By Victoria Necessary

When Brookhaven jewelry designer and metalsmith Dawn Muscio was awarded first place in the 2009 Passion Award Design Competition in late April, it was not her first strong showing in the annual competition.

Muscio was a finalist in 2006, won first place in 2007 and was a finalist again in 2008 for the Passion Award, presented by BW Simon International to professional bench jewelers and designers who have achieved a level of excellence based on their technical skill, originality, use of materials, and the functionality and marketability of the pieces they craft.

The award-winning 2009 piece is an 18-karat yellow-gold brown zircon conceived and created through her usual process of collaborating on the design with her client and adding a touch of D. Muscio Fine Jewelry Studio flair.

“I am honored and excited to be recognized by the BW Simon judges and my peers for the quality and artistry of my work,” said Muscio, who is known for her blend of quality craftsmanship and customized one-of-a-kind designs.

At her Dresden Drive studio, Muscio laughingly engages in a show-and-tell explanation of how she got started in the jewelry business. After a quick tour through her working studio and a hello from her business partner, Jackie Williams, and two sweet pooches, Muscio said her career began more than 18 years ago when, as an impressionable high-schooler, she chose to take an elective art class.

The first piece she made in that high school course hangs in a small shadowbox on a wall in her modern workspace. “My mother wore it for the longest time. Isn’t it awful?” she said with a laugh.

The piano brooch is actually whimsical and refined, a precursor to what was to come. That “Jewelry-Making 101” course set the wheels of her career in motion.

Muscio once contemplated becoming a graphic artist but settled on jewelry design and fabrication as her passion. Her talent and eye for detail helped her gain admittance into a prestigious art school, the Pratt Institute in New York.

After Pratt, Muscio established her reputation as an artisan during nine years at The Goldsmith, a renowned fine jewelry studio in Binghamton, N.Y. “I started as a repair jeweler, cleaning the store and doing all the grunt work as well,” she said. “But the owner also gave me the opportunity to design a few pieces early on, and my customer base began to grow.”

Having served her apprenticeship, Muscio left The Goldsmith in 1999 and gained employment as a bench jeweler with Migliori in Buckhead.

But Muscio found customer contact and personalized service missing from her position as a bench jeweler, so she decided to introduce her process of 100 percent client-designer services by opening Evolutionary … D. Muscio Fine Jewelry Studio. “I believe my process of jewelry making is an evolutionary one,” she said. “Each piece is one-of-a-kind, always changing to meet the needs of the client.”

While Williams handles the marketing, Muscio collaborates with clients, designs, fabricates, casts, carves wax models and presents award-winning final pieces. She is working on a three-generation ring that combines metals and gemstones worn by a grandmother, a mother and the daughter/client into a magnificent heirloom piece.

Told how beautiful the item is, Muscio said: “Yes, it is an amazing piece, but I am never satisfied. … My best piece is yet to be cast.”