A tough as nails horsewoman designs jewelry and accessories featuring authentic, old west leather and gem-quality American turquoise.
Brittain of Brit West – a company known for handcrafted, gem-quality turquoise stones showcased on vintage leather from the late 1800s to 1950s and offset by stunning sterling silver–is a classic cowgirl. The Georgia native, who now makes her home on a ranch in the Jackson Hole, Wyo., area, is hardworking, authentic, adventurous and passionate.
Brit honed those skills in Durango, Colo., where she cut her teeth as a rancher and an outfitter after leaving the television and film industry for a more “purposeful” life. “Let me tell you, there is nothing better to teach you work ethic and grit than about 10 years of 16-hour days!” she jokes. But a couple of bad accidents–including one that broke Brit’s neck when a hitching rail hit her in the head, and another where she came off a horse and broke her hip and back–altered Brit’s path.
Unable to continue ranching, Brit started working for renowned custom cowboy hat maker Kevin O’Farrell in Durango. At the time she had already become enamored with antique leather. “I started visualizing ‘that hat would look so cool with a band of vintage leather and a chunk of turquoise on the side,’–I just started seeing all of this in my mind’s eye,” Brit explains. “The line really just created itself from there.”
Repurposed vintage leather provides the backdrop for Brit’s turquoise cuffs, hatbands and belts. She is constantly searching ranches and saddle shops for 1800s teamster driving reins, tooled parade bridles, retired saddle leather, and other old leather goods that were used to form the American West. It’s a job that requires hours of reclaiming, cleaning, conditioning, skiving, sanding and sealing to turn these Old West leathers into modern-day treasures.
High-quality American turquoise is another hallmark of Brit’s heirloom jewelry, and the artist is equally hands-on in this aspect of her craft. “I am super particular about the quality of my stones, so I actually go to the mines and pick out my rocks,” Brit says of the turquoise she gets from the Kingman, Emerald Valley and Sleeping Beauty mines. “You can really see the difference between our natural American turquoise and dye stabilized turquoise by its soft natural tones, rather than the bright, brassy, plastic type that you see in the Chinese-dyed beads.”
Brit works with two “amazing cutters” who hand sculpt the stones she selects into the shapes and styles that work for her designs. The result is artisan, museum-quality jewelry that can be passed down for generations. “Turquoise, silver and all precious metals and stones should be seen as an investment,” advises Brit, whose clients range from young girls just starting out in the Western world to the higher-end Western crowd and celebrities. “I prefer my investments to be tangible, and I especially like them wearable!” Brit says prices for her jewelry range from $98 for a one-of-a-kind cuff to $3,000 for an artful buckle with a show-stopping stone.
Brit characterizes herself as a self-taught artist and businesswoman. “I didn’t know how to do anything–I watched a couple of YouTube videos and off I went!” she laughs. “I figure it out, or I have a crisis and I go get help.”
Brit designs and creates 90 percent of what you see in her online boutique, including all of the jewelry. Boots, shirts and dresses that she really loves from other classic Western companies are added in to allow her clients to style a complete look from Brit West. Additionally, Brit sometimes partners with other vendors to private label items. “We’re going to be bringing in Old Gringo boots,” she shares as an example. “But I’m doing my own designs, so I’m saying I want this toe, this leather, this pattern and this is what I want to build.”
Brit says her company is the realization of a vision she had when she left TV and film. “The two things I wanted to do was to be creative and to help others, because I felt like that was my purpose,” she reflects. “For what happened to me, I shouldn’t be here; I started realizing that as much as I was gifted and given, I needed to give back.” Brit West, she says, is not only an outlet for her artistic talent, but it also enables her to cultivate other artisans and craftspeople. “I like to take what they are already doing, direct them a little bit, and then run with them. It makes me feel like I’ve come full circle.”
You can shop Brit West online at www.britwest.net or at one of the dozen or so art and Western shows Brit attends each year. Brit also does personal styling sessions by appointment.