Sarah Walor photos
It was the crocheted necklace that first did her in.
Donna Silvestri, founder and designer of the On U Jewelry line, was just 15 when her aunt gave her a gift from San Francisco — a crocheted cord decked with layers of small safety pins. "This became my passion, jewelry that has texture," she says, running her fingers over the necklace, which she keeps prominently displayed in her West End studio. "It is not flat. It is not boring with just beads on a string." Silvestri says her grandmother had taught her to crochet years before, and the piece inspired her to create something beautiful from everyday items.
Silvestri began her own line of earrings, Lemon Drops, so dubbed for her maiden name, Lemonedes — but then founded On U Jewelry in 1989, sewing bracelets during her commutes to work as head stylist at Guilford Mills, a New York City textile-design company. After beginning a family with her husband and now business partner, Greg, she found herself in Pennsylvania at a small-town flea market, where she was inspired to craft chunky bracelets out of an item that's a trademark of her pieces to this day: antique buttons.
After the Silvestris moved to Richmond in 1993, Donna turned her jewelry into a full-time business. Her style has evolved to include a new line, Flower Gardens, which includes bib-style necklaces, hand-sewn with large, vintage-fabric flowers. She also has signature lines such as Lola Love, which collects semiprecious, vintage and glass beads into a medium-size strand. All of Silvestri's pieces are handcrafted and include vintage elements and found objects from her travels both local and international. On U Jewelry is sold in 22 stores across the nation, including Richmond's Dolce Designs, Embellish, Peyton Hall, The Phoenix and Paper Plus, as well as Gather in Midlothian.
To meet Silvestri, attend the Holiday Boutique show on Dec. 5 at Collegiate School from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Or stop by her studio at 6802 Patterson Ave., call 288-1587 or visit onujewelry.com .