Juan Mora-Amaral knows how to talk. The bubbly 19-year-old makes one feel like an old friend after just a couple of minutes. It’s not surprising that this jewelry designer likes to chat up the people who buy his one-of-a-kind designs.
“I really like to talk to my customers,” he says. “I want to see how they style it. I want them to tag me in it on Instagram.”
He has an Etsy store, but prefers to sell in person. “I don’t like not knowing how (customers) react,” he says. Selling locally gives him the instant feedback he craves.
Mora-Amaral starting making jewelry by accident nearly six years ago during an internship at Flying Worm Vintage. There the eager teen learned everything he wanted to know about retail and the world of vintage clothing. “I’d fix buttons, solder broken chains,” he says. “And I started doing that more and more, so I asked if it would be OK if I took the broken stuff and make other things from it.”
Eventually he started creating assemblage jewelry and sold the creations on a little stand on the front counter.
“I never thought jewelry was such a wanted thing,” he says of watching his burgeoning business grow. “There I was, 14 years old and making money, being able to spend money on things I like.”
He put a lot of it back into his business, Amaral Jewelry, in the form of etching supplies, copper wire, and other materials. He uses “anything and everything” in his work, but it seems all anyone wants to talk to him about are his bones.
For the past couple of years, he has harvested animal bones and carcasses and worked them into a variety of pieces.
“There’s a whole culture of people who make this kind of jewelry—vegan jewelry from an ethical perspective,” he says. Ethical, he says, because he never purposefully hunts or seeks out animals for his work. Instead, he finds animals that died through natural means and then lets them rot naturally before skinning or dehydrating them for use in his work.
“I like the whole idea of rotting by itself and using only what is supposed to be left,” he says, adding that he prefers to use the teeth because it can be “added to a lot of things.”
“Rotting and dying can be gross, but how are you supposed to learn about [death] if you’re not willing to make yourself uncomfortable?”
Mora-Amaral focuses on his jewelry full-time while working at Paper Doll Vintage Boutique in Benson.
“It’s hard to believe that I was 14 and fixing little things and now I’m making enough money to pay actual bills with the money I make on jewelry,” he says.
Where he’ll take his work in the future is still uncertain—he’s still young—but he’s amazed at how far he’s come.
“I’ve done five years of work—that’s 6,000 necklaces,” he says. “But I’ll never get tired of seeing someone wear my work and thinking ‘so cool, that’s mine!'” Encounter
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