Kim Mary Merritt is the brains behind Gritty Jewelry, a line of jewelry as unmistakably charming as it is creepy. From miniature poison vial pendants to chandelier earrings dripping sterling silver and copper meat cleavers, Gritty pieces round out your look with the finishing, macabre touch. Merritt can be found most days working at Twilight Gallery in West Seattle, a gallery and boutique founded by Tracy Cilona. A little over a year ago, Cilona invited Merritt to spend a month as artist in residence at Twilight, constructing jewelry at a bench in the storefront window.
“Inviting people to work at the gallery is an opportunity for people to see how things are made,” Cilona says. “People often don’t realize what goes into a custom piece, whether it involve hand painted leather and hide or making jewelry.” When Merritt’s month was up, neither designer nor shop owner wanted to part ways. Merritt set up a permanent bench at the store and has been making Gritty Jewelry for the public to see ever since.
“Gritty Jewelry started with cleavers,” Merritt says. “That was five years ago. I made myself a cleaver after reading a story about Lizzie Borden. I thought it would be really hilarious to make a little cleaver. I went to a party that night and I immediately sold it off my neck. I ended up making more and selling them. Next thing you know, I was making and selling a line of cleavers, then daggers, then machetes, axes, poison bottles. Now it’s my bread and butter.”
Does Gritty Kim have a dark side? “A little bit,” she says, laughing. “A friend of mine once said, You dress like a hippie but you think like a vampire. What’s wrong with you? It’s just the best of all the worlds I guess! Gritty Jewelry definitely offends some people. Small children and older women will sometimes just stare at me when they see what I’m making, then slowly back away. I’ve had women pull their children away. I’m not really that dark. I do, however, have huge fans in boys around the age of eight. They love the little knives and think they’re the best thing ever.”
“This is where it starts. This is my mess! These are my tiny little files. One of the drawers is labeled “purgatory” because, seriously, so many projects end up abandoned in purgatory. I’m a nerd about my tools. My tiny torch is the cutest thing ever. My bench peg is the best thing since sliced bread. I’ve had this bench peg for ten years and I’m starting to lose pieces of metal through the tiny holes. It’s probably time to retire it—frame it or something. “
“As a kid I loved jewelry,” Merritt says. “At that age you’re waist high and all you can stare at is people’s hands and wrists. It was the 80s and my mom was always wearing gold everywhere: piles of chains, bracelets, rings. It wasn’t ’til I was 22 that I decided to seriously pursue jewelry and went to tech school for it. Everything was new to me: working with metal, playing with fire. But it came naturally too. I love the fabrication—the sawing, the riveting, the small scale soldering. This past December marked my first full year of making jewelry full time, which is so cool.”
“Gritty Jewelry is my art. It’s me and a reflection of me. It’s not all shiny. It’s certainly not for everyone, not palatable to everyone, but that’s ok. Sometimes a piece sits and waits for the right person to come along and makes a connection with it. I like that too: meeting the people who do make a connection with one of the pieces—and I make a connection with them too.”