The pandemic and a painful hernia changed St. Helena native Mark Battuello’s life last year.
Battuello had been an instrumental part of his family’s vineyard, working with his brother Dave to clean up the property out on Ehlers Lane, maintaining on the irrigation system, and of course, helping with harvest.
But in last year, Battuello’s hernia made it impossible for him to continue working the land. Thankfully he had taken a jewelry-making class from master jeweler Nancy Wintrup at 180 Studios in Santa Rosa just before COVID-19 hit.
Already a painter and photographer, Battuello quickly learned to make bracelets while being taught how to use a variety of jewelry-making tools and techniques.
Once the class ended, he continued to use his newfound skills, gradually adding tools to his home studio. And he taught himself to work with metal, focusing on rings.
“I wanted to expand to bracelets,” Battuello said, “so I became a metalsmith. I eventually sold one ring at Made Local Marketplace in Santa Rosa, and I knew I wanted to keep going. I taught myself how to use a lathe and began making rings from wine barrel staves, then a whiskey barrel stave, and then inlaying gemstones into different types of ring cores including ceramic, stainless steel, wood, and even animal skins like buckskin, alligator, and rattlesnake skin.”
Always attracted to stones, Battuello uses agate and mixed jasper and other gemstones from a wholesaler in Florida with whom he connected through his men’s group to craft his unique, colorful, custom rings.
In addition to custom orders and selling the rings in shops in Santa Rosa and at Calistoga’s Kokomo Studio, Battuello also donates his rings through his men’s organization, the A-Z Foundation Group, an organization committed to funding California’s local communities that benefit youth, veteran, special needs, educational, conservation, and other causes. The group sponsors semi-annual fund-raising events such as dinners, and Battuello donates rings to support Vietnam vets in every branch of the military. “Attendees can bid on my rings, and then I can create one to fit.”
Most recently, he crafted a ring, featuring an antler inner lining, made with soil from his family vineyard that’s used by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars for their “wine club wine." He has also made a unique ring using Western Diamondback rattlesnake skin and Kingman mine turquoise.