3319 Cady’s Alley N.W., Washington, D.C.
Tucked halfway down Cady’s Alley, a charming shopping row in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, is a jewelry boutique that holds its own, designwise, with the street’s many high-end home decor shops. Jewelers’Werk, a 268-square-foot haven for maverick jewelry design from around the globe, feels more like a gallery than a typical jewelry store. The space itself is clean, white, and spare. And the inventory prizes innovation over commercial accessibility. “We carry what I call artist-jewelers,” explains owner and onetime jeweler Ellen Reiben. “These are not fashion-based designers and they’re not commercial. They have a vision and an art orientation.”
In 1988, Reiben took over the store, then called VO Gallery and located in downtown D.C. The owner had passed away in a tragic car accident. “She was Dutch,” says Reiben, “and she left notes written in Dutch all over the store, which took a while for me to [translate]. I had always thought the store was brilliant.” In 2007, Reiben relocated the store to Cady’s Alley, which was already transforming into a mini–design district. She changed the name to Jewelers’Werk, but retained VO’s mission: to bring art-minded European jewelry design to the United States.
“I look for an original vision—something that alters my view of the world,” says Reiben, who credits her 42 years in the business with cultivating a “sophisticated eye” for design. Most of the store’s pieces are limited edition and several feature nontraditional materials. “There’s no one who is going to walk into this store and love everything,” she says. Artist-jewelers from all over the world—including New Zealand, the Arctic, Italy, and Japan—are represented. But Reiben’s sourcing ties are especially strong in Munich, where the legendary Staatliche Zeichenakademie of metalsmithing turns out reliably innovative jewelry designers. “People say, ‘Oh, I love German work,’ as if it were all Bauhaus or something, and I hate that,” says Reiben. “German work is so broad-ranging. It’s exciting and original.”
Standout pieces in the shop include grosgrain ribbon necklaces striped in bands of fine silver from Doerthe Fuchs ($1,100); sterling silver and ruby rings topped with Poe-esque crows from Mielle Harvey ($900–$1,200); layer-able necklaces with a Victorian-slash-Steampunk vibe from Alexandra Bahlmann ($1,000–$3,000); and colorful string necklaces dotted with thin latex discs by Annemieke Broenink ($130–$200). Reiben hosts cocktail exhibitions for visiting international artists roughly nine times a year. “We’re trying to work with embassies more for those events,” she says. “They’re often very interested when their countrymen come to the U.S. and want to [host] other things for them.”
Washington, D.C.–based architect Robert Cole designed the industrial-feeling space, with considerable input from Reiben. A large floating island dominates the store’s floor plan, featuring slim, streamlined drawers packed with merchandise. Each black velvet–lined drawer features pieces from a single designer; pulling out each drawer feels like unearthing a tiny treasure trove. Despite the layers of merch, the store feels very minimal. “People come in and say, ‘This is all you have?’ and I just laugh,” says Reiben. The shop’s loft-length walls are peppered with small, simple silver nails anchoring avant-garde necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Designer names are hand-penciled directly onto the walls, affecting an irreverent elegance. Pendant lights wrapped in silver wire illuminate pieces displayed on top of the island and run along the borders of the store inside rectangular showcases. With two walls of the shop composed chiefly of glass, “there’s always good energy here,” says Reiben, “even in the dead of winter.”
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