By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
Studio jeweler Link Wachler has a classic skill that is uber rare to see nowadays: he is a wax carver. And while he carves lots of different types of jewels—“About half of my work is remodeling family pieces,” he says—pet pendants, particularly dogs, are a passion project for which both retail clients and trade peers seek him out.
Wachler is the force behind Link Jewelry Designs in Troy, Mich., and his family has deep jewelry roots in the state. His paternal grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1922, bringing his jewelry skills with him. He opened David Wachler & Sons in Detroit, Mich., in 1950, the year before Link was born, and the company later moved to Birmingham, Mich.
As he grew, his artistic proclivities were apparent; he loved to draw, and his dad encouraged his talents. Link started carving around age 13, and that’s when his real passion took root. His dad would bring home custom carving jobs like silver rings and Star of David pendants from the store for him to work on.
“We were strictly custom designers, but with more family members coming into the business we grew to become all things to all people,” he says.
By his late 20s, his local reputation was growing. He was making family pieces with multiple gemstones, and a local grocery store owner tapped him to make a custom piece for his wife.
“It was Farmer Jack’s grocery store,” says Link. “The owner wanted the logo—a farmer holding a basket of fruit—made into a brooch in gold with gemstones. We used a marquise-shape yellow sapphire as a banana, and ruby as an apple.”
Link’s carving abilities extended to wood as well. A pipe smoker in his 20s, he carved custom pipes for clients, even sending one to former President Gerald Ford. “I got a thank you letter back from him,” Link recollects. A local TV crew even came calling for an interview.
By his early 30s, he got a request that would become a staple in his portfolio: a dog pendant. A client who lost a dog asked him if he could carve one and Link said he would try. Both were pleased with the finished product, a Labrador Retriever, one of America’s most popular breeds.
While continuing to hone his craft, he decided to step away from the family store and set up his own studio. The other partners eventually parted ways, too, with one establishing his own eponymous shop and the other remaining at the helm of the original David Wachler & Sons name.
As a solo operator, Link joined the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group for camaraderie and education, learning a lot from fellow carvers nationwide. “There I could see what others carved and pushed myself to be better,” he says.
Proof of his talents lie in the dozens of industry awards he’s accumulated, including Diamonds International Awards and a 2010 Spectrum Award for a carved gold skull ring with a baroque cultured pearl.
At the time, peers asked him what CAD program he used to make the ring. He held up his hands saying, “These—I did it with my hands.”
Today, half of his business continues to be remaking family jewels and engagement rings, while the other half consists of whimsical projects like belt buckles and animal jewelry. Link has made some designs for high-profile clients, too, including a dragon ring with a yellow sapphire for Steven Seagal—a project that The Detroit New wrote about in 2004. Dogs, however, remained a constant.
To date, he’s made about 60-plus, covering probably 40 different breeds, including a Caucasian Shepherd—a rare dog to see in the States.
[Editor’s Note: This writer became aware of Link in 2019 after returning from a volunteer vacation in Sarajevo. I flew home with a street dog after helping longtime dog rescuer Milena Malesevic, and Link watched yours truly chronicle the adventure online. Upon my return, he made me a custom Elsa necklace in oxidized sterling silver. Elsa is a Caucasian Shepherd, a livestock guardian breed common in Eastern Europe.]
More mainstream breeds that he’s carved include Cocker Spaniels and German Shepherds.
The trick to mastering their mugs? Examining multiple different views of the dogs to capture their unique expressions.
“I try to capture the way the ears perk up, and the mouth can be a challenge,” he says. “Some dogs have open mouths with teeth showing, and it can be tedious to carve those. The eyes are always tricky, too, because they are so expressive. And the noses can’t be full dimension because they would stick out too far. Sometimes, I’ll go back to a piece multiple times before finishing it. It takes a keen eye to see the differences in dogs, and that’s what means so much more to an individual. I try to capture your dog’s nuances versus others.”
Currently on his bench is a little bull terrier pendant—a commission from an award-winning jewelry designer. And a special Golden Retriever commission just left his bench, having recently arrived at its Pennsylvania destination—this writer’s home. A year ago, Lexie joined the Heebner family from Millport Golden Retrievers and I tasked Link to make a gold pendant with a birthstone collar of cultured Pearls and Moonstone. Lexie was born in June 2022. This was Link’s first dog piece with gemstones.
“My passion is hand carving,” says Link. “It has an organic look to it, and there’s an artistry to that. There are still a lot of people who appreciate the hands-on work.”
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