Gem Gallery goldsmith Chris Tullar has been in Bozeman since 2001 and has seen it go through a lot of changes over the years. Tullar moved to Montana in 2001 for graduate school.
“I rolled into town on a Sunday and I’m not sure if I actually saw tumbleweeds going down Main Street, but that’s how it felt,” Tullar said with a smile. “Hardly anything was open downtown.”
“I kind of focused on skiing and being in the mountains and that was satisfying for a while,” he said. “But I felt I had spent a lot of time and energy learning my craft, and that was in danger of fading into the mist. So I took a job back east for a jeweler, and when I got back into making jewelry, all that work I’d done in grad school changed.”
Tullar studied Metalsmithing at MSU and focused on classic jewelry-making techniques on small sculptural objects.
“They looked like machines and they had lenses and reflectors,” Tullar noted. “They revolved around a rock I had found in Montana and I’d cut and polished. The stone was cradled and held by a metal framework. That kind of design sense has always been important to my jewelry ever since,” he said. “It’s about crafting unique ways to hold a stone.”
What Tullar brings now to the Gem Gallery is a sense of craftsmanship focused on small surprising details.
“I get a lot of, ‘I haven’t seen that before,’ comments,” he said. “I think it refreshes and revitalizes things that maybe have become very expected. It revitalizes the form and tradition.”
Tullar’s aesthetic is heavily influenced by classic art deco and industrial design. His thesis at MSU was described as “steampunk,” but his work has evolved into a balance of native stone and careful metal craftsmanship.
He loves being creative at The Gem Gallery, and is looking forward to having a variety of pieces ready for the store’s Christmas catalog.
“Carving out that creative space is so important so your brain is happy,” Tullar noted. “We’re getting ready to make a fair amount of custom gifts for customers.”
Tullar has a focus on simple, clean designs with 1-3 stones, unlike some jewelry trends that include 50-70 stones.
Yellow metal seems to be making a comeback, away from platinum and white gold. Instead, people are choosing yellow or rose gold for their jewelry.
And, of course, Tullar loves working with Montana’s Yogo sapphires.
“I love that they’re mined here in Montana and only found here,” he said. “They’re a natural color — all these different shades of purple, my favorite color, without any heat treatment. They’re beautiful stones.”
Tullar’s past work revolved around stones he found himself in his hikes and travels around Montana, like agates or petrified wood.
“I cut and polished them myself,” he said. “I get much the same feeling of a treasure that comes from where we live that’s then crafted into a piece of art.”
The geography and geology of Montana is much of what keeps Tullar so fascinated by the state, and what keeps him around.
“The abundance of land and the ability to feel like you’re out in it immediately if you need to be, is so great,” he said. “And the people, too.”
“One thing that really blew me away when I first moved here is when you’re driving down a dirt road and everyone waves at you when they see you. It’s a welcoming, down-to-earth quality.”
To see Chris’ work in person, visit him at The Gem Gallery, located at 402 East Main Street in downtown Bozeman.
The Gem Gallery is Bozeman’s premier custom jewelry and Montana Yogo Sapphire store. Founded in 1994 by Don Baide, we are located in historic and vibrant downtown Bozeman, Montana. We specialize in rare Montana Yogo Sapphires, custom designed jewelry and GIA certified Diamonds. Our talented in-house goldsmiths and designers can help you to visualize and create distinctive, one-of-a-kind jewelry that you will treasure and adore.
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