Ex voto: a testament someone makes in gratitude for an answered prayer
Elizabeth Adams discovered this word when flipping through a magazine a few years back, not knowing it would ultimately become the label for the artist’s breakthrough success—a thriving designer jewelry business.
Elizabeth dabbled in art all her life. From sewing and embroidery to painting, creativity is in her genes. Her parents, both artists, have always encouraged her to hone her many artistic talents, which she has continued to perfect long after childhood. For a time she composed mixed-media collage paintings using small, broken antique jewelry pieces. Recognizing the beauty of the seemingly useless fragments, she would often transform them into jewelry for herself.
“I enjoyed making jewelry for myself, and I’d always been looking for the one piece of jewelry that I could wear every day that would make a quiet statement and represent me,” Elizabeth says. Her jewelry became so requested that, in 2009, she turned her attention to launching a business. “I love the ‘ex voto’ concept of broken or left-behind jewelry that most wouldn’t call ‘beautiful’ being made into something new and beautiful,” From this simple idea, Ex Voto Vintage took shape.
Six years later, boutiques throughout the United States now display Elizabeth’s beautiful, exclusive pieces. From antique and limited-edition lockets and pendants to semi-precious stones and freshwater pearls featuring 24K gold chains and premium leather, the Ex Voto Vintage jewelry line is thriving. And Elizabeth is doing what she loves, designing and selling her one-of-a-kind jewelry from her stylish studio-showrooms in Mountain Brook Village and Montgomery.
Elizabeth travels to markets and antique stores across the United States and Europe in search of these beautiful rarities and interesting objets d’art that will bring life to her necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, cufflinks and handbags. She hunts for pieces that pique her imagination. Sometimes she may purchase only small parts of a key or even an architectural element long after its original owner has abandoned it and repurpose it as a pendant or necklace.
“It’s usually something I’ve never seen before, but know it will work to keep our story going,” Elizabeth says of the curios she collects on her global treasure hunts. “I’ve learned what my customers like, and if I can come up with several different ways that I can use the piece, I’m definitely going to pick it up and bring it with me.”
Most of the business’ necklaces and bracelets boast Ex Voto’s signature: a patented toggle piece. The toggle, designed from the head of an ancient key, allows the pieces more versatility by altering either their style or length—or both.
The process of creating an Ex Voto piece is as multifaceted as each of its products. Different artists around the country construct the jewelry elements by hand before final assembly in Elizabeth’s Montgomery studio and shipping across the country.
Ex Voto Vintage’s clients wear her items daily and with everything from jeans to cocktail dresses. “The jewelry has some personality—it’s unique. It’s not that bright statement piece that they’re going to get tired of or think other people are getting tired of looking at. It’s a quiet statement.”
And Elizabeth is good at making quiet statements. She has designed an independent Ex Voto collection of extraordinary pieces, called Couture to Cure and donates 100 percent of the proceeds to The Cure Starts Now Foundation, an organization that has given more than $1 million in research grants for pediatric brain cancer research since 2008. Elizabeth also serves as the foundation’s Alabama Chapter Director and is good friends with the the foundation’s directors, Brooke and Keith Desserich. Elizabeth met the Cincinnati couple when her 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was undergoing the same treatments as the Desserich’s daughter at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Elizabeth incorporates fundraising for pediatric brain cancer research into Ex Voto Vintage’s business as much as possible, even teaming up with Nashville stylist Tina Adams, and Birmingham stylist Laura Steele, to create the Tastemaker’s Trunk fundraiser. The stylists combined all of their favorite items—handmade pottery, antiques, beauty products, watercolor paintings and, of course, ExVoto jewelry—into a trunk valued at $3,000. Customers donated in $10 increments to The Cure Starts Now to enter a drawing to score the entire trunk. Tastemaker’s Trunk raised almost $5,000, and Adams plans to make it an annual fundraiser.
“The ‘ex voto’ concept of a handmade testament, which moves others to have hope and keep faith, is what resonated with me,” says Elizabeth. “There is parallel between cast-off or broken jewelry being given new life and our human lives, which can be full of brokenness and sadness, being made new and beautiful again—redeemed.”