During a trip to Flagstaff in the late '80s, Melissa Zaki wandered into a bead store carrying a diamond stone with a peculiar request.
She didn't want the jeweler to create a piece for her, and she didn't want to sell it. Instead, Zaki asked woman behind the desk to drill a hole in the middle of the diamond so she could make it into a necklace herself.
After finishing her piece, Zaki brought it back to the bead store to show the owner. She was offered a job on the spot.Years later, Zaki's back in Phoenix, and now sells her creations at Bunky Boutique
We sat down with the local jewelry designer to talk inspirations, and challenges (plus a time-lapse video of Zaki's creative process) after the jump ...
Today, Zaki's an archaeology and history enthusiast who majored in African-American literature and philosophy at Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona.
She says she'll never forget the first moment she spotted one of her pieces around a girl's neck back in college.
"I saw her neck like I was a vampire about to suck her blood," Zaki says. "And she saw my face and asked if I was all right and I said, 'Yeah -- you're just wearing my necklace. I can't believe I'm meeting you.'"
The girl, she says, was equally as excited to see Zaki too. Since receiving the necklace as a gift from her boyfriend, the girl said she had never taken it off.
"I try to remember that moment because when my stuff doesn't sell and I think it sucks, there's always someone who buys your stuff and someone who calls you out," she says.
She says a lot of her inspiration comes from other cultures in the world because she's intrigued by life outside of Arizona.
"For me, beading is all the things I find interesting in the world worth being here. It's all about the culture from the world," she says.
Zaki was living in California when her work was discovered by Bunky Boutique owner Rachel Malloy. After a few of Zaki's good friends went into Malloy's former boutique location wearing her creations, Malloy began asking about the handcrafted jewelry.
"When I came back into town, I brought some of my stuff in and thought she wouldn't be impressed at all because I wasn't ... But she was," says Zaki who had been selling her jewelry at Bunky Boutique two years before moving back to Phoenix.
Malloy says she was drawn to the quality of the workmanship and the obvious beauty of Zaki's pieces.
"People that know jewelry are really intrigued by the detail ... and the price," Malloy says. "But people who aren't into jewelry love that it's different."
Zaki's pieces differ from other jewelry because of her designs and the stones she uses. She says she prides herself on scouting out fair trade distributors from around the world who have rubies and diamonds from communities that aren't being exploited.
Because of the quality of her work, it's not surprising that Zaki's received interest from the big guys like Nordstrom and other local shops, but she's not interested.
"I'm like a Viking. I'm very loyal," she says. "And even though I do rape and pillage, I'm loyal, and [Malloy's] had me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, so I'm respectful."
Malloy says she thinks Zaki will eventually join the big leagues. "She'll get discovered. Somewhere like Neiman Marcus will start buying her stuff."
Not if Zaki has anything to say about it.
"You better be a control freak or else someone will take your vision and tweak it," she says. "And sometimes you're willing to take that ride, but as an artist I'm not."
Zaki says she has no plans right now to leave Bunky Boutique and is open to orders from individuals.
Below, Zaki demonstrates one of the custom orders she received from a client at Bunky. Using silver wire and black garnet beads, she added flair to two items from the customer and turned them into earrings.
The entire process took a little over an hour, but we've shortened it to 40 seconds.