John Strobel, co-owner of John/Christine Designs, has been making one-of-a-kind jewelry creations since the 1970s, and his inspiration can strike anywhere at any time.
“I have dreams, or in architecture. I’ll see something in a building. I might snap a picture. Out on our bikes, we’re riding and I see different things. I see really great things in snow piles! Snow’s got such great flow to it,” John laughed.
That same inspiration struck one day in 2018 while John and his wife Christine were out bike riding in Middleton, and they saw their future storefront up for rent. They were searching for a new home for their gallery and after looking at several communities, they couldn’t get the Good Neighbor City out of their minds.
“It just kept coming back to Middleton, this is where we wanted to be,” said Christine. “We shop here, we go to the restaurants here, it just seemed like a natural fit for us. This is just a super vibrant downtown area.”
For years, the husband-and-wife duo sold their creations in other people’s galleries, but they missed the interaction they had with their customers.
“We liked the connection with the people. We want to meet the people. We want to see how people respond to the work and feel that energy that you get from them,” Christine said.
That energy is what drives John’s creativity and passion, as he works side-by-side with his customers to create a piece that’s stunning, and most of all, unique.
“I like exotics, like tourmalines that are unique colors from different parts of the world. Custom cut gemstones you’re just not going to see in a regular jewelry store,” John said.
His designs start out as a simple block of wax that constantly evolves while he’s carving. There’s no CAD or 3D printing in this shop. Just a vision and a love for all things beautiful.
“My problem for many years was trying to fit my square peg in the round hole in the jewelry world,” John said. “People say that’s crazy, there’s no master plan. But there is a plan, and it’s just creating the coolest stuff I can come up with, with or without gemstones. I tell people, ‘Welcome to my mind!’”
The Strobels say about 40 percent of their sales are concepts they develop with customers; the rest are John’s creations alone. And there’s a story with each and every piece. In sharing those stories, John and Christine have grown close to their customers, many of whom become like family, staying in touch even over long distances.
“That’s a part of the business that we never anticipated going into it. And it’s very special what people are willing to share with us,” Christine said.
And although the Strobels and their work are internationally renown, they can’t imagine calling any place but downtown Middleton home.
“We’re all unique here. We’re all driving the same kind of customer,” Christine said. “People who don’t want to go to a department store or a big box store and do their shopping. They want something special and to shop local.”
1835 Parmenter St., Middleton, WI
See website for hours. Also open by appointment.