When 8th grader Nathan Benjamin Slavens was around 10 years old, his mother suggested that the two of them take a jewelry-making class—for fun. He agreed, and the pair eventually erected a small workshop in the basement of the family’s jewelry store, Luxe Fine Jewelry in Neenah, Wisc., where they could “play around” with metal, Slavens says.
Fast forward three years, and the middle-schooler just debuted his first proper collection of jewelry, which he forged by himself in that same basement atelier.
Now 13, Slavens says his journey as a metalsmith was sparked by curiosity more than a love of handiwork, design, or anything else. “I thought, it might be fun and something different,” he recalls. “I remember just sitting on the couch and thinking, okay, I’ll try it.”
There’s a steep learning curve to soldering and manipulating metal no matter how old you are—and bench work famously requires extreme patience. Slavens admits there were times when he “felt a little bit of frustration” while learning his craft. But, incredibly, he kept at it, mastering skills and adding to his repertoire of techniques by watching how-to videos on YouTube. Now he turns out beautiful bracelets, necklaces, rings, and earrings in silver, copper and bronze (he loves making mixed-metal pieces) that have attracted admirers and have sold in the family store, which is co-owned by his parents, Craig and Lezlie Slavens.
“I find it amazing that he has taken an interest in the trade at such an early age,” Craig, a gemologist and veteran retailer, says. “He and his brother have attended trade shows since they were five years old, but Nathan’s skills have progressed so fast. It’s been because of his patience and trial-and-error, coupled with detailed YouTube videos.”
The Slavens launched their son’s collection formally Oct. 23, but previously sold several of his pieces. Nathan says he plans to keep working at the bench, producing pieces to delight customers and enliven the shop’s cases.
He reports that he’s fairly single-minded in his pursuits. But when he’s not melting metal, he’s often reading fantasy novels; he’s currently working his way through the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire books. And at such a young age, he’s understandably not sure where life will lead him. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the easy-going 8th grader says, “I don’t know. We’ll see where the cards fall.”