The Museum of American Jewelry Design and Manufacture.
Hugo Kohl in his Harrisonburg workshop.
It all started with a car chase. In 1997, Hugo Kohl barreled down a Providence, Rhode Island, highway on-ramp in hot pursuit of a dump truck on the way to the scrap yard filled with cast-off jewelry manufacturing equipment. “I was flashing my lights, honking my horn, leaning out of the window and yelling at the driver,” recalls Kohl. His quarry? Three hundred antique hubs used to create jewelry in the late-18th and 19th centuries.
Kohl eventually flagged down the truck and bought the hubs (with money originally intended for his vacation in Providence) there on the side of the road. This purchase formed the foundation of a collection that became the Museum of American Jewelry Design and Manufacture, which Kohl opened in Harrisonburg’s new Ice House development in February.
Now, the museum houses Kohl’s collection of more than 7,000 hubs, dies and rolls, as well as antique machinery like screw presses and drop hammers—all used in the manufacture of jewelry before electricity became standard in factories. “Hub cutting is a uniquely American form of sculpture,” says Kohl, a 1989 graduate of JMU, whose collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Kohl uses the equipment to produce jewelry in the exact way it was made in the 1800s and sells his wares in a retail shop attached to the museum, online and in stores nationwide. Visitors can tour the facility to watch the manufacturing process, and even make an appointment to create their own vintage-inspired jewelry. “When you sit down on that bench, you stop thinking about the outside world,” says Kohl. “You’ll have no other thoughts except what’s happening with your hands and the metal.” HugoKohl.com