Creative Genius: Jewelry Makers In God We Must
These Atlanta craftsmen channel an Americana vibe by turning coins into jewelry.
Working a serious steam punk-meets-nostalgia-meets-Americana vibe, the two men behind the Atlanta design firm In God We Must, Elijah Richards, 25 and Matt Mulkey, 26, create instant keepsakes out of ubiquitous items.
The main material for their idiosyncratic jewelry? American coins: pennies, buffalo nickels, state quarters, fashioned into handsome rings, necklaces and cufflinks bent and shaped into what they call “a product of quiet excellence.” In addition to their currency jewelry, at their website In God We Must Richards and Mulkey sell T-shirts designed by Oregon’s 1924 US and have added wallets, key fobs and even dice to their offerings. A travel blog called Pioneer Spirit is in the works and the pair are thinking about adding a line of “man candles” with butch scents (think whisky) to the creative output of these two blue collar Ralph Laurens channeling a very rugged, rustic American attitude.
Before you say, “wait, isn’t it illegal to deface currency,” rest assured. Richards has checked with the Federal Reserve which instructs that practices like making coins into jewelry (or think of fairground and boardwalk penny-smashing machines) isn’t illegal, while counterfeiting—which alters currency for gain—is still off limits.
Like so many DIY businesses, In God We Must arose out of unexpected, not always happy circumstances. In a triple whammy, Richards was let go from his job, lost his health insurance and after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes he had to figure out how to pay for his exploding medical costs.
“I was trying to figure out how to make some sort of money. It was unintentional. But I’ve always been super creative and loved working with my hands,” says Richards.
He started his business in the summer of 2014, fueled by memories of his childhood trips to the coin shop with his mother, who collected coins. “I just though it was cool, because these coins have been places I’ve never been. I thought that was really rad,” says Richards. As a kid, Richards used to punch holes in buffalo nickels and wear them around his neck.
Inspired by those seminal experiences, Richards made a few coin rings to sell online and the business exploded from there.
“I stayed positive and creatively minded” says Richards of a very scary period in his life. “At some point I decided this is what I’m going to do, I’m not going to work for anybody.”
The business was eventually successful enough for Richards to bring in a former co-worker and longtime band mate (the two have played in various bands together since high school) Matt Mulkey in 2015. Mulkey, who took a serious pay cut to work alongside Richards but looks happy as a clam, handles the financial side and marketing and PR for In God We Must. That frees Richards up to tackle the creative work of designing new products out of their workshop-slash-retail space in Citizen Supply at Atlanta's hipster locus Ponce City Market.
The In God We Must line of coin jewelry and accessories has been a big hit with the U.S. military (an article in Recoil magazine helped grow that audience) and with traveling types who respond to the state coin jewelry and the Americana sensibility of their business.
As the company has grown, Richards says he has learned some life lessons along the way, including to never be afraid to ask people who are ahead of the game for help. But more fundamentally, the pair have discovered in starting their own DIY business, that it pays to be fearless. “The key is to not be scared” says Richards. “It can’t control you unless you let it.”