The minutely intricate inlay of Carl and Irene Clark is both distinctive and unrivaled. The Clarks will position up to 5,000 to 6,000 stones in a single bracelet. Carl Clark says of their work, “We specialize in microfine inlay. We keep it simple and subtle. We use silver as a framework and inlay as a picture.”
The development of their inlay work came as a progression. In 1973 during a summer session at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Carl taught himself to metalwork while managing a silversmithing supply and manufacturing store in Winslow, Arizona. He focused on silversmithing from 1973 to 1975 and produced his first fine inlay jewelry, a ring, in 1975.
The Clarks begin their work by melting silver and pounding it out or by casting silver in a tufa mold to make an object such as a bracelet band. They hand tool the back, add a bezel to hold the inlay work, bend the silver bracelet band and assemble the stones. To form the stone inlay, the Clarks laminate thinly sliced sheets of turquoise, coral, sugilite, lapis, jet and other stones, and then crosscut the laminated sheets.
Carl’s training as a civil engineer has proven useful in planning and implementing the delicate inlay. The Clarks frequently use symbols such as Yeis from their Navajo heritage. Carl primarily designs and makes the larger items such as bracelets, bolos, and buckles, while Irene designs and makes the more delicate jewelry such as earrings, rings and pendants as well as the inlay work in necklace chains.
The jewelry made by Irene and Carl Clark has received recognition across the United States and in Germany.