Knowing It’s Time for a Change

“By Sandra Zunino

Life is about change and when Eileen Johnson launched Tempi Design Studio in Wye Mills, she chose the name to reflect the new direction in her life.

An avid equestrian with a talent for making jewelry, Eileen’s career path evolved when she combined these two passions. Tempi changes are an advanced movement performed by a horse demonstrating the ancient riding discipline of dressage.

Originally from Connecticut, Eileen first became interested in making jewelry in high school when she took a class that involved silversmithing. While working as a dental assistant, she found herself intrigued by the tiny crowns, bridges and dental prosthetics and wanted to learn how to make them. Encouraged to pursue dental lab work, Eileen attended University of Kentucky for training in that field.

Not only is dental work custom made, perfection is critical. First, the article is created in wax, and then carefully cast in gold. Next, the piece is hand finished under 10x magnification. Eileen had to demonstrate her aptitude by creating a very tiny chalk carving, just to be accepted to the school. After completing her education, Eileen returned to Connecticut and ran a successful dentistry business for 25 years.

Coming from an artistic family, her mother an award-winning artist and her father an engineer in naval architecture, Eileen needed to nourish her creative side. Because metallurgy is something she really enjoyed, she attended a program at the Gemological Institute of America in California. Here she learned about setting stones and working with platinum, which must be handled separately from other metals to keep it pure.

After Eileen’s son went to college, she retired from her dentistry business. Deciding to leave Connecticut’s cold winters behind, she relocated to Virginia. Riding horses in various disciplines throughout her entire adult life, she took a one-year hiatus in Europe to further her equestrian studies. Upon her return, her aunt presented her with her grandfather’s gold watch and fob.

Embossed with a relief of Pharaoh’s Horses, a famous image created by John Frederick Herring in 1885, the cherished heirloom became the inspiration for the next phase of Eileen’s career. Combining her metallurgy and dental lab skills, she started creating jewelry.

“In dental lab work everything is made out of wax and casting,” says Eileen. “I reworked the piece quite a bit and created a matching pendant.” Once she obtained copyrights for her work, this signature piece became the foundation of the new business.

Eileen now designs handcrafted jewelry from her studio, using wax and casting to fabricate prototypes in bronze. From the prototypes, a casting company reproduces the pieces in sterling silver, 14K gold, or ‘Golde”” a metal alloy that imitates gold. Each piece comes back to Eileen for a nine-step hand-finishing process.

While equestrian jewelry is her passion, she creates other designs including foxes, dog breeds and beadwork. This year she entered a rainbow-sapphire bead necklace in the Saul Bell jewelry design competition.

“It’s quite unusual and very elegant,” she says. “I’m very excited about it.” This is Eileen’s first competition. The winner will be announced in Las Vegas.

Eileen is currently teaching a six-week jewelry-making class using bronze casting at the Center for the Arts in Centreville. “Bronze it is an affordable, non-toxic metal for students,” she says. “So far, the students seem delighted.”

While this is Eileen’s first class, she says it will be offered again with a possible advanced class.

You can see some of Eileen’s designs online at For information about classes, visit or call 410-758-2520.