Gnat Jewelry Atelier
69, first generation
Gnat Jewelry Atelier
46, second generation
The amazing story of Itzhak Gnat goes like this: As a young man, Gnat, founder and owner of Denver’s Gnat Jewelry Atelier, co-owned a jewelry manufacturer in his native Israel. By chance, he met a German jeweler with incredible skills—apparently the man had been orphaned and sent to live in a jewelry fabrication factory—who had a one-man shop in an alley near Gnat’s storefront. The young Gnat was so impressed with his artistry, he began to feel like he “knew nothing” about making jewelry, says his son, Raz. For three years, Itzhak asked the jeweler to teach him, and when the artisan finally agreed, Itzhak handed the keys to his business over to his partner, saying something to the effect of “I’m going to learn to make jewelry, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.” As an apprentice, Itzhak worked for free.
Almost half a century later, Itzhak is one of Colorado’s most sought-after custom jewelers and supervises a staff of bench jewelers at his retail business.
Raz tells the story of his father’s beginnings to illustrate Itzhak’s intense dedication to the craft of jewelry–making. “There are many, many things I admire about my father,” he says, “but this is a big one.”
Now the company’s vice president and public relations–marketing man, Raz says when he was a kid, his father’s passion for his work was infectious. Itzhak began teaching his son the trade when he was 15, “probably to keep me off the streets and out of trouble,” laughs Raz. Perhaps as a result, he never seriously considered another career. “It was always in my presence,” and “it turned out to be a good fit for me.”
Together, the father and son are expanding and rebranding their firm this summer, and the new business model pays homage to Old World jewelry craft and new-school retailing.
“We’ve been in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center for over 30 years,” explains Raz, “and we love being here. So we’re opening a second location just a block away. Our current brand”—now renamed Gnat Jewelry Atelier—“is moving to our new location and will become even more high-end; we don’t plan to carry much under $2,000.”
The second store will target “people who want to spend $300 to $600 to buy a gift,” Raz adds. “We’ve been turning this customer away too often. So in the old space, we are going to rebrand [as Gnat Jewelers] and become an affordable jewelry store, with more for gifts and items for self-purchasers. It will be less expensive fine and bridge jewelry—a fun store.”
Raz: Repairing jewelry while working for my dad was one of my first jobs ever. When I was a kid back in Israel, my father was also an artist—a painter and a sculptor. He used to work at home on the balcony. I remember watching him do his art. He also taught me simple techniques in sculpting. While I was going through school, I would work for him when I was available. When I was a teen, jewelry was the easy route. But it eventually became my passion, too.
Itzhak: When I got out of the army in Israel, my cousin said, “You’re artistic, come and work for me at my jewelry business.” I said, “Jewelry?” Fifty years later, I’m still doing it. I wasn’t really surprised when Raz [joined the business]. It just happened. We had, at some point, more than one store and lots of employees and I couldn’t do it all myself. I’m an old bench guy—a goldsmith. I don’t call myself a jeweler. And I knew that he was very artistic, too. Both my kids are.
Raz: My dad’s approach to jewelry-making is like an engineer. He’s very precise. We do CAD, but he prefers the old ways. I went to a Cartier exhibit and looked at the old sketches and thought, Wow, this is how my dad has always made jewelry. It’s also amazing that at 34 years old, with very little English, he sold everything he had in Israel and moved his family to the U.S. for a fresh start. My mom said, “Let’s not sell everything, in case it doesn’t work out.” He said, “We are selling everything so there’s nothing to come back to.” And he did.
Itzhak: What Raz contributes most is being the face of the -business. We have not advertised in years, but he’s out meeting people all the time. That’s how people get to know us and about us. He’s so much better than I am with all the social stuff. I’m old-fashioned, and he embraces so many new ways of doing business.
Raz: I sit down and sketch and design every day, but I really enjoy the business side more. I enjoy interacting with customers. I love when they’ve been shopping around all over town and they find their way to us and we design something they absolutely love.
Itzhak: I’m stuck in my ways. You need to understand that you will have to do lots of compromising at the beginning, but that at some point your kids will know better than you. As the patriarch, you have to know and be willing to know when to let go of the reins. I’m still working on that.
Raz: We have a little bit of old school versus new school happening. We definitely have different points of view. But we’ve come to a place where we know what each other’s best skills are, and respect them. When it comes to marketing and PR, he lets me handle things. When it comes to jewelry design, I let him handle things. And as soon as we lock the door and leave, we are family again. I wouldn’t be here without my father. He knew how to build this business and make it what it is today. I’m just the continuation of that.
Photographs by Rebecca Stumpf
(Top and inset: Raz Gnat and his father, Itzhak, at Gnat Jewelry Atelier)