Formal Thinking, Casual Approach
Casual Ore Formal wants customers to wear comfortable creations
Casual Ore Formal occupies a studio as bright and cheery as the business’ punny name. In the showroom there you’ll find both daily wear jewelry and examples of top-shelf pieces, all done under the hand of Elizabeth Griggs, a highly trained, committed, and enthusiastic artist. “People ask me how I knew that jewelry was what I wanted to do,” she says. “For me it was more, ‘I know I’m an artist, what’s my medium?’ ” She found it years ago while studying art at UW-Eau Claire, when she picked up a metals class on a whim just to fill out her summer schedule. “After a week of this class I said, ‘I love this! My hands are so happy when I’m creating with this. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!’ ”
Having work done at this downtown Eau Claire studio is not like stepping into your usual jewelry store. Griggs understands very well not only the craft of metalsmithing but also how jewelry can be infused with a deep meaning beyond its dollar value. “It was really important to me when designing this space to have a consultation table, because I wanted to talk to people over a table and really make it a conversation instead of just a sale over a counter,” she says. “I just love people and I love working with them.” She has the know-how to create pieces that will last for generations, and with her generous and playful style she demonstrates both how to invest meaning into a lump of white gold and also how to create value around an orphaned cufflink.
Casual Ore Formal offers artist-made rings, earrings, cufflinks, pendants, and more, both as ready-made finished pieces and as custom designs. Custom designs can be as elaborate as personalized pieces for an entire wedding party or as simple as a single ring. Prices for work range anywhere from $10 casual earrings to $2,000 or more for custom engagement rings. Creating custom engagement rings has been one of Griggs’ favorite types of work recently. “It’s really neat for me to meet with a person and kind of soak in what they’re saying,” she says. “Sometimes they bring example pictures of what they’re thinking. Sometimes I have an initial idea that I can draw out for them. And then it’s really cool to see the project blossom from there.” As an innovation to help in the designing process, she has created examples of her custom designs cast in sterling silver for customers to see and feel in person and use as springboards for designing their own new-fashioned heirlooms.
“I wanted to talk to people over a table and really make it a conversation instead of just a sale over a counter.” – ELIZABETH GRIGGS, CASUAL ORE FORMAL
Griggs’ love of people extends to a care for what people love. One of her lines, Vintage Reconstructed, involves re-setting or re-casting antique or family items with sentimental value into pieces for modern wear. She will meet you at her consultation table with your box of unwearable jewelry: clip-on earrings, single cufflinks, broken gold chains – things you’ve always loved that the people you loved wore. “Pour them out on the table,” she invites. “We can pick things out, talk about what meaning you have for them, and figure out something new.” Griggs says she loves to use her knowledge of both alternative and ancient metalsmithing techniques to create unexpected pieces. One customer recently brought in a simple curl of birchbark he picked up on a day he wanted to remember, and Griggs cast it into a silver ring.
As down-to-earth about making a living as she is caught up by artistic vision, Griggs has worked hard to get to the place where she is now. Graduating in art and business from UW-Eau Claire in 2009, she opened Casual Ore Formal in 2011 and spent three years working out of a garage. She spent time studying metalsmithing further at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Kilkenney School of Crafts in Ireland. In 2013 Griggs was awarded a studio residency by the Artist in Residence program at Eau Claire’s Christ Church Cathedral, and this year moved from there to her permanent retail location. Just last month, Casual Ore Formal received the runner-up prize in the Downtown Eau Claire Jumpstart Competition, recognizing contributions toward revitalizing the downtown area.