Jim Billelo

In Memorium

Reprinted from National Jeweler: OCTOBER 7, 2016

Port Jefferson, N.Y.--A member of the jewelry industry was one of two men found dead after their boat capsized in the Long Island Sound this week.

Tuesday afternoon, a boater alerted the Coast Guard that there was an overturned boat just west of the sound’s Port Jefferson Channel, according to Suffolk County police.

They first recovered the body of 80-year-old Charles Petrie of Holtsville, N.Y. and then began the search for Bilello; they found the 73-year-old’s body near the lighthouse in Old Field Wednesday morning.

Bilello was a Long Island-based freelance model maker for high-end jewelers in Manhattan, devoting his time to handmade wax models for the fine jewelry trade and individual jewelry designers for more than three decades.

According to a resume found online, he worked with such companies as Dalow Industries, Kelman Casting, Andel Jewelry Corp., Jordana Creations and more.

A piece that Jim Bilello carved for Donna Distefano Thomas, which she said reminds her of him--“courageous, loyal and lion-hearted.” Donna Distefano Thomas of Donna Distefano Ltd. began working with him in 2011.

“Jim was a joyful, loyal, sensitive and rare human being, devoted to his wife and family,” she told National Jeweler. “I am grateful to have called him friend.”

She added that, “He told corny jokes and loved to make us laugh. He had a courageous heart. Jim was a profoundly gifted wax carver and was a master at carving creatures.”

But he was so much more than a wax carver, Henry Dunay said.

The designer worked with Bilello off and on for decades, and told National Jeweler that his skills went far beyond that, knowing jewelry design and model making so well that he knew exactly how to create the perfect piece.

“He was a very special man, and he was very supportive of the people he worked for,” Dunay said. “He put his heart and soul into his work.”

Dunay’s wife, Frinette, who worked with him on a few design projects, reiterated both his dedication to his family and to the details in his work.

She said that a few times they tried to use other wax model makers but ended up coming back to Bilello because he would not only guide them to creating the perfect piece, but also listen to them to create something that was on-brand.

He was “like a teacher” in helping her understand design when she first began. “He was an absolutely wonderful person. We are very deeply saddened by the news,” Frinette Dunay said.

Distefano Thomas, too, said, “I cannot put into words what a tremendous loss this is. When I heard the news I was saddened to the core. I cannot imagine the pain that his family is going through, as they were paramount to him. I never met a more loving soul than Jim Bilello.”

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