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Jewelers see nature in necklaces Rare metal inspires family NORTHWEST -- Taneytown * Union Bridge * New Windsor * Uniontown


Any necklace, earring or bracelet created by Union Bridge jeweler John "Sozra" Sosnowsky is going to be more than a fashion statement.

It might even be a comment on life.

"The beauty of this jewelry and of most contemporary art is that each piece takes on a different shape or meaning to different people," said the former commercial photographer-turned-mixed metals jeweler, as he fingered the iridescent curves of a collar he had fashioned.

"This reminds me of a winding stream through the rolling hills and meadows of Carroll County, but to someone else it might be waves."

There are definitely waves being made in the jewelry world by Sozra Jewelry, the business Mr. Sosnowsky runs with his wife, Debby.

The couple are among a handful of artisans nationwide who work with niobium, a gray metal that becomes rainbow-colored when heat is applied to its surface.

"It doesn't fade, rust or tarnish, and it's very beautiful," said Mr. Sosnowsky, 37. "It is a relatively new precious metal and few people are working with it."

Sozra Jewelry prides itself on making unique jewelry -- eye candy for people who relish odd but breathtaking accessories.

And the Sosnowskys pride themselves on the fact that the business is completely a family affair.

Their daughter Jessica, 13, creates and updates the business mailing list on a home computer. Nine-year-old Corrie prepares tiny plastic information bags for his parents to present to customers at trade shows.

Gerri Sosnowsky, 24, Mr. Sosnowsky's niece, works as an apprentice in the couple's backyard shop.

Even Mr. Sosnowsky's parents, Joseph and Bertha of New Windsor, pitch in. They sell Sozra jewelry at the Carroll County Farmers Market each winter at the Agricultural Center.

"I consider this a little family business," said Mr. Sosnowsky. "We're not into big business or anything like that. We just kind of keep to ourselves."

The Sosnowskys began making jewelry part-time shortly after they were married in 1979. They used a combination of precious stones, metals, crystal and a few craft ideas to create a unique kind of jewelry.

Some ideas worked better than others.

"We combined crystals and macrame for a while," said Mrs. Sosnowsky, 34, whose art training was in weaving. "Some of it was very interesting."

/# "Some of it was very bad, too,"

Mr. Sosnowsky said less enthusiastically. "That was a very early endeavor."

The idea to work with niobium came from an English magazine article detailing how to bring out the different colors in the metal.

Mr. Sosnowsky's father, a retired district engineer and electrician for the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Allentown, Pa., and in Union Bridge, built a machine to do the work.

"My dad used the specs [specifications] from the article to design the machine, and I started producing the jewelry," Mr. Sosnowsky said.

As Mr. Sosnowsky became better acquainted with the new technique, he said, he realized he was dissatisfied with his full-time job as a commercial photographer.

"I told Debby if she could get us a show every weekend, then I would quit commercial photography and do the jewelry full time," Mr. Sosnowsky remembered. "Well, she got us a show every weekend."

The Sosnowskys have traveled to shows throughout the Mideastern United States. They are currently in State College, Pa., participating in one of the most selective shows in the country, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

Sozra Jewelry was one of 400 craft companies selected to participate in the show, Mrs. Sosnowsky said.

The couple agreed that the combination of the rare metal and imagination makes their brand of jewelry attractive to customers and trade show judges.

"I like to do the abstract things, but I really enjoy working with ideas from nature," said Mrs. Sosnowsky. "I will look out the window sometimes and see something that catches my eye.

"You get ideas from everywhere," she said, replacing a piece she had been working on. "You get them from pictures, books, life, dreams. . . ."

"Well, I don't know about the dreaming stuff, at least with me," Mr. Sosnowsky said. "I create on demand, whereas with Debby, it's more on inspiration."

He said "streamer" earrings, one of the couple's simplest yet most popular designs, were first a vision in his head.

"My inspiration must be the sun," said Mr. Sosnowsky, after giving the matter some thought. "The sun is very important for stimulating creativity."

Sozra jewelry prices range from $20 to $2,000 depending on the piece, Mr. Sosnowsky said.

Although the rare metal is worth about $9 an ounce -- three times as much as silver -- time and labor account for most of Sozra jewelry's price.

But for the Sosnowskys -- and most of their customers, they said -- there is more value in the art than the cost of the jewelry.

"Part of it is to create for your own enjoyment a vision, a journey to find the best that the art has to offer," Mr. Sosnowsky said. "That's why I say that this art is an adventure of the eye."

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