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Aegean Dream: The September 2023 Collection

Visiting Greece was on my bucket list for years, and I must say: it did not disappoint.

My favorite travel destinations have always been places still infused with the remnants of the ancient world. There is something deeply humbling about wandering through the ruins of our ancestors, viewing the same rolling hills that they saw, beneath the same sun, moon & stars, experiencing the same basic thoughts and emotions despite the chasm of thousands of years between us. It makes me feel both rooted in the present moment and more connected to the whole story of humanity.

It was this fascination with the distant past coupled with a love for the Mediterranean that lead me and my husband to choose Greece as our honeymoon destination this summer. I fully expected to love it, but I found myself brimming with new inspiration every time we turned a corner.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is “collecting shapes.” I often find myself taking reference photos of random objects: doors, gates, plants, animals, tiles and even just interesting cracks in the sidewalk. On this trip, I collected hundreds of shapes, and each night before bed I would review the day’s harvest and use them as prompts in my sketchbook. Some of these sketches have since come to life in metal, and some remain in my notes... waiting for that perfect fusion of future concept, form and story.


And that brings me to the latest Hypnovamp jewelry collection: the Greek-inspired Aegean Dream.

For this body of work, I borrowed shapes and stories from both the ancient and modern Greek worlds, with inspirations ranging everywhere from wrought iron gates & architecture, to sunsets, beaches, and volcanic activity.

An appropriate place to begin the story is in Crete, where our trip (and European civilization) happened to kick off.

We stayed in the coastal city of Heraklion and took a day trip down to the Palace of Knossos, the settlement of which dates back to the pre-Minoan Neolithic era around 7000 BC. The palace itself wasn’t built until around 1900 BC and the city thrived for several hundred years before its eventual abandonment. Parts of the complex are well preserved and you can also see reconstructions of ancient Minoan pottery and frescos on the wall. This one, called the "Ladies in Blue," is my favorite:

It took a few hours to explore the ruins at Knossos and this left us with a desire to learn more, so we followed it up with an afternoon trip to the Heraklion Archeological Museum. This is where I began to really get inspired by shapes in the pottery, weaponry, and gold jewelry. You can see how pieces like this:

inspired this:

Minoan Flower Pendant; sterling silver, 14k gold, labradorite and turquoise.

And this:

 Lead to the creation of this: 

Battle Axe Pendant; with silver, copper, bronze, labradorite, apatite, and turquoise.


After our time on Crete, we took a 2+ hour ferry ride to Santorini. Rolling up on the island from the sea was breath-taking, with warm winds there to greet us and cerulean waves crashing on the jagged Odyssean rocks. The white villages up high on the island made it appear that the cliffs were snow-capped, though the heat of the Mediterranean sun told us this was an illusion.

I found so much inspiration in the natural world here. I was blown away both by the scenery and by how packed the island is with tourists… particularly in June!


One of the most popular tourist attractions is the famous Santorini sunset.

Every night, people flock to the west coast to watch purples and pinks descend on the hazy volcanic archipelago. The village of Oia, where we were staying, was an especially popular spot for the view, which made it very hectic to navigate the buzzing narrow streets at dusk. After a couple nights of failed attempts, we decided not to fight the crowds and resigned ourselves to not seeing it. Yet, on the last evening, walking back from the bus stop, we accidentally stumbled upon an empty street and caught the tail end of a very colorful show.

I based this 5-stone ring off the colors in that sky:

Sunset Ring; sterling silver with glow in the dark quartz, Montana agate, carnelian, pink sapphire, and lapis lazuli.

Another highlight of our time on Santorini was visiting the volcano on Nea Kameni, the site of one of the strongest volcanic eruptions in known history.

The wildly destructive 1600 BC explosion at Thera (ancient Santorini) packed the power of several hundred atomic bombs, and traces of its debris were discovered as far away as Greenland. There are also references in ancient Egyptian and Chinese texts to a freezing summer where the sky turned yellow and frost killed all the crops. This is likely due to the eruption of ash and sulfur that clouded the atmosphere in many parts of the world.

The citizens of Akrotiri, a civilization at the foot of the volcano, seemed to know it was coming. When the village was later excavated from below many meters of ash, there were no human remains or valuables to be found. This leads archeologists to suspect that they evacuated by boat prior to the eruption. Unfortunately, it’s also believed that the massive ensuing tsunami prevented any survivors from reaching the safety of another island.

We visited the well-preserved ruins of Akrotiri, which is likened to the Greek version of Pompeii. This was one of the most interesting ancient sites I’ve ever visited as it is “indoors”; a protective outer building was constructed around it and you can enjoy the entirety of the site from a metal walkway that wraps around the perimeter. This city is still in active excavation as evidenced by the archeological tools we noticed in various parts of the ruins.

My "Tsunami Necklace" is an ode to Thera’s eruption and to the lost citizens of Akrotiri. A spike of Herkimer quartz represents Thera, with concentric circle waves radiating out to the islands of pyrite-included glowing blue quartz. The tiny glass stone at the end of the chain represents the fiery lava, always waiting quietly below the surface…

Tsunami Necklace; sterling silver with pyrite-included glowing quartz, Herkimer quartz, and vintage glass.


I also found inspiration in the architectural details of Santorini, such as the wrought iron design in this door:

Which inspired this:

Art Deco Pendant; sterling silver, rainbow moonstone and turquoise.


Our next stop was Milos, a sleepy island that offered a much needed reprieve from the frenetic energy of Santorini. My interest in wrought iron railings continued here as Plaka, the small village where we stayed, was replete with interesting iron-work and geometric architectural details.

There was a set of green doors that I passed daily, and each time I stopped to take a photo: 

It became the influence for this piece:

Art Deco Pendant; sterling silver with rose-cut blue labradorite, vintage glass, and turquoise.


I also took inspiration from the natural beauty of this island as evident in my Sarakiniko talisman:

 Sarakniko Talisman; Sterling silver, glow in the dark amazonite, vintage czech glass, Montana agate, and turquoise.


Sarakiniko beach is a surreal bit of landscape on the northern coast of Milos. Comprised of white volcanic rock in strange, swooping formations, it truly resembles the moon, earning it the nickname “ lunar beach.”

We spent one whole morning there, swimming in teal water under the bright Mediterranean sun. I watched my husband jump off a cliff into the sea and then we drank fresh squeezed orange juice from a fruit truck.

The frosty marquise of vintage glass reminds me so much of the Sarakiniko landscape. I paired it with a rose-cut Montana agate to represent the sparkling sun, matte-finish amazonite to represent the sea (this is one of my signature glow in the dark gemstones!), and a tiny rose-cut turquoise for the color of the sky.

Another interesting feature of Sarakiniko beach was the spooky system of abandoned mine tunnels below the white rock. After baking in the sun, we cooled off a bit by wandering through the dark liminal space. 

My husband, Adam, in the mining tunnels


Much of the island is uninhabited and there are many areas where bentonite and perlite are actively being mined. Exploring in our rental car one day, we ended up inadvertently off-roading on some very rocky mining roads on the eastern side of the island. Driving deeper into the jagged wilderness, we became a bit uneasy; if we popped a tire out here (with no cellphone reception) it was unclear how we would get back to town. Yet after a couple miles of uncertainty, a paved road finally appeared beneath us and this picturesque church came onto the horizon.

The last day in Milos we visited a local cemetery with more beautiful ironwork. The graves are actively attended with framed photos of the departed, oil lamps burning, and an array of their favorite items from life. I always make a point to see graveyards in different countries; it’s fascinating how differently each culture honors their loved ones.

We were sad to say goodbye to our room in Milos, but filled with excitement as we boarded the boat for our final destination: Athens.

Athens is truly a cool city. It is sprawling and mostly residential, but the city proper is a small region of neighborhoods positioned below the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus. It is the hottest city in Europe, and we experienced an average temperature of 95 °F during our time there. The streets are dense and stacked with intricate old buildings and balconies, warm with the scent of souvlaki and street corn and hookah smoke, busy with shops selling medusa heads and tiny owl figurines. Street cats lounge about everywhere, and vibrant pops of pink flowers disrupt the faded stone scenery.

The Acropolis towers above the city and you can see it from just about everywhere. We woke up early one morning to hike to the top and take a tour.

On the way up the hill, we passed the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a theater built in 161 AD and renovated in 1950. It is still in use today and many famous musicians and comedians have performed here.

Climbing the steps to the Propylea was a transcendent experience, matched only by my visit to the Pyramids at Giza in 2005 (maybe I’ll write about that experience someday). As we ascended the walkway and passed the massive marble columns, the Parthenon came into view.

The Parthenon was completely destroyed by the Venetians in 1687 as part of the Morean War. At the time, the structure was being used to store gunpowder and ammunition, and the attack thus caused a massive explosion killing 300 people and showering fiery debris on the city below. The Parthenon has since been in the process reconstruction using a mix of both the original and newer marble. Workers were actively rebuilding one of the inner columns as we visited that day.

After our tour, we wandered through a neighborhood called Anafiotika, located directly below the northern side of the Acropolis. It's always amazing to me that people live their daily lives next to ancient historic structures, but I suppose it's all just perspective.

Once again, I found myself in love with the railings and metalwork in this village. The gate on this gorgeous spiral staircase:

inspired these earrings:

3d printed earrings with matte black polyamide and Swarovski crystal.


The rest of our time in Athens was spent eating, shopping and exploring the colorful streets.  Mnisikleous street in Plaka is one of the more famous ones with picturesque restaurants and cafes flanking a stone stairway below the Acropolis.  

Greece definitely had the most interesting tourist shops I'm seen anywhere. Filled with intricate sculptures of gods and goddesses, spices, hand carved olive wood objects, owls, dresses, tapestries, and thousands of evil eyes.

 I knew this collection wouldn't be complete without them, so I created an array of glass evil eye rings and necklaces.  

Evil Eye Necklaces; sterling silver with glass, turquoise, moonstone and black spinel.

One of the last places we visited in Athens was the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum which hosts several floors of stunning, mostly contemporary jewelry. These were some of my favorite pieces on display:  


The museum lobby has an open metals studio where artists in residence publicly work on their pieces. This of course got my gears turning: I am planning on applying for this residency in the next year or two, so stay tuned...

In conclusion, I'm now officially a grecophile and already daydreaming about returning one day and reuniting with all my street cat friends. 


This trip meant the world to me and so does this collection. I hope you enjoy wearing your Aegean Dream pieces as much as I loved creating them!

xoxo Stephanie 

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Where Hypnovamp Began (Original publish date: 2021)

Where Hypnovamp Began (Original publish date: 2021)

It’s been a strange, circular path leading up to the creation of Hypnovamp. The roots stretch back deeply into my childhood, but I'll start this story at a more recent point in time and space...

Young artist, Stephanie Smiszek 1989 - HypnovampConceptual sketch, 1989

When I graduated from Massachusetts College of Art in 2010, I was 25 and still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My degree was in sculpture and I had spent the last four years having a blast, aimlessly experimenting in every medium I could get my hands on. In addition to my sculpture curriculum, I’d taken nearly all of the jewelry classes available. I spent countless late nights in the small metals studio, creating wearable pieces with cast doll heads and cockroach legs; and yet it somehow didn’t occur to me that this could be my job someday. 

Hypnovamp Flea Circus Insect Sculpture - Cast Bronze and Mixed Media, 2010

"Camphor" Bronze and mixed media circus flea sculpture, 2010

As my final semester came to an end, I was plagued by a feeling that the fun was over.  Instead of capitalizing on the forward momentum and empowering high of completing a degree, I focused all my energy on picking up more shifts bartending and waiting tables. Self-doubt skewed my perspective, and I convinced myself that having an artistic career of my own was an impractical fantasy.   

Just to keep my toes in the water, I spent half a year working as a bench jeweler for an independent jewelry company in Boston. While I learned a lot about the industry, I wasn't artistically tied to the product and spent my days in the workshop daydreaming about what I would do differently if I were running my own show. The pay was too low to keep me afloat for long, and when I left the job, I also left behind the countless hours of dreams and ideas I’d formed while staring into the bench grinder.

Jeweler Stephanie Smiszek with Pulse Arc Welder - HypnovampMy job welding at the bench for a Boston-based jewelry company, 2010

In 2011, I found myself juggling two restaurant jobs with hardly any time to make art.  Before long, I fell into an existential rut: I didn’t understand the point of my education, and I couldn’t figure out what my purpose was in life. It was also the dead of frigid New England winter, and I seemed to only view life through a dirty, grey lens.   

Then, out of the blue, I was given an opportunity to move to Nicaragua for several months and teach music to kids. I consider this experience to be the catalyst for so much positive change in my life.

When I returned to Boston in late spring, I was determined not to fall back into the same unproductive patterns I'd been in before. I needed a change... so I sold most of my worldly possessions and moved down to New Orleans in October of 2012.

New Orleans, Hypnovamp

My neighborhood in New Orleans, 2012

Relocating across the country with no solid plan is definitely a way to jumpstart the brain. The dreamy tropical scenery, lavish architecture, and vibrant culture moved my soul in an unfamiliar way, and I began to think more openly about what I wanted to do with my life. I was bartending in the French Quarter to make ends meet, but my alone-time was dedicated to making lists of all the possible careers and directions I could take.

It took nearly six months of brainstorming for me to arrive at the most obvious conclusion: jewelry designer. I have to laugh when I consider it now; so many times in life, the most obvious answers have been with us all along.

The only problem with choosing jewelry designer as my new life direction was that my purge of material possessions prior to moving meant I no longer had metalsmithing tools, and I could not currently afford any new ones. 

However, I did have a computer, and I remembered that in my last semester of college I had taken a CAD (computer aided design) class. It had only been an introductory class, but I got my hands on a free design program and began watching Youtube tutorials to learn how to create jewelry digitally and have it 3D printed. 

Early Art Show in New Orleans for Lemantula Designs, the Original Hypnovamp Brand NameOne of my first jewelry shows in 2013 as "Lemantula Designs"

A slow learning curve ensued, but eventually I was creating pieces of jewelry and sporadically selling them on Etsy and at night in the Frenchmen Art Market.  My original name was Lemantula Designs, based on a nickname given to me by a former coworker.  "Lemantula" was confusing to pronounce and required too much explanation, so in 2016 I renamed my brand Hypnovamp — a nod to Vampira and the hypnotic, vortex-heavy designs I was producing at the time.  

During this era, my free time was spent designing tons of jewelry but only selling it once in a while. I had finally amassed a collection of tools and set up a mini silversmithing studio looking out onto my tropical, vine-covered balcony. Mostly, I was just creating commissions for friends and people I met in the French Quarter through my bartending job. My weird and wild New Orleans life was thoroughly enjoyable, but also very distracting; so I left Hypnovamp to linger as an expensive hobby rather than a career. I was content, but complacent. 

Royal Street Balcony in New Orleans, Hypnovamp

Balcony view, 2016

This changed in spring of 2017: I had an experience one night that nearly lead to me to an early grave. This incident shook me deeply and opened up my mind to a whole line of abstract questioning about the point of life, death, and what to make of the time we have on this planet. 

Stephanie Smiszek with Skull Mask, New Orleans, Hypnovamp, 2012

St. Claude Ave, New Orleans

Once you navigate through the shock and unpleasant rippling effects, near-death-experiences can be quite useful for organizing your life priorities. I felt my paradigm take a positive shift and realized that it was now or never for Hypnovamp. 

Comfort and complacency will devour years of your life if you let them; I quit my secure, well-paying job, packed a U-haul, and moved back to Massachusetts with my boyfriend to focus on making jewelry full-time.   

Sterling Silver Bat Jewelry, Quartz and Onyx, Glow in the Dark Purple, HypnovampSterling silver, quartz, onyx, and violet phosphorescence, 2018

It hasn’t been an easy ride, but today I can say with conviction that I love what I do.  As it turns out, a career in the arts is certainly NOT the path of least resistance, and the peaks and valleys of business ownership are intense, but so, so rewarding.

There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing another human wearing and treasuring my work.  More than just creating beautiful objects, I aim to share an experience and make jewelry that empowers and connects us to the shadowy segment of life; to remind us that the darkness in our beings deserves as much tending, love, and cultivation as the light.

Thanks for following my journey! 💙

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