Native Intelligence: Maui

Accessorize Like an Egyptian

Story by Shannon Wianecki. Photos by James Anshutz.

“Everyone, at one time, has been infatuated with gold,” says Sherri Dhyan. Her point is borne out by the book on goldsmithing she’s flipping through: The pages reveal treasures from pharaohs’ tombs, Indian temples, Roman ruins—baubles that look remarkably like those displayed in Dhyan’s boutique, Studio 22k.

22k is shorthand for a particular kind of jewelry. Twenty-two karat gold—95 percent pure—is what metalworkers used for millennia to create the finery now seen in museums. Modern jewelers default to the more affordable 18k or 14k. Only a handful still work with the purer metal, reviving styles and techniques from early African, Byzantine and Etruscan empires. So few people specialize in this art, says Dhyan, that “we all kind of know each other.”

Perhaps the ancients were right to worship gold’s immortalizing properties: With her clear hazel eyes and faultless skin, Dhyan looks far younger than her fifty-something years. She began crafting jewelry in the 1980s at Parsons School of Design in New York, but the sweatshop-like conditions and mass production she witnessed working as a bench jeweler on 47th Street disillusioned her. Then she discovered the Jewelry Arts Institute, a small school devoted to reviving lost arts such as gold filigree, forging and granulation (fusing minuscule gold balls into decorative patterns). After honing these centuries-old skills, Dhyan moved to Maui and three years ago opened Studio 22k in Pā‘ia. The modest, open-beamed storefront on Hāna Highway showcases handcrafted jewels that Cleopatra could have worn.

Dhyan invites customers to watch. She starts with a pinch of gold—tiny, heavy nuggets—and melts them into an ingot. This she cranks through a mill to make sheets or wire, which she then shapes with small hammers and smaller tweezers. The process is simple but painstaking. Everything in Studio 22k is hand-fabricated—from clasps to links in chains.

In addition to her own hoops and charms, Dhyan features artwork by other 22k specialists—former teachers and international jewelers. She holds up a butterfly pendant fashioned by Italian artist Fabrizio Acquafresca. His family has smithed metals since the 1600s, and his techniques date to the Bronze Age—the height of the Egyptian pharaohs’ power. “I feel like I came from that time in history,” says Dhyan. “I’m so drawn to it.”

Story by Shannon Wianecki. Photos by James Anshutz