An Impressive Gift
Robin Durnbaugh creates fingerprint jewelry that allows wearers to keep special someones close to their hearts
By Mary Wooten
Making a good first impression isn’t enough for Robin Durnbaugh. Making lasting impressions is her business. And she makes them in solid gold and sterling silver, right here in Fort Wayne.
Durnbaugh is the creator of Loving Touch fingerprint pendants and charms, unique jewelry that promises to become a family heirloom. That’s because she takes what is distinctive about each person – a fingerprint – and turns it into a work of art in precious metal.
Durnbaugh liked art as a child and started selling her macramé curtains at mall shows when she was 16. Knitting, crocheting and, later, jewelry-making kept her busy while growing up in Dayton, Ohio, and then living in Fort Wayne for the past 20 years. With hands that refuse to be idle, she makes colorful bent-wire watches and elegant creations in crystal and beads that are sold at airport gift shops, hospitals and art shows across the country.
But what Durnbaugh enjoys most is the fingerprint art line she and her husband, Mike, create by hand in their studio.
“Getting the design just right took some experimenting,” Durnbaugh said. “First, I needed to develop a medium to preserve the original finger impression without shrinking, fading or distorting it. I practiced on my kids.” Prints of her daughters and grandson shine against her dark sweater.
Each charm is distinctive, of course. “Just as no two fingerprints are alike, neither are the pendants,” Durnbaugh said. “We design and shape each one to the individual’s finger size. We did a preemie baby’s full handprint that was the size of a quarter.
When Linda Kerr’s daughters had their fingerprints made as a gift to each other, they chose silver and Kerr chose gold.
“When the girls left for college, those pendants were a constant reminder to me, and I wore them close to my heart,” Kerr said. “It was comforting to just reach up and ‘touch’ my girls whenever I was really missing them. Now I’m hoping for an addition to my necklace. My granddaughter Lilyana Grace is just 4 months old and Robin has already captured her imprint.”
Robin got started in 1997 when a friend whose child was terminally ill asked her to make a fingerprint memory. Word spread, and orders started rolling in. Now hospitals in Rockford and Chicago keep Loving Touch brochures on hand to pass on to family members of patients who are aging or seriously ill.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation and other nonprofit organizations have featured Loving Touch pendants in their annual auctions. Many have thanked Robin for these treasures that provide solace in time of mourning.
“We feel Emily is always with us now,” said Linda Nelson, who gave pendants to her mother and sister when her 17-year-old niece died suddenly almost four years ago. “I truly believe these pendants helped all of us in our grieving process. Later my sister’s son, Ricky, gave her his print for Mother’s Day. After all, why not cherish the closeness of our living loved ones as well as the ones who have gone home to God?”
Some men use their pendants for key chains or golf ball markers. A nurse in Illinois wears pendants of her entire family on a charm bracelet. A student at Ivy Tech State College wants to give her print to her fiancé so he’ll have her close until their wedding in May.
Liz Neal and her husband have fingerprint pendants of their son and grandson. “My husband’s set is silver and mine is gold. Loving Touch is so much more than a piece of jewelry. It’s an emotion that I enjoy wearing."
Your own print
So, how to get a Loving Touch fingerprint pendant made by Fort Wayne jewelry artist Robin Durnbaugh?
You can call and make an appointment to have Durnbaugh take the fingerprint impression at home, at her studio, or “on the sly” at a local restaurant. “If it’s a surprise, I help keep the secret,” she promises. Or she will mail a kit with user-friendly instructions for do-it-yourselfers or those living out of town.
Robin chooses the best of three or four impressions to make the charm, and keeps the impressions on file for reorders at a later date. From the time the pendant is ordered until the time she engraves the name and birth date or a personal message on the back takes from two to four weeks.