Whether it started with a museum blacksmith, his grandfather’s carpentry or his own expertise with bicycles, Chris Ploof is fascinated by the way people use their hands to create useful and well-designed objects to get them through. from one thing to another.
This early interest in science, engineering and craftsmanship would prove instrumental at every stage of Ploof’s life, whether during his time in the United States Army, his work in the bicycle industry or his participation in his hobby as a Civil War re-enactor. Now, thanks to his efforts in the jewelry industry, this fascination with how metal moves and transforms has reached its peak in Designs by Chris Ploofhe says.
If there is a guideline for all of these interests, Ploof says it’s his love of taking things apart, finding a way to put them back together, and creating something amazing out of it.
“I think the mechanical aspect of working on the bikes translates into the mechanical aspect of jewelry making as well as the maintenance of the tools and machines that we use to make our jewelry,” says Ploof.
Ploof also looks to the past and the future for inspiration.
“History definitely informs our techniques,” says Ploof. “I like to think that we practice historic techniques with Damascus steel and Mokume gane with a huge dose of modern engineering applied. Our techniques help guide some of our designs, and I’m always looking to history for jewelry inspiration.
Ploof says Mokume gane is an ancient Japanese metalworking technique that he and other modern jewelers now use. The result is a layered design that resembles the grain of natural wood.
As for looking to the future, that includes how he chooses to work. His Designs by Chris Ploof studio is solar-powered, which speaks to its desire to be sustainable in its tools, techniques, and material choices.
“We have always sourced materials and gemstones ethically, and are now proud to say that we are producing 135% of our energy needs from a new 37,000 watt solar panel array,” says Ploof. “It’s enough to power our store, our house and allow the charging of electric vehicles.”
Ploof’s story begins in Massachusetts, where he first saw big machinery in his grandfather’s job as a superintendent at a huge factory complex. Watching the tinsmith and blacksmith while visiting a local living history museum also caught his eye.
“It was the blacksmith’s ability to take metal – this inflexible, hard, solid material – and make useful and necessary tools out of it,” Ploof explains. “All other skills benefit from the blacksmith’s ability to manipulate metals into tools that help you get a job done.”
Her first job came as a salad and dessert prep chef at a local restaurant, which taught her about punctuality and teamwork. These lessons proved necessary as he became more interested in cycling, which he loved to do with friends, and taking long rides between his army deployments.
It was also around this time that he began doing Civil War re-enactments, where his love of blacksmithing turned into a knack for crafting everything from tent pegs to irons. by kitchen equipment.
This military training also fueled his understanding of how to work well with others as well as his general attitude — “Never give up,” says Ploof — and how to make a plan.
His full-time career was in the cycling industry, doing everything from sales manager to service manager to team mechanic. Eventually, he served as chief mechanic and trainer for a multi-store bicycle retail chain.
Around the same time, Ploof says he became interested in learning how to mold bicycle parts of his own design. The only classes he could find focused on jewelry, but he thought the work would translate. Instead, he found jewelry as intriguing as anything he had come across in his desire to know how things are made.
“I work a lot in the bridal field, creating unique wedding bands with unique materials,” says Ploof. “The whole process of getting married and choosing a ring is as exciting as riding a mountain bike. Every ride is a different experience, and that’s why I love it.
“Likewise, every ring we handcraft has its own unique design,” says Ploof. “I like to say that we practice the art of the fingerprint or the art of the snowflake. But unlike the fleeting nature of an experience like a great bike ride, the quality jewelry I create now will stand the test of time and last for generations.
Above: Chris Ploof has lived a life as an artist, and his jewelry reflects that as he works in styles and materials such as mokume gane, Damascus steel and meteorite (photos courtesy by Chris Ploof).
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