Christopher Liu’s eyes widened as he gazed at the pearls, amethyst and topaz brought into his classroom. Liu and his classmates were like kids in a candy store. The beautiful stones in front of them were gifted to Texas Tech University by James Avery Artisan Jewelry.

The well-known Texas-jeweler donated more than 30,000 stones to the Jewelry Design and Metalsmithing program at Texas Tech. Liu is one of many students whose work will be positively impacted by the gift.

Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University

Many alumni of the program have gone on to work at James Avery, creating a strong tie between the renowned company and the esteemed academic program. The gift didn’t come randomly, but rather was the outcome of a carefully nurtured relationship invested in over the years. 

James Avery has had Texas Tech students visit its headquarters multiple times. The tours have offered students insight into what it’s like to work for a major jeweler.

The generosity both James Avery and Texas Tech have shown each other is special, but quite unusual for the industry.

“In jewelry, you have two worlds: the commercial world and the art world,” said Robly Glover, professor of jewelry design and metalsmithing. “Historically, there has been animosity between these two simply because I think they don’t understand each other. They’ve mistreated each other and that’s unfortunate.”

Commercial jewelers fail to see the value artists’ new ideas bring to the industry, perceiving art jewelers as pretentious. And art jewelers devalue the necessary and meaningful work of commercial jewelers.

“One of the things unique about our program is that we respect both the commercial and the art worlds and prepare students who go into both,” Glover said.

Glover has work featured in various museums around the U.S. but also has enthusiastically done commercial work he is proud of.

“The two worlds are different, but equally important,” he said.

It is that very sentiment which opened the door for an incredible act of generosity from James Avery. Glover remembers the day the stones were brought into class for the students to see.

“Just looking at the stones gave the students new inspiration,” Glover said.

When Glover announced the news, Liu was in disbelief.

Then, when the disbelief wore off, he jumped into action. He wanted to hit the ground running once the stones arrived. He examined the materials he was working with, determining what might pair nicely with the James Avery stones and what he wanted to set aside.

Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University

“These stones have given me such a competitive edge,” Liu beams. “Not many universities have this kind of access and resources. Now I don’t have to worry about the financial burden procuring materials.”

Liu capitalized on that competitive edge.

His work with the James Avery inventory helped him win a scholarship through the Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America (MJSA). The group’s education foundation named three recipients in 2023. Liu was one of them.

“This scholarship will help me continue my work,” Liu said.

One of his favorite works he’s done with the James Avery stones is a necklace that lifts off the body, almost mimicking an Elizabethan collar but adorned with metal and amethyst.

Liu is one of many students who have benefited from this gift, elevating the program.

And while some may see jewelry as mere trinkets, it is an art form that stands equal with other mediums – perhaps, even more so. 

“When someone loves a painting, they buy it and put it on their wall,” Glover said. “But when someone loves a piece of jewelry, they put it on their body. It’s personal.”

Whether it marks a birth, a sweet 16, an engagement, a graduation, a deployment or an anniversary, everyone has pieces of jewelry that are precious.

Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University

“That’s what makes jewelry so special,” Glover said. “You can’t wear your painting out. But with jewelry, it’s interacting with the body. It becomes part of conversation, part of your life. When you’re in a heated argument and shaking your head, your earrings swing. When you hold your head high with pride, your necklace sprawls.”

Jewelry is not purely about status or luxury.

And the partnership between Texas Tech and James Avery highlights that truth.

“I can’t think of any other company who has done something like this for us,” Glover said. “We’re so incredibly grateful.”