If her father saw her at-home, indoor jewelry workshop, Nikki Zehler guesses he’d have a few choice words to say. Not about the workshop, per se. Just about the whole “using a torch inside” thing. “I have a huge, sturdy workbench set up in our spare bedroom,” Zehler says, and she opens all the windows and uses a ventilator to filter the fumes and push them outside. “I work right there on the workbench. It sounds much cooler than it probably looks. It probably looks like chaos.”
Zehler, a Cincinnati native, is the owner of LoveRoot, a handmade jewelry shop specializing in metalwork and natural stones. It combines her childhood interest in rocks and jewelry-making. As a kid, she had a rock tumbler, and loved to polish her stones. She made friendship jewelry out of yarn, and in high school, she took an art jewelry class.
She returned to her two interests in the early 2010s, after leaving a few bad jobs and finding herself a lot happier—and with more free time and the capacity to focus on her interests. It started with simple wire-wrapping, a technique of winding wires around stones, often in curlicue or functional designs. She revisited the metalworking techniques she learned in high school and tried her hand at soldering, using a torch, hammering metal, and setting stones.
Today, LoveRoot is her second job—she works full-time writing proposals for drug companies—and that’s just how she likes it. “Part of the fun of this for me is it’s not my primary source of income, so I don’t have the pressure of producing quantity, selling well, doing custom work for people who may not exactly have a good idea of what they want,” Zehler says. “I can do what I want. I can follow the muse. If I wake up one day and I feel like making a long necklace with a green stone, I can do that, and I don’t have to worry about if I’m going to be able to pay the cable bill for that month.”
LoveRoot’s primary home is Etsy, with sales across the country and as far away as France and the Netherlands. “I can’t ever say I want this to be my full-time job,” Zehler says. “I think I’m where I want to be with it. I get to have meaningful interactions with people on a micro level and still have people respond well to my work.”