Tiffany Elizabeth Elliott — whose initials make up the “Tee” in her jewelry design company, Tee Sankey Designs – has customers as far away as Australia.
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Tiffany Elizabeth Elliott — whose initials make up the “Tee” in her jewelry design company, Tee Sankey Designs — always had a passion for making jewelry, starting with the designs made out of recycled materials when she was younger.
Her mother encouraged her to pursue jewelry making since she was “a natural" at creating beautiful pieces out of throw-away items.
“As time progressed and I got older, I took community classes for soldering and actually came to PTEC (now Pinellas Technical College) to learn fine jewelry making about five years ago,” shared the South Florida native.
The design company has become a family business, with her boyfriend helping, and her mother – whose maiden name is Sankey – also helps when things get hectic.
Elliot acknowledged that creating her intricate pieces could take days. She uses small tools to carve her designs, initially crafting them in wax before casting them in metal. The casting process, which happens in an oven, takes anywhere from five to 14 hours.
The designer noted that her creations often develop around themes and most often come from something that catches her eye.
In the case of her delicate “Akrafena Sword” pendants, inspiration came from learning about Queen Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica, where Elliot’s family originally hails from.
Escaping enslavement in Jamaica during the 1600s, Queen Nanny herself is worthy of an honorary piece of jewelry for freeing over a thousand enslaved Jamaicans in her lifetime. However, the Akrafena sword can be traced back to Ghana, where Queen Nanny was stolen from.
The pendant collection is inspired by the beautiful black iron and gold gilded sword use by the Akan people, from present day Ghana, called an Akrafena. The Akan people were known for inscribing symbols on their swords that reflected different messages. These messages were either for their enemies during warfare or for the tribe during their ceremonies.
A super-popular item from the Tee Sankey Designs collection is her selection of one-of-a-kind and unique grillz. “South Florida is known for rocking grillz; all the cool kids wore grillz, and I didn’t have an opportunity to because I had strict Caribbean parents,” she laughed.
But when her brother asked her to make some for him, she realized she could make her own style. As more people saw her grillz, they wanted them, and they are one of the most popular items on her site.
Currently, her favorite thing to do is 3-D printing on her wax-resin-based 3-D printer specially made for jewelry design and the line of engagement rings that she’s crafting. The process involves designing the “tester" rings in sterling silver; the final rings will be rendered in gold.
Social media has allowed her to reach a wider audience. “My customers are from all over the place, which is what really cool about the internet,” said Elliot, who has customers as far away as Australia.
Elliot has offered free community classes at Venus St. Pete and through park-based NOMAD Art Bus MicroCamps, as well as offering online jewelry-design courses. But she said her ultimate goal is to have a jewelry bus.
“Growing up, I didn’t think I could make jewelry — that wasn’t in my head. Coming to St. Pete and seeing that [learning jewelry making] was accessible and that I could make jewelry, my art, and still make money made me wonder how many kids are like me and think that they can’t do these different things.”
Elliot wants to show youth that creating jewelry is not necessarily about wanting to become a jewelry maker.
“I want to have a bus that I can bring the workshops to them. It’s not so they want to be a jeweler; it’s just to open their mind to something else.”
Tee Sankey Designs also has a sustainable jewelry-making model that uses recycled metal, eco-friendly packaging, and their stones come from second-hand sources whenever possible.
To learn more about Tee Sankey Designs, visit teesankeydesigns.com.
To reach J.A. Jones, email email@example.com