Jeff DeMent of Diné Metalworks

A Diné artisan discusses his life-saving jewelry-making journey after 16 years as a combat engineer.

Last edited: 1/28/2020

Combat veteran Jeff DeMent jokes that he’s a first–generation jeweler. He began making jewelry after he sustained career ending injuries in the line of duty after 16 years of military service. After only a few months creating jewelry, he was invited to participate in the prestigious Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. Jeff’s goal in creating jewelry is to “represent my culture in a positive way while setting an example of honor and integrity, that seem to be missing in today’s world.”

Portrait of Jeff DeMent

Jeff DeMent in his Santa Fe jewelry studio.

How did you become interested in making jewelry?

I grew up on a ranch in southern Missouri; my mother is Diné (Navajo), and my father is of Celtic and European descent. In the summers we’d visit family in New Mexico, and I’d see Native American silver and turquoise jewelry in galleries—it was magical and captivating to me. My family was relatively poor, and these beautiful pieces seemed so out of reach.

To help pay for college, I joined the Army and spent 16 years in the military. As a Combat Engineer in a Sapper unit, I participated in more than 300 missions in the Middle East, running route clearance and counter IED operations, and saving lives. Later I served as a Combat MP, performing anti–terrorism operations, and training military and law enforcement personnel as a firearms and tactics instructor, before sustaining serious injuries in the line of duty in 2011. I spent three years in a medical hold status before being medically discharged in July of 2014. My military career over, I had lost my purpose. It felt like I was bouncing on rock bottom for a while, starting my life over, dealing with serious injuries, and searching for new direction. I started to make Tufa Cast silver and turquoise jewelry to reconnect with my culture and my spirituality. Making jewelry gave me a new purpose and reason to live. It saved my life.

Tell us a bit about your business.

I create custom jewelry works of art in a studio at my home, overlooking the Santa Fe Valley. I can see Turquoise Mountain, Tsó Dzííł (Mount Taylor), sacred mountain of the south, in the distance, which is a constant reminder of my Diné heritage, and a source of inspiration. I perform all aspects of business myself, from creative production to administrative work. If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. With business growing quickly, it is becoming very hard to keep up.

 
Bracelet by Dine Metalworks

 

How has your brand evolved with the growth of your business?

My brand is a direct reflection of who I am as a person. I put my heart and soul into my work. Experiences in my life are reflected in my work. My brand is an expression of my personal style—rugged yet refined, timeless and authentic. I appreciate the process of Tufa Casting because it is one of the oldest forms of casting done by Diné silversmiths, an almost sacred art, dating back to the late 1800s. It has helped to reconnect me and my brand to my culture.

What is your biggest challenge as a business owner?

My biggest challenge as a business owner is trying to do everything myself and still finding time to create. I’ve run several successful businesses in the past, which has helped me to become successful as an artist.

 
Bracelet by Dine Metalworks

 

What is the most indispensable piece of equipment or tool in your studio?

The most indispensable piece of equipment/tool in my studio is definitely my laptop, which I use for everything related to business administration, marketing, promotion and even design. In my opinion, the difference between being a starving artist and a successful artist is having a working knowledge of business and the effective use of technology. Although I’m learning to use computer design and 3D printing, each and every piece is handmade by me. I enjoy bringing the past and the future together.

What has been your defining moment (or moments) of success?

Every moment of my life has been defining in some respect, but it’s the character–building experiences that have helped me grow as a person, an artist, and a business owner. Without those experiences I wouldn’t be learning, and I wouldn’t be moving forward.

What is your most successful sales channel?

My most successful sales channel has been social media. It builds awareness of my brand and allows people to connect with me as a person by viewing posted content, such as photos and videos of my creative processes. I have a business website, but it doesn’t have a shopping cart. I conduct all sales person–to–person, even if it’s via email. I really value personal interaction, it gives more meaning to the piece and the work.

 
Bracelet by Dine Metalworks

 

Where do you find inspiration for new pieces or collections?

I find inspiration through character–building experiences of my past and my hope for the future. My designs are enveloped by ideas of strength, resilience, and continually moving forward to overcome adversity. My lightning arrow designs are a great example of this.

Of all the pieces you've made, what's your favorite and why?

All of the pieces I create are special in their own way; it’s often hard to let them go. My favorites are the ones that are very meaningful to people. Many people have said my work brings a sense of positive and powerful protective energy to them.

You can find Jeff online and on Instagram.