[New Orchid Gallery] Vernon Wilson

Vernon Wilson
Panama Bay Jewelers. Panama
Images and work details at:

One more artist profile and then next week we do a story on our
adventures at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Expo! Sneak preview: it has
been FUN! More later…

I can’t share Vernon’s jewelry web site – he says he has one in the
works, but he also says it’s taken a while to get it finished – he
says “It’s a little like me – old and slow!”

Vernon ‘stumbled’ into jewelry back in the early 1970’s. There was a
recession and he found himself unemployed. Before there were
computers on every corner, he took himself to the library and
checked out books on the Great Depression. He looked for businesses
that survived that time, and learned jewelry businesses had done
‘okay’. Then he checked out some books on jewelry making and
invested the last $10.00 he had in a jeweler’s saw and some blades.
(It amazes us and inspires us to read about how many of you
incredible artisans had to spend your last few dollars this way, and
what great lemonade you’ve made out of lemons!)

Anyway, back to Vernon. (This is him working at his bench – and
he’s come a long way since that first jeweler’s saw, you can tell!)
He sat down and started cutting the background out of coins, and
made coin jewelry out of that. He sold a few, but didn’t really have
a venue for hooking up with customers. So after a year of struggle
with that, he walked into a craft store in Williamsburg, Virginia.
He started talking to the owner and the next thing you know, she
agreed to give him a 10x10 space in the basement of her shop in
exchange for 1/3 of his sales.

And here’s the AMAZING part: A year later, he bought her out and
turned the store into a jewelry shop! He named it ‘The Golden
Touch’. He worked and ran it until eventually, he sold it, retiring
to do volunteer work in Belize (and now in Panama).

What led him to volunteer work was another life changing event for
Vernon. He was in a car accident and spent four years sitting in a
chair, not able to do much work at all. It gave him lots of time to
think about pain and suffering. He had just signed a contract with
Roman, Inc. to market his line internationally, and fortunately, the
royalty checks were paying his bills.

Around this time, his church decided they wanted to build a Habitat
for Humanities home. He wanted to contribute, but couldn’t do the
physical work. It occurred to him that he could donate a nice
collection of jewelry and gemstones in his safe. And that’s what he
did. 'People magazine picked up the story, and Oprah sent a film
crew to feature Vernon as one of the ‘Angels’ on her show.

Having never thought much about volunteering before all this, Vernon
now says: 'I kinda like how helping someone out really helps you
feel good about where you are at, and allows you to see past your
own pain. He was eventually richly rewarded for his good deeds – he
finally found a doctor who operated on his neck, and he was 90% pain
free! So off he and his wife went to do volunteer work in Belize.

There, he set up a jewelry manufacturing shop to train the inmates
how to design and make jewelry. He spent six years doing that, and
then moved on to Amgergris Caye island, off the coast of Belize,
where he and his wife founded and helped build a school for
disadvantaged children - ‘Holy Cross Anglican’.

And in the meantime, Vernon’s jewelry won the International Pearl
Design Competition in 1980 and a special award in 1986, along with
many other awards in the USA. With the move to Panama, he started
back into jewelry making. This summer he will be donating two
jewelry shops – one with pewter, and one with gold and silver – to
the University of Panama, and he plans to volunteer to teach there
part time.

As he says, his life has not been boring. His work is beautiful,
influenced by beauties of ocean and jungle. He does a lot of custom
work, based on the personality profile of his client. He creates
finished pieces that reflect them, rather than his own style.

If you have time for only ONE optional video-viewing this year,
WATCH THE VIDEOS HERE: holycrossbelize.org

Vernon Wilson is an amazing and HUMBLE man that I’m featuring today
– and he barely told his REAL story in the few e-mail exchanges we
had. His real story, and his heroism, is in the videos. Watch,
admire, and if you are so moved – donate to his passion, this sweet
little school in Belize. Here is a jewelry artisan and goldsmith who
has a golden heart – and I am honored to tell his story.

Another inspiring artist, in so many ways. Thank you, Vernon, for
sharing your story with us! Until next time,

Passion is contagious! Show us your passion, Show us your work!

Submit your work to feature in the Orchid Online Jewelry Exhibition