Why Jewelry Retailers Think It’s Cool to Support American-Made Merchandise

You don’t need to tell these three retailers how cool it is to support American artisans. They’ve known for years.

While some store owners are just warming up to the idea of promoting American-made merchandise, three others—located in Santa Fe, N.M.; Seattle; and Vero Beach, Fla.—are wondering what took everyone else so long. Learn how they’ve capitalized on the American-made movement and forge your own sales path by taking inspiration from their domestically minded marketing.

The Minimalists An oasis of calm in the chaos of ­Southwest’s Santa Fe, N.M., the 14-year-old Patina Gallery is ­surrounded by dozens of Native American jewelry artists bumping elbows at crowded sidewalk displays of handmade silver and ­turquoise. The hybrid store-gallery run by Allison and Ivan Barnett offers what its neighbors do not: a well-edited ­selection of American—but not Native American—­jewelry and fine arts with a clean, sculptural aesthetic, ­showcased in a serene setting.

Works by of one of Patina Gallery’s featured artists, Claire Kahn

“It’s not artisanal at all, but it’s also not the old-fashioned jewelry store look, either,” says Petra Class, one of the store’s featured artists. “It’s what I would call ‘minimalist American.’?”

Driving home the clutter-free and Richard Serra–esque vibe are sculptures, paintings by Suzy Wahl, and more jewels by the likes of Sandra Enterline and Barbara Heinrich. The store is so simply outfitted, in fact, that even the names of the jewelry designers themselves often aren’t displayed in cases. “Many of our clients don’t care who makes it,” says Ivan. “The Patina Gallery is about an experience in the new world of retailing.”

A Lapis Mosaic bracelet in 18k and 22k yellow gold with lapis lazuli by Petra Class ($8,900)

The store’s other signature experiences include holding private in-store functions for groups visiting the city; hosting buying events in museums, even those located out of state; and inviting artists to create their art in the store, providing customers with an opportunity to see ­jewelry made from scratch—a bit of theatricality that was inspired, curiously enough, by Cirque du Soleil. (“What draws people to Cirque du Soleil? Watching amazing talent doing amazing things,” Ivan recently told the Harvard Business Review, which profiled the pair.)

The unconventional marketing has earned the shop countless accolades and media mentions—both ­jewelry-specific and mainstream—as well as a worldwide reputation. “Santa Fe is an international destination and the third-largest art destination in the country,” says Ivan. “Our trademark is ‘Soul-Stirring Works,’ which means not just selling a wonderful item, but moving the buyer to a deeper place.”

Seattle’s Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, which also prizes the art of the written word

The Publisher For years, Karen Lorene brainstormed ways to thank her best customers for keeping her in business. The owner of Seattle’s Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery—which specializes in American-made jewelry and art—showed her gratitude to patrons by gifting them objects from magnets to candy to picture frames. Nine years ago, however, she came up with an idea that seemed much more lasting: a piece of writing.

After all, Lorene already had written a book on buying antiques and had been honing her craft by meeting with a writing group for more than 10 years. So she decided to publish a literary magazine once a year and mail it to her best customers. The timing would coincide with one of her six annual in-store art events, and she would invite published writers like poet laureates and heads of university writing departments to craft essays, poems, or fast-fiction works of 1,000 words or less about a piece of jewelry to be displayed during the event.

Photograph by Doug Yaple
Facèré features this Cynthia Toops Wolf and Dog brooch/pendant in polymer micromosaic and sterling silver, with metalwork by Chuck Domitrovich ($3,655)

“We give the writer two months to look at it to capture what it means,” she says. “If [the jewel] is whimsical, their piece might be whimsical, but it can’t be about the ­jewelry. I’m not looking for a jewelry writer. I’m looking for a literary writer.”

She then prints about 1,000 copies of Signs of Life, 300 of which are mailed prior to opening night. “In a very tiny way, we are doing what BajaArtists.com magazine does in bringing artists together from all over to influence each other,” she adds. Signs is now entering its ninth year of publication. Her store, meanwhile, features the works of 51 different jewelry artists—two-thirds of them American—as well as two cases of estate pieces. With every sale, Lorene gives buyers an envelope containing the artist’s bio, articles about the artist, and a personal letter stating that the customer has “entered into the world of collecting,” she says.

Laughing Dog jeweler Suzy Landa’s 18k white, yellow, and rose gold rings, some with diamonds ($825–$6,490)

The Craftsmen When Susie and Jeffery Wilber opened the Laughing Dog Gallery in Vero Beach, Fla., 13 years ago, they had one goal: to be a 100 percent American-made art destination. And while it hasn’t always been easy, their mission has been facilitated by educating customers about the benefits of supporting American artists and by a staff of craftspeople with firsthand knowledge of the handmade merchandise.

“We’ve had ceramicists, photographers, and ­jewelry artists work for us, and they appreciate what goes into making something by hand,” says Susie. “They teach the customers to appreciate what we have.”

Susie maintains that she never set out to employ artists, but just as enthusiasts of domestic-made goods have found their way into the store, so have many artists looking for extra work. About 80 percent of the Wilbers’ staffers are artists, some of whose work has been carried in store, and about 70 percent of the gallery’s inventory consists of jewelry by artists such as Suzy Landa, Somers, and Elements + Alloys.

One employee, a trained ceramicist, developed such a love for art glass that “everybody thought she blew glass because she knew so much about it,” says Susie. “We don’t have a high-pressure sales environment, but our sales come from a greater knowledge of the product.”

Left: Two Bull Mastiffs greet customers at the Laughing Dog Gallery; right: leather and silver bracelets by Laughing Dog artist Somers ($450–$690)

Laughing Dog also sends buyers home with artists’ stories and advertises itself as a place to buy ­American-made art.

“I’m glad we stuck with the artist angle,” she reflects. “It’s like having a Mac; when they first came on the market, people thought you were out of your mind if you bought one, but then it became so hip and cool to buy one. That’s what buying American-made is like now.”

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