Capitalizing on Art Jewelry

In Asheville, N.C., Mora owners Joanna Gollberg (left) and Marthe Le Van display jewelry in freestanding cases for easier viewing.

When Isa Cucinotta was getting married, it never occurred to her to look for anything else. She wanted a ring that was “different, something with personality,” she says. A resident of Brooklyn, she spotted art jewelry in an ad for The Clay Pot on 7th Avenue in Park Slope and headed straight over. There, she fell in love with “the almost medieval aesthetic” of Barbara Heinrich’s granulation in an 18kt gold band.

The Clay Pot
The Clay Pot lures customers with an inviting storefront at its pedestrian-friendly location in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Years later, she was back at The Clay Pot. She was now the mother of two and, she says, “I liked the idea of commemorating my girls with rings, because rings—they’re magical, right?” She picked gold bands with geometric patterns crafted by Marian Maurer and had one engraved for Olivia, the other for Colette. Today, her girls are 17 and 14 and, says Cucinotta, “they love the idea of having a ring that stands for them.”

Marking Special Occasions
Even in the current economic climate, people continue to buy art jewelry to mark a special occasion—a wedding, birth, graduation, anniversary. They also look to art jewelry for gifts, souvenirs, or that perfect little thing with pick-me-up power. And always, says jeweler and retailer Robert Grey Kaylor, whether they are the giver or the wearer, “they want to set themselves apart.” Successful retailers are those who find ways to help every customer achieve that, whether the customer is a committed collector or a casual browser. This means offering works that, no matter what the price point, are both distinctive and well made.

When choosing jewelry for the R. Grey Gallery in Boise, Idaho, one of the key things Kaylor looks for is longevity. “Take a chain link bracelet,” he says. “You know that if the links are not stout enough, the piece will wear thin.” With the same critical eye, he examines clasps, settings, and moving and mechanical parts—basically anything that, in his experience, can snap, break or otherwise get damaged with normal wear.

Uniqueness Counts
Another hard and fast rule: steer clear of what Kaylor and others call “copy artists.” Though Mora, a designer jewelry boutique in Asheville, N.C., primarily sells lines and one-of-a-kind pieces by Joanna Gollberg, co-owners Gollberg and Marthe Le Van like to add some variation in their offerings, but they say that finding distinctive work is not always easy.

“There is a global style emerging,” warns Le Van, “and many art jewelers are copying each other. Trends,” she adds, “can homogenize everything.” When it comes to selling art jewelry, that is a killer.

The same principle applies in tourist destinations. Liz Dineen runs the Mariposa Gallery in Albuquerque, N.M., where many people come in, she says, wanting “to send a gift or buy something for themselves that resonates New Mexico.” Dineen complies by making sure to include in her mix of local jewelers many who work with such indigenous imagery as retablos or techniques like channel inlay. But while there is no mistaking the Southwestern flavor of, say, a bracelet by Roger Wilbur, there is also no risk of confusing them with the usual tourist fare.

To read more of “Capitalizing on Art Jewelry,” order a copy of the Spring 2013 issue of NICHE magazine.