For one family of artisan goldsmiths, their Chatham store and gallery “was inevitable,” says owner Steve Wardle. His wife, Barb, had always come to Pleasant Bay in the summer, and his grandparents had built a home in South Chatham where Wardle would visit. In 1994, the Wardles relocated to Chatham themselves to start their new business, and, he says, “It’s the best decision we ever made besides marrying each other.” They decided to name their studio Forest Beach Designs as a working title, after the location of Wardle’s grandparents’ place. “We though we’d come up with something better later,” he jokes, “but then a good friend showed up with a logo that we liked, so we just stuck with it.”
Wardle began making jewelry in 1969, when he apprenticed at his father’s side. He then earned his BFA from Rochester Institute of Technology and went into business right after graduation. On May 19th, 2021, he celebrated 40 years as a professional artist. His career began in upstate New York, where he operated a studio and shop for 13 years prior to the move to Chatham. All told, he says, his two shops have turned out in excess of 60,000 items. Fifty thousand of those were created and sold at Forest Beach Designs.
Because people often use jewelry as a way to connect with a place, Wardle and his team of artists create locally inspired items. “Horseshoe crabs are a real peculiar thing to this area,” he says. “People like to show that they’re from here. We make enthusiastic pieces, they wear enthusiastic pieces, and everyone’s happy.”
A significant portion of Forest Beach’s inventory has always been charms, which play into the roles of jewelry in both place and identity. “So many of our charms are Cape Cod oriented,” Wardle explains, but he has created everything from cement mixers to chainsaws to a pair of renal glands for an endocrinologist. “People have their icons,” he comments.
Sometimes events will inspire charms, as well. “We were all incensed with the change in exit signs on Route 6, so we created charms of the old ones,” Wardle says. Charms are made in a process called casting, a technique that was invented in Africa moret than 10,000 years ago. “It allows me to take a neat little sculptured mold that might take me ten hours to complete, but then we can cost-effectively reproduce the charms,” he says. “It’s like making prints of paintings.” The popularity of charms is nothing new, and there was a surge in demand for them back in the 1980’s. In response, Wardle says, “I decided to make nice, sculptural ones.” The company’s website is also named for this facet of their work: capecodcharms.com. Wardle explains, “We started out as forestbeachdesign.com, but no one could spell it correctly, and when Forrest Gump came out, that was the end of that.”
Lately, Wardle has been working on a collection of pieces in the Etruscan style. Typical pieces include wider rings that are “cigar band-ish” with bezel-set stones. The Etruscan society predated the Romans in central Italy. “They made cool jewelry using forgotten techniques,” Wardle says. “I’ve been having fun, especially with the settings.”
Certainly Wardle is proud of Forest Beach Designs’ work, but, he says, “One of the great things to come out of these 40 years is that we’ve been part of a community. Some people live here in Chatham, others fly in from Switzerland. We love being the go-to place for their jewelry. We’re friends with our customers, we look after their needs, and they count on us to look out for their family needs.”