ROCK ISLAND (AP) — The finished piece of jewelry is often a collaboration of sorts: There's what Mindy Diaz wants it to look like, then there's what the mineral and materials are willing to be.
For Mrs. Diaz, finding that balance is a big part of the fun.
"I really do think it's what I've been put on this Earth to do, to create, and I'm at my happiest when I'm doing just that," said Mrs. Diaz, owner of Inspiredesign Jewelry in Rock Island.
The Rock Island native made her first piece of jewelry when she was 12 through a high school summer class that she was too young to be at, but attended at her dad's persistence. She found something she loved and started working for Brooks Jewelers in Rock Island right out of high school.
Eight years later, she learned jewelry repair at Expressions Jewelers in Davenport. She also worked at McGivern's Jewelry for 13 years, running the repair shop. She's had her own shop for the past five years.
"I worked with a lot of great people over the years, but starting my own shop was something I just felt like I had to do," she said.
Mrs. Diaz said it's been difficult at times, but it's been a great five years and she feels like her store is really earning a name for itself.
"I joke around that I'm only working half-days during the Christmas season: just 12 of the 24 hours," she said. "But this is the time you have to put in. My grandpa always used to say, 'Take care of the customers and they will take care of you,' and I think he was right."
She said her time is divided about 50/50 between repair work and custom designs, and she loves doing the custom work. Mrs. Diaz also re-imagines jewelry, taking older pieces and refitting them for new owners.
"Sometimes people get jewelry that's out of style or maybe just not them, and reworking it into something else is a way they can wear it and love it, and not feel guilty about it sitting in a jewelry box," she said. "We had one lady whose husband gave her a giant, beautiful amethyst ring but she was like a size 4 and it was just too big for her. It was a family piece that was handed down to him, and she wanted to wear it. We took it, turned it around and made a beautiful pendant necklace out of it and now it's her favorite piece. She wears it all the time. We had another family that had a ring made out of great-grandma, grandma and mom's diamonds to be passed down. I really enjoy that work; it's very satisfying."
Her true love remains the custom work, though.
"Sometimes I see a unique gemstone and I just have to make something with it. It just compels me to do something with it," she said. "I've learned when I get an idea at 3 a.m. to keep a sketch book near the bed, as opposed to getting up and working on it, but I do that, too. They say art is a jealous mistress, and I think that's right. When she calls, you answer."
Mrs. Diaz said working closely with customers offers some great rewards.
"It's awesome to see a customer's face the first time they see a piece," she said. "We get smiles, tears and hugs. I can't imagine doing anything else."