4301 Tennyson St., Denver
At the corner of 43rd and Tennyson Street in Denver’s evolving Berkeley neighborhood, Sarah O. Jewelry’s classic black and white striped awning cheerily beckons. Opened in April 2015 to feature her fine jewelry designs and “couture meets casual” sensibility, it’s the second boutique on the street for Sarah Ortega, owner of Ooh! Aah! Jewelry at 4216 Tennyson. Inside, floating walnut cases line the room, while brick and whitewashed-wood walls and distressed-wood floors celebrate the elements of nature each display contains. Jewelry rests on cut agate, burlap-covered forms, and aspen wood that her husband, local realtor Mic Ortega, cut from their own yard.
Photographs by Rebecca Stumpf
From Ooh! Aah! to Sarah O.
The success of Ooh! Aah!, which offers Ortega’s own trendy pieces, plus other designers’ lines—coupled with clients’ entreaties for custom platinum and gold designs—inspired the new Sarah O. line and namesake boutique. “I had so many couples coming into Ooh! Aah! Jewelry looking for a unique [bridal] ring they couldn’t find anywhere else,” Ortega says. When a bike shop across the street shuttered, she pounced on the chance to create the sanctuary-like space where shoppers now come in and collaborate with her.
“We love taking elements from the outside in,” Ortega says. The same applies to her Denver-made Sarah O. collection. “[Mic and I] were on a hike, and I was looking at a tree and thought it would be cool to do a tree texture,” she says, pointing to the bark-like grain in a man’s gold wedding band. “I like my designs to be organic.” At once dainty and edgy, the Sarah O. bridal line—priced roughly $2,000–$5,000—is designed to be mixed and matched, so the wearer can change the look of a set by adding a different metal or stone in the second ring or stacking multiple rings. A few of her favorite materials at the moment: peach sapphires, rough-cut diamonds, and rose and yellow gold.
Denver on Display
While much of the jewelry, such as the rough-cut diamond rings and necklaces on display, represents the Sarah O. line, the store carries several brands bearing a similar aesthetic. “I pick and choose from designers I really love,” says Ortega, who stocks selections from Lika Behar, Anna Beck, and Michelle Pressler, plus men’s brands Heavy Stone Rings, Benchmark, Alamea, and Denver-based Gem & Blue.
Building Up Berkeley
Ortega came to Denver from Albuquerque, N.M.—where her mother, Mary Vigil, has owned the original Ooh! Aah! for some 30 years—to attend Regis University, studying math and fine arts. But her time in her mother’s boutique drew her back to jewelry. After interning with Denver designer John Atencio, in 2006 she brought Ooh! Aah! to Berkeley—then a diamond in the rough. “I thought it would be great. And when we opened,” she recalls, smiling, “I heard crickets.” She worked with the Berkeley merchants’ association to push the neighborhood’s economic presence, including creating its own First Friday Artwalk. “Now, on Fridays and Saturdays, there are so many people, we can’t find parking.”
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