218 Church St., San Francisco
Those who say size matters clearly haven’t visited Fiat Lux. The jewelry store, founded in 2011 by husband and wife Alexei Angelides and Marie McCarthy, is no larger than a standard walk-in closet—about 100 square feet in all. Yet miraculously, the owners have managed to imbue the Mission District space with a distinct point of view and attitude to spare. Most of the rings, necklaces, and bracelets boast geometric designs and unusually colored rocks and rare gems. “Weirdo stuff with diamonds,” McCarthy says. “The weirder, the better—that’s our game.”
The Accidental Jewelers
Angelides and McCarthy didn’t set out to be jewelers. When the pair met in 2008, McCarthy owned a tattoo parlor in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and Angelides was a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Stanford University. McCarthy once owned a small jewelry store and always swore she’d open another. That chance came in 2011, when the future Dr. Angelides found the current space, a former food pantry with exposed brick on three sides. Fiat Lux started as McCarthy’s shop but soon became collaborative. By early 2012, Angelides had taught himself how to make jewelry and had taken over most of the production. “Being an academic, I didn’t have many chances to get my hands dirty,” he says. “This was quite a treat.”
About half of the pieces at Fiat Lux are part of a house line called Tempus, which McCarthy designs and Angelides makes. Many of the items have a Masonic feel—symmetrical, with angled lines and chunky stones. McCarthy describes them as “girly, but a little rock ’n’ roll.” One of her signature designs is an elongated hexagon that is an eccentric take on the wedjat, or Egyptian evil eye, elements of which appear in rings and necklaces throughout the store. (It also looks a bit like a modern arrowhead.) Another standout piece: a ring shaped like a thick lightning bolt that features silver-veined gray quartz. Manager Laura Bowman says more customers try on this piece than any other.
San Fran and Beyond
Fiat Lux features work from more than two dozen local and regional jewelers and makers—a collection that includes knives, massive necklaces, vintage sunglasses, ornamental goat-head hammers, and everything in between. In one display there’s a woven wool necklace from fabric artist Faye Kendall; in another, rings with the detailed face of a cat by Greek designer Sanktoleono. “When we first opened, it was all local; now it’s about half local and about half not,” Angelides says. “Above all else, the focus is small-batch handmade.”
Because Fiat Lux is one block from a Muni stop, it gets tons of foot traffic during the evening commute. Over the years the diversity of this crowd has prompted the owners to cater to all price points. One case might contain a $40 ring and a $1,000 bracelet—to say nothing of their wedding jewelry selection, with pieces ranging from about $60 to $9,900. McCarthy says this enables her and her husband to remain responsive to customers: “We like to say we have something for everybody.” For such a small shop, that’s a pretty big deal.
Photographs by Angela DeCenzo
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