Local Jewelry Designer Relishes in Painstaking Details
“Creation is limitless- our only limits are our willingness to try.” -Tom Dailing
By Brandi Makuski
Don’t let the blue jeans and callused hands fool you- Thomas Dailing is loaded with class.
“I’m a broken record when it comes to this stuff- you won’t find this stuff anywhere else. Nobody does hand carving with this much detail anymore,” Dailing said, indicating a pair of snowflake earrings displayed inside a locked case.
“Each piece I do is completely unique,” Dailing continued, as he glanced across the cases at Lee Ayers Jewelers, 1044 Main St. in downtown Stevens Point, where he serves as head jewelry designer. “I retain molds of each piece I create, but almost certainly there will be deviations to the gem size or color, the metal color, the accent size and what have you. A perfect design is one that puts you at ease. You have to make sure the form from every angle is fascinating. It has to have that perfect look.”
Dailing isn’t shy when it comes to talking about his craft. He knows he’s good; handcrafting one-of-a-kind pieces unique to each owner isn’t the norm in the jewelry industry anymore, and he’s got the international client base- and the awards- to prove his standalone spot in jewelry design.
“I’ve been an artist all my life- most successful artists have been,” Dailing mused as he sat behind one of his cases filled with rings. “Most kids stop drawing by the time they hit fourth grade, I didn’t. By the time I hit junior high I was one fo the best artists in the school, and I started self- educating myself on art from there because the classes I was taking weren’t meeting the level of my abilities, so I started paying attention at museums and paying attention to early Greek stuff, really early on, trying to understand what makes masterful tings masterful.”
Before Dailing came on board at Lee Ayers, he worked in high- class restaurants around the county to pay the bills until he was in his late 20’s, but never stopped carving. He’d work small, and always detailed, with wax, wood and shells.
“All that early carving stuff was really a precursor to jewelry,” he said, “making small objects that were heavily detailed- they just didn’t call it jewelry because it wasn’t made of metal and gemstones.”
Dailing said he had “an epiphany” when he was 27, which brought him to UWSP for jewelry art classes, where he said he was given extreme leeway.
“I had an extremely untraditional educational career. They had a jewelry art class, and my professor was also chair of the department and my advisor, and he just let me do whatever I wanted. I did 27 credits of metals in 2 1/2 years. I just lived in the room,” Dailing said, chuckling. “I surpassed his knowledge so quickly, he just said, ‘do what you need to do, Tom, and be done’.”
Dailing said that kind of freedom has followed him throughout his career.
“I have a remarkably unique scenario. Lee gives me 100 percent freedom to do what I need to do. It’s complete artistic expression. I hand- select the gems I design around, so I have a complete understanding of each gem.”
Dailing says people meet with him “all the time” for jewelry consultations, and it’s not just for the wealthy. Combining one’s budget with their personality is what he says he does for each piece he creates.
“It’s a perfect blend- what I do is engage the person, find out what they’re after. Then we talk about budget, then I try to educate them a bit- gems, metals, the subtleties of what make a piece work. I give them terminology so they can share their ideas. They find the final piece far exceeds their expectations,” he said.
Dailing is insistent that he used only his hands and small tools when it comes to crafting the metal. Many of his tools are dental instruments he’s tweaked for his specific needs because he says “the industry doesn’t make great hand-carving tools.”
“I’m a specialist- I don’t use a computer to design and I don’t use a machine to tool it. I take a chunk of wax and carve,” he added.
Dailing just won his 59th and 60th awards for his designs, but he says it’s humbling. The recognition, he says, adds to his pressure.
“It’s more pressure from myself on myself because I’m my own best competition, I have to constantly figure out how to make my work better- and at least as good as- all the work I’ve done,” he said. “Each piece has to stand out amongst some really heavy pieces. I keep one eye on what other designers are working on, and I’m constantly conjuring up new looks, because everything I do has to be fabulous to whoever wears it.”