden Crab Emerges

Dickinson dried several crabs in the sun, then set them into plaster of Paris, which he heated at 2,000 degrees for eight hours. When Dickinson cracked the plaster, he discovered that the crab had disintegrated, leaving in its place a perfect imprint. He injected the imprint with molten gold, and a golden crab emerged. The crab was ready for Dickinson to apply his artistry to the pincers and legs.

Since that beginning, Dickinson has created 480 crabs, each numbered in a limited edition of 1,000. Each 50th crab is pavéd in diamonds; the 100th holds a 10-point diamond in its pincers; the 500th will hold a half-carat; the final one, a full carat.

Dickinson donates a portion of his profits to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He estimates the donation will rise to $25,000.

Heather Maertens’ Seahorses

Heather Maertens’ Bay bracelet features creatures of Chesapeake Bay — starfish, stingray, scallop, seahorse, oyster, crab and clam — chained together as charms.

Seahorses sparkle in gold, precious stones and diamonds in the showcase of another jeweler in the Solomons Town Center, as Maertens’ Fine Jewelry and Gifts’ employees hustle with garlands to decorate the store for the Christmas season. A tall, dark-haired, young woman bursts through the doors. Heather Maertens’ energy and enthusiasm shine like the jewelry around her.

Maertens’ family calls the Twin Beaches their home. Born in North Beach, Heather Maertens graduated from Northern High School in 1993, then studied jewelry design at the New Approach School for Jewelers in Michigan.

“It was in Michigan that I realized how much I missed Chesapeake Bay,” said Maertens. “It was strange to wake up in the morning and not see water.”

Maertens met her future husband, Darren, in Michigan. Today Darren is in charge of the business side of their entrepreneurship, and they recently opened a boutique on Solomon’s Pier.

Maertens was asked to create jewelry to commemorate the Seahorses by the Bay Project of 2004. For this project, students of area schools decorated six-foot seahorses displayed throughout the region. Inspired by the students’ work, the jeweler transformed the seahorse into a pendant.

Maertens donates 15 percent of the proceeds from the sale of each seahorse to the Seahorses by the Bay Project. So far, she has donated more than $6,000.

A Hard Choice

Is the seahorse her favorite creation?

“I really love the Bay bracelet,” Maertens said as she pulled one out of the glass showcase. Fashioned as a charm bracelet, creatures of Chesapeake Bay — starfish, stingray, scallop, seahorse, oyster, crab and clam — hang from the links in golden and silver splendor.

Maertens has also immortalized the bird that stalks the bay marshes. The blue heron broach was carved from wax in two stages. The heron emerged first, then the marsh grasses. The artist captured the shy nature of the heron, for the regal bird hides behind the grasses.

Maertens celebrates the Bay and its creeks, not only in its creatures but also in other symbols. She created a lighthouse pendant for the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce. The lighthouse was first created in silver by bending and shaping the metal, then reproduced in silver and gold accented with diamonds. Another pendant is a modern piece inspired by an aerial photo of Parker’s Creek. The water appears to flow across the rectangular surface of silver.

The Bay as Inspiration

Chesapeake Bay has inspired writers, painters, carvers and artisans. Dickinson and Maertens celebrate the Bay in precious metals and gemstones. The creatures of the Bay sparkle in their hands.

Helena Mann-Melnitchenko, of Owings, has written for Bay Weekly since 2004. She is fond of both creatures of the Bay and jewelry, as you read in her contribution to Our Guide to Gifted Giving (Vol. xiv, No. 40: Dec. 14).

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