The “Hole in My Heart” line from the Gilbert-based jewelry maker—“Ruby” was her maternal grandmother; “Mae” was her mother’s middle name—features charms and pendants with the familiar Valentine-style heart shape on them, and a tiny round hole through them, symbolizing a missing piece of the wearer’s life. Along with the basic charms, there are designs symbolizing the loss of a dog, a cat, even a horse.
Finding the right gift for a bereaved or heartbroken friend or family member can be tricky. But these inexpensive tokens of personal loss—the prices range from $12 to $54—can be meaningful.
Williams credits her Kearney-based father, Jake, whose wife passed on in 2010, with inventing the “Hole in My Heart” concept. She also notes that the whole collaboration might not have occurred if it weren’t for a can of artichokes. Read on to get the “hole” story [answers have been edited for length]:
Phoenix Magazine: I understand it was your father who came up with the “Hole in My Heart” concept.
Leah Williams: My dad joined my small business after I had an accident. In 2012 while prepping food on Christmas Eve I slid a sharp lid from a can of artichokes across my thumb and severed the extensor tendon. I couldn’t use my left hand for four months. I had jewelry orders to fill and I was at a loss as to what to do. I use tools in both hands to assemble my pieces. My dad called to say he wanted to help with my small business. Since he is an analytical engineer type I was skeptical how he could help me. He said he could be my hands. He moved into our camper trailer for seven months and we sat side by side every morning making jewelry. It was wonderful. I would lay the bracelet design out and he would assemble it. He didn’t like how the bracelet chains flopped around during assembly so he built a wood stand that would hold the chain in place. Customers started asking if we could make name and date charms to add to the bracelets. I bought him letter stamps and he started doing that too. He spent one hundred hours making a tool that would hold the flat disc in place so that as he hammered each letter they were perfectly spaced. His charms are unlike anyone else’s in this manner. After he moved back home, he came by with the Hole In My Heart charm in the palm of his hand and he presented it to me. He said, “It’s for folks like me with a hole in their heart, do you think anyone will want it?” I said I didn’t know. I put it on Facebook and Instagram and the reaction was immediate. People asked if they could drive over and get one right then. My dad makes the charms and I assemble them and package them. They come with his story and a polishing cloth.
PM: What has the response to it been like?
LW: The response has been tremendous. Dad occasionally attends my events and gets to meet the shoppers buying our charms. It’s very rewarding on both ends.
PM: Have people shared their stories with you?
LW: Frequently they tell me to thank him for something so precious. Most of the stories are heart wrenching. Recently at the Sweet Salvage event in Phoenix, a gal told me she wears one with two holes for her two adult sons that have passed away. I can punch up to three holes in the little hearts and have been asked if I could do as many as five holes. My dad made one with two overlapping hearts. A young gal bought one to represent both parents who have passed. At the Junk In The Trunk event a shopper with very young children shared that her husband had just passed. It moves me to tears when I hear their stories. It’s very touching to know something my dad has created affects people so deeply.
PM: Where was your farthest-away customer?
LW: I have shipped them to folks all over the US and to someone famous in Beverly Hills, California. Most are bought and personally given away to a loved one so I don’t know where most of them have landed. One couple went on my website and bought eight of them and then they called me. I asked them why they bought so many and they said they are sending them in a card instead of flowers each time they lose a friend.
PM: Where did your father learn jewelry making?
LW: My dad is self taught.
Visit rubymaejewelry.com to shop more of Leah’s creations!