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Jewelry Designer Belle Brooke Barer Found an Inspiring Space in Santa Fe – and She’s There to Stay

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“I didn’t have any hesitation about it.”

Jewelry designer Belle Brooke Barer has always had a hands-on relationship with her art.

Now, with the opening of her studio and retail gallery on Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, Barer’s bench work is visible to shoppers, leaving no doubt about how and where it’s made.

Serendipity and the perfect space led Barer to open her first retail location in Santa Fe late last year. And although Santa Fe is often associated with turquoise jewelry made by Native Americans, “not everybody in Santa Fe is looking for traditional Southwestern jewelry,” she says. Barer’s distinctive designs are clean, modern and geometric.

Barer had been living and working in Taos, but when her daughter’s school closed, she decided to move to Santa Fe. When she made an appointment to check out an adobe-style building on Canyon Road, she quickly realized that not only was it perfect for an artist’s studio, but there was an adjacent space that could be a small retail gallery. “This is the only spot I looked at,” she says. “I didn’t have any hesitation about it.”

What’s not to love, with its generous natural light, beamed ceiling and wood-burning fireplace? The grand opening was Nov. 5.

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Since Barer opened during the tourist off-season, the transition to retail has been gradual, giving her time to adjust from her previous work environment in a more isolated converted-garage studio in Taos. The biggest change so far has been moving from behind the trade show style case to side-by-side selling. She sells her jewelry wholesale to 10 retailers currently as well.

Canyon Road is home to a miles-long stretch of more than 100 galleries, many of them showing contemporary art. She has good reason to be optimistic about tourist traffic come spring. One of her neighbors says a slow day at the height of the season – June through October – could mean 50 visitors. Her gallery shares a parking lot (a rare amenity on Canyon Road) with the popular Tea House cafe.

She’s looking forward to meeting shoppers herself and so far, they have shown a lot of interest in the space, the jewelry and the workshop.

Barer didn’t always expect to have a career in jewelry. But while studying photography in college, Barer made and sold jewelry at a farmer’s market.

And when the world switched almost overnight to digital photography, she also switched gears, quitting her photography job to get professional training in jewelry, and working as a bench jeweler and goldsmith before launching her own business, Belle Brooke Designs in Los Angeles in 2006. In 2007 she won a business-development grant and in 2008 she was named best new designer of the year at JANY. She went on to win a Saul Bell design award.

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“I don’t enjoy working with computers,” she explains. “I liked working with my hands and the material. I don’t do any of the CAD and that stuff. There’s a place for it in jewelry, but it isn’t like with digital photography, where once everything switched, film is just about gone. Now, just because CAD exists, doesn’t mean we have to do it.”

She’s drawn to the art of goldsmithing because the techniques used today aren’t much different from how it has been done for hundreds of years. “I strongly believe that my generation needs to leave something more tangible behind than just a digital footprint.” Each piece at Belle Brooke Designs is made using traditional tools and techniques, with human hands.

Classical black and white photography had an influence on her jewelry design from the beginning, specifically its characteristics of contrast, form and strong lines with a three-dimensional element. She’s also been inspired by early 20th-century industrial objects and even rusted, dilapidated factories. And by textbook depictions of microorganisms.

“A lot of things we build and make are modeled on nature,” she says.

Her geometric designs have evolved over the years to become what she describes as less chunky and more refined. She’s now working on a series of rings, featuring open space in their structure for an eye-catching sculptural look.

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She and an assistant/goldsmith, Amanda Augustine, make jewelry by hand in the workshop, separated only by an open doorway in the light-splashed adobe space that was at one time in its history a stable and at another time the gallery of Ryan Roberts, an award-winning New Mexican jeweler who happens to be a friend of hers.

Although she’s moving into retail, she’ll be drawing the line at custom work and any kind of repairs, to minimize stress.

“This is not the kind of store where you can bring in your repairs, or have somebody remake your granny’s brooch into something new,” she says. “I don’t want to feel stressed out by custom projects or scary repair work.”

Her studio came with plenty of New Mexican character so didn’t need to add much beyond comfortable seating and modern, rustic showcases made for her by Couty Designs in Albuquerque of reclaimed wood and steel.

Her entire business and gallery has an eco ethos.

She uses 100 percent recycled metals and thoughtfully sourced gemstones and diamonds in her jewelry. The work of other artists she shows in the gallery is also very green.

The gallery features photographs by the artist’s mother, Cara Barer, who recycles books into sculptures and creates digital images of them to pay homage to the printed word. Also featured is work by Wyoming artist, Cristin Zimmer, who uses found windows and latex paint to create contemporary images with a Western theme. Visitors to the gallery will also find classical and modern sculpture in marble and recycled aluminum by New Mexico artist Britt Brown, who creates work using the human form. 

“It’s an inspiring space,” Barer says. “Of all the places I’ve worked – and there have been many because I’ve moved around a lot – this is my favorite for sure. And now that I have these gigantic, heavy showcases in here, I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay.”

Pendant design from Belle Brooke Barer.


This article is an online extra for INSTORE Online.

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The owner of a new Colorado jewelry store gave her sales team a steep challenge. In this one-minute excerpt of the latest "Over the Counter", hear how the goal was set ... and learn what she did when they reached their goal. Catch the full podcast here.

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Jewelry Store Closes After 50+ Years, but ‘We’re Not Done Yet,’ Says Owner’s Son

‘More than one customer had tears in their eyes.’

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Shown here is Andy's Jewelry in 1962.

Looking back more than 50 years, one of Keith Anderson’s earliest memories is sliding in his socks across the polished terrazzo entrance to his father’s jewelry store in Blue Ridge, GA.

Built in 1962, when Anderson was 5, the building is still there, butting in the back to the tracks now used by a tourist train that is one of the town’s biggest attractions. And the old mosaic spelling out Andy’s Jewelry is still there, inlaid in the terrazzo at the front.

The store itself is gone, however, one of 52 jewelry stores reported to the Jewelers Board of Trade as closed or sold during October.

“It was an awful thing,” says Anderson of the closing of a local institution, which dates back to 1949, when his grandfather opened up to do watch maintenance for the railroad. “More than one customer had tears in their eyes.”

Anderson shed some tears of his own. The store, he says, was “an anchor in my life,” he says, and even now when he passes the old building, leased to a dress shop, “I still have ideas of leasing it back. Anything can happen.”

But probably not that, he admits. Since 1980, Anderson has had a small design studio, TK Anderson Designs, a little over 100 miles away in Athens. After his father died 20 years ago, Anderson’s mother, Betty, ran the old store and Anderson divided his time between the two. Since Betty Anderson’s death in 2017, the demands on his time became a strain, even for a man who says “I have always had a bad habit of working too much.”

Plus, Anderson and his brother and sister, co-owners of Andy’s Jewelry, received “a tremendous offer” for the property, which sits in the middle of a highly desirable area in booming Blue Ridge.

So Anderson is resigned to the sale, more or less, even if he still rents a storage space containing all the miscellany he moved out of the store’s catch-all basement — leftovers from Anderson’s grandfather’s time, everything from hair dryers to musical instruments.

Before Anderson’s father built the new place to focus on jewelry, the store was “a kind of neighborhood Walmart,” in the words of Anderson’s son, Wes.

Wes Anderson, 30, works full-time with his dad in the Athens studio, running the design operation with state-of-the-art CAD equipment that leaves Keith Anderson awed by its capabilities.

Even considering the internet and its enormous effect on sales, he thinks the computer-aided design is the biggest thing to have changed in the jewelry business during his long tenure.

By the time he was 12, Anderson had his own miniature bench and an electric soldering iron to do “repairs” in the back of the store.

“I never really thought of doing anything else,” he says, so after college, he returned to Blue Ridge and the family business.

“I am not much of a numbers guy,” says Anderson. “I never took the route that would make me the most money. I was lucky to find something to do that I loved.”

And that’s the secret, he says, to success in any business. “Find something you love and just love it.”

Wes Anderson started working off and on at the Athens design studio while he was in town as a student at the University of Georgia. After graduation, he joined full time.

“I was shocked,” says Keith Anderson. “You know, things happen, and I had had a divorce from his mother, and I think he just felt sorry for me at first. But he really jumped in, and after a year he had found his place here.”

Wes Anderson does most of the design work these days, as his father moves gradually toward retirement, possibly next year.

“I won’t buy a condo in Florida and sit,” he says. “I have always wanted to be an artist-jeweler instead of jewelry-store-owner jeweler. For me, retirement is getting to make jewelry that I want to make for myself.

“I have a beautiful collection of stones, waiting on me to play with.”

Recently, father and son worked together on CAD to transform one of those stones into a five-carat diamond engagement ring that sold for more than $150,000, representing the largest single sale of Keith Anderson’s long career.

“Legacy is important to both of us,” says Wes Anderson. “And we’re not done yet.”

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Founder of Kessler’s Diamond Center Out

Shown here is the interior of a Kessler’s Diamond Center store.

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Richard Kessler, who founded Kessler’s Diamond Center in Wisconsin and for years served as its CEO, has left the company, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

In a statement, the company’s board of directors said his final day was Nov. 7. It did not provide a reason for his departure.

“As a 100 percent employee-owned company, our employee owners are committed to continue moving the company forward,” the board stated. “We have had a leadership succession plan in place since July of 2017.”

He founded the company in 1980 in Menomonee Falls, WI. He is well known in the region for his radio ads promoting the company.

INSTORE profiled Kessler’s Grand Rapids, MI, location in a Cool Stores feature last year. The article noted that the company had seven locations in all, with a total of 127 employees.

Read more at the Wisconsin State Journal

 

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Marie Antoinette’s Jewels Sell for $36M

Other key items sold in the $2M+ range.

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This pearl and diamond pendant sold for $36 million at auction.

A pearl and diamond pendant that was owned by Marie Antoinette, queen of France, who died in 1793, sold at auction for more than $36 million, CNN reports.

Sotheby’s had touted Marie Antoinette’s collection as “one of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to come to auction.”

The pendant had been predicted to sell for only $1 million to $2 million. The sale took place in Geneva.

The sale resulted in a new auction record for a natural pearl, according to Sotheby’s.

According to CNN, other items in the collection that sold for significant amounts included:

  • A pearl and diamond necklace ($2.2 million)
  • A diamond double-ribbon-bow brooch ($2.1 million).
  • A “monogram ring with woven strands of Antoinette’s hair” ($440,000).

Read more at CNN

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