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Gold Standard

Meet Avery Lee Oatman, a Longmont-Based Artist Raising the Bar When It Comes to Responsible Jewelry Making

Article by Katherine Owen

Photography by Ali Vagnini

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

At her light-filled home studio in Longmont, Avery Lee Oatman crafts responsibly made and regionally inspired jewelry while looking out over her backyard that functions as a small veggie and flower farm for her and her husband, Tim. She’s frequently accompanied by her dog, Lulu, who lays close by as she hand-cuts stones for inlay pieces. 

“It's all pretty dreamy,” Avery admits. 

As is her work for her line, Avery Lee Design. Think: 14K gold earrings with metallic fringe and jade from Wyoming, cuff bracelets made of hammered sterling silver and stacking rings (her most popular creation) made with recycled 14k gold showcasing stones like dead camel jasper from Nevada or turquoise from the Cripple Creek Mine here in Colorado, just to name a few. 

“I grew up here in Boulder and spent most of my childhood camping in the Rocky Mountains and on river trips on the Colorado and Green River in Utah. So many of the colors and textures that I am drawn to in the stones I use are reflected in the landscapes from these beautiful places. Larsonite jasper from Oregon brings to mind underwater seascapes and New Lander Variscite from Nevada reminds me of the starry night sky,” Avery recalls.  

Lately her work has been inspired by an interest in jaspers, variscites and jade, which expanded to include faceted stones like antique diamonds, sunstones and tourmalines, all sourced with the greatest care. Behind each and every piece is a chain of sustainable, ethical choices.  

“From the beginning, sustainability has always been a huge focus in my art. I know that the word ‘sustainability’ has come to mean very different things for everyone. I prefer using the word ‘responsibility,’ as it highlights a level of accountability within the choices I make,” Avery says. “I am deeply concerned with the impact we as humans have had on the environment, and there is no getting around the fact that making jewelry with minerals from the earth is an extractive practice.”

In practice, that means every piece–from raw material to finished product–that enters and leaves her studio is made with the greatest level of not just creativity, but care. The use of traceable stones, reclaimed diamonds and Fairmined gold is an important part of Avery’s work.

Created by the Alliance for Responsible Mining, the “Fairmined” standard and seal is a way to protect and promote human rights, gender equality and environmental responsibility in the industry. To qualify, artisanal and small-scale mining organizations must meet rigorous standards to ensure the gold is “of responsible origin.” The label ensures that it “is a traceable gold, extracted with the best mining practices aimed at preserving the environment, and support[s] the development of artisanal and small-scale mining communities.” Avery is one of only four jewelers in Colorado to work with Fairmined gold. (See for a full list). 

“I love knowing that buying Fairmined means I am working towards empowering and supporting a large network of miners and their families and changing ethical standards in the greater industry,” she says.

Avery follows a similar ethos when selecting stones, choosing American mined and cut stones and/or reclaimed and antique diamonds that have already been in circulation when possible. The final result is pieces that equally portray and preserve the beauty of nature and protect the well-being of the humans behind it – from the miners to the makers to the wearers. 

“My mission is to make pieces that connect the wearer to both the cycles and materials of nature and something expressive inside of themselves. I want the wearers of my work to feel celebrated and loved for who they are regardless of their status, skin color and sexual orientation,” Avery explains. “‘Self-acceptance’ is a funny buzzword these days, and I think the term can sometimes lead to a complacency within privilege. Jewelry-making consistently challenges me to meet my own imperfections while acknowledging the nonlinear journey within my own creative practice and business. I like thinking of each piece as a small expression of a greater stream of ideas and creative work that will continue to unfold. That idea helps me let go of the preciousness and perfectionism I sometimes run up against, and what is mirrored around me in our growth-focused economy.”

Learn more and shop her collection at