Maggie Nelson, who moved from her rural Minnesota hometown as a young girl in 1971 to study gemology at GIA in the Los Angeles beach community of Santa Monica, couldn’t have known that her cross-country adventure would begin a family legacy.
She was armed with a single suitcase, traveling by bus with a small amount of cash from her parents – and had no idea where she would live upon arrival in California, or with whom.
“It was a big move for someone with no history in the business, from a small family farm to the big city,” says Patrick Nelson, Maggie’s son and a 2001 graduate of GIA’s Graduate Jeweler Gemologist program. “She got to the GIA campus and met students from Mexico, Japan, India and all across the country and the world, all of whom shared her interest in gems and jewelry. She quickly found other students she could room with and began her studies.”
Maggie Nelson eventually returned to Glencoe, Minnesota, where she founded and managed a successful jewelry store.
“Her story of bravery and comfort in the GIA community gave me courage, interest and excitement to do the same,” says Patrick Nelson, who left Minnesota for Southern California to earn his own GIA diploma in 2001.
Meanwhile, Mary Kay Mohs grew up just a couple hours’ drive northwest of Nelson, in Alexandria, Minnesota. She, too, had fostered a longtime interest in gems and jewelry.
“Growing up, I was always fascinated by rocks and gems – finding them, collecting them, reading about where different gemstones are mined and how they were formed in the earth,” says Mohs. “And I’d always admired my mother’s beautiful jewelry collection.”
Mohs, who studied economics at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul Minnesota, found that as she got closer to college graduation, she started thinking more about her lifelong enthusiasm for gemology and geology. Her jewelry-loving mother mentioned GIA as a possible road to building a career.
“When I learned about all that GIA had to offer, I thought it would be the place to follow my childhood passion and dive deeper into learning about the world of gemology,” she says.
Mohs earned her GG diploma in Carlsbad in 2004, but never crossed paths with Patrick Nelson until 2005, when they had both moved back home and were working for different locations of a Minnesota jewelry chain.
Mohs worked as a retail jewelry salesperson when Nelson noticed her, and he says he began “finding reasons” to visit that location. “I need to see one of the bench jewelers for a custom design … I need to pick up a diamond from that store … I need to speak with someone over there,” he remembers thinking.
Nelson eventually mustered the courage to ask Mohs on a date, but to his dismay, found that she had recently left the company to work as an assistant buyer and merchandise planner for fine jewelry with a large retailer. He scrambled to find her, eventually locating a co-worker who gave him her phone number. He called that day, and the next they were on a date that would lead to a personal and professional partnership.
The couple married in 2006 and soon after, the newlyweds began hunting for gems in their down time.
“In the beginning it was a hobby, creating our art and things we liked with gems we found together,” Mohs says.
They continued to create under the name Patrick Mohs Jewelry for several years, often working at art and jewelry fairs. In 2013, the couple applied to JCK’s Rising Star Jewelry Designers contest and was selected as one of only five design houses to showcase at the JCK show in Las Vegas.
“That was the point when we began to really focus on our work together as a business, and not a hobby,” Nelson says. “Since then, we’ve traveled together to purchase gems for our jewelry creations at gem shows, made special pieces of jewelry for collectors, and continue to explore the art of jewelry-making as a couple.”
Nelson and Mohs say they are “are artists working together on every single piece we create” from their studio in Wayzata, Minnesota. They select stones and draw the designs together, then Mohs does the CAD work and Nelson casts the metal and sets the gems. “Each piece is made like a three-dimensional sculpture with no surface left untouched - we want the piece to be explored and create curiosity,” Mohs says.
They describe their jewelry as “contemporary with an organic feel,” and are inspired most by nature. Natives of the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” they say water and waves play an especially large role in their designs – sometimes subtly, and other times as a focal point.
In one family visit to the north shore of Lake Superior, Nelson and Mohs were struck by the beauty of skipping stones into the lake with their children and admiring the stars and constellations that reflected over the water at night. That day prompted the couple to create an unusual – and reversible – necklace, the Night Sky, which features 17 18k yellow-gold “skipping stones,” inlaid with a total of 149 (2.84 total carat weight) diamonds. Each gold “stone” features diamonds that are both fluorescent and phosphorescent, allowing them to “glow” in black light and continue to glow afterward, and are arranged into the pattern of a Zodiac constellation. (Some of Nelson’s and Moh’s favorite constellations, like the Big and Little Dipper and Orion, are also included.)
The “Night Sky” necklace earned Patrick Mohs Jewelry second-place honors in the Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America’s 2017 Vision Awards. The couple says that they aim to create heirloom-worthy art, such as the Night Sky necklace, that clients will “wear and cherish” for generations.
They agree that GIA was the ideal training ground for them to create such pieces.
“It’s truly amazing to think back at how much I learned – and still retain – from a short six-month program,” Mohs says. “All of my teachers were very knowledgeable, and each brought a unique perspective of the industry into the classroom. GIA gave me extensive practical knowledge with a laser focus on learning about gems in the trade."
Nelson, who calls his GIA education a “cornerstone” of success that he relies on for everything “from sales to design and buying,” says that he learned from instructors and classmates as much as the coursework.
"I found GIA to be the same welcoming, diverse, amazing community that my mom did – 30 years later!” he says.
The couple, who credit their mothers as being “the greatest forces” behind their accomplishments today, plan to increase their presence in more stores and galleries in the year ahead. More importantly, they hope to impact the way jewelry is perceived in the larger world of art and design.
“We hope to design and create beautiful jewelry that will be enjoyed for generations to come,” Mohs says. “And the greatest influence we could have on the industry would be helping to continue the movement of seeing jewelry design as a fine art, and collected as art.”