Women have been draped in clasps of diamonds, strings of pearls, golden chains and other types of jewelry for thousands of years. However, until the late 19th and early 20th century, women had been excluded from making it professionally.


Molly Smith has been making jewelry for others for over a decade, but she only wears a small gold band on her finger so her hands are unrestricted for work.


Her business on Main Street, Molly’s Jewelry Design and Repair, moved last year into a larger space across the street.


"Starting out I thought, as long as I work as hard as I can, there is no way I can’t succeed," Smith said.


The first professional female jewelry maker was Charlotte Newman, who opened her studio in 1885 in London. The arts and crafts movement in Europe, which transitioned women from wearers to creators of jewelry, was closely allied with the women’s suffrage movement. During this time in Europe and the United States, women were experiencing life outside marriage and financial freedom for the first time.


For pioneers like Newman, independence was the key ingredient to starting a successful jewelry business. Like her forebearer, Smith is also fiercely independent. She had no safety net or back up plan when she decided to open her business.


"I knew I wanted to start my own business early in my life," Smith said. "I was confident as a jeweler, and generally headstrong is how I’d describe myself."


A little over 100 years ago, distributors and manufactures of fine jewelry were male-only businesses and would only work with other men. There was still a common belief that women could not be trusted with handling fine metals and precious diamonds. Additionally, during the time of the first female jeweler, only very few upper class white women were allowed to own land or vote in English government. When Smith opened her business, factories and distributors were eager and willing to work with her and before long the business was on its feet.


Molly’s Jewelry Design and Repair bustled with customers Tuesday night. Her two wrinkly pugs, Mig and Mitsy, rush to greet anyone who enters the large glass doors. Smith and her girlfriend Ami Hunter have been running the store since 2015, but Smith’s career as a jeweller began before she could hold a hammer.


"I grew up behind the jewelry cases," Smith said. "In 1988, my mom worked for Hurst Fine Diamonds, so it’s kinda a legacy thing."


Smith’s parents were self-employed artists who owned TnT Craft. Her mother, Terri Jones, created pen and ink designs for the clocks her father built. When Smith was five years old, her parents divorced and quit the business and her mother was hired at a jewelry store where she stayed for several years.


Smith’s high school passion was sculpting and painting. Sculpting with clay has remained her favorite medium. Nautical creatures such as octopi with big eyes and curled limbs or turtles with wide shells are her most common subjects.


Until the mid 20th century, few women were considered professional artists. It wasn’t until the 1960s, with the rise of the civil rights and feminist movement, that America saw a significant increase in woman studying and teaching art in school.


Smith’s initial dream was to become a bronze smith, but working with bronze proved to be too messy, often staining her skin and clothes green. It’s also dangerous. Artists working with bronze often exhibit respiratory problems because of toxic dust released from working with the metal.


"I thought I was gonna do some crazy stuff," Smith said. "But then I backed down and got to be a little more practical. As it turns out, this was a good niche for me."


Smith and Hunter have been together for 16 years after they met at the end of high school. They moved in together in 2004.


"I didn’t come out in high school," Smith said. "Amy and I just started hanging out. She left her big stack of CDs at mine, and we liked the same music."


After high school, Smith started spending a lot of time at Hurst Fine Diamonds, then located in the Columbia Mall. Hunter worked there with Smith, who was the assistant manager. The head jeweler, Terry Calcote, became Smith’s mentor.


Smith recalls being fascinated by the small incredibly detailed gold cufflinks Terry once designed from wax, one a small bear and the other a bull for a man who worked on Wall Street. Smith decided to attend Gem City College in Illinois for nine months to study horology. There she learned the fundamentals of the craft like jewelry design, diamond setting, watchmaking and engraving. Calcote got sick with cancer and died three years ago, before he was able to visit Smith’s store, but his work inspired her to get serious about the industry.


Despite working together at Hursts Fine Diamonds, Smith and Hunter didn’t think they’d be working at a jewelry business of Smith’s one day. Reluctant to the idea at first, Hunter quit her job of 11 years at the Midway Antique Mall to help Molly’s Jewelry Design and Repair get on its feet.


"She had her reserves," Smith said. "But when the store started getting better and a little more money coming in and more money coming in, I finally pulled her away from her other job."


Smith relied on her connections in the jewelry business from working at Hurst Fine Diamonds to get her start.


"The beginning was a labor of love for a lot of people hoping we did well," Smith said.


Smith says she also relied on her partner, specifically Hunter’s eye for design and taste in unique jewelry. Today, Smith is working on a project that is directly inspired by the couple’s long love story.


"It’s a line I'm making a line called ‘Painted by Fire’," Smith said. "It all copper and silver I heat to get a colorful pattern. It’s the kind of jewelry that Ami likes."


In the next six months, the couple will move into the space above the shop as a transition home. Their ultimate goal is to live with four wheelers and horses in the countryside. Smith thinks maybe one day she and Hunter will have a child running behind the glass to continue the legacy of growing up behind the jewelry case.