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My First Time: Eve Alfillé

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My First Time: Eve Alfillé

BY THE INSTORE TEAM

Published in the June 2012 issue.

It was in the ’70s. I was an art fair jeweler, an artist who had just graduated from bending brass welding rods to working in real sterling. I was afraid to price anything over $40. Hell, I was afraid to even mention price.

I got a call from a man who had taken my card at an art fair: “I want you to design a simple wire necklace for my wife,” he said, “in 18K gold.”

18K! You might as well have asked me to take a trip to the moon. I was scared. Terrified.

“How much will it be?” he asked. I had no idea. It would be about 18 inches of 18-gauge wire, and me and my pliers. I took a plunge, stammering: “Uh, about $350? Is that OK?” I wanted to sink into the ground.

“That seems reasonable,” he said. “But I need it delivered Monday.”

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He gave an address in the wealthy northern suburbs. Trouble was, Monday my family and I were going on vacation to Florida. But he’d already hung up, so the great chase was on. Forget packing, this was more urgent.

Where does one procure gold wire? Especially 18K, not an American staple in the 1970s. There was no Internet to do a search. I hadn’t yet heard of Rio Grande, Hoover and Strong, or of any other major suppliers. When I needed findings I’d buy costume jewelry on sale at the department store and take it apart.

But luck was on my side: someone mentioned a small local supplier downtown, and, yes, they could let me have a length of gold wire, just enough for the necklace, but I would have to pay cash — they could not trust me, an outsider, with a check.

So there I was, absolutely terrified to put the pliers to the shiny yellow metal. It was gold, after all! I dragged my feet all weekend: What if I mess it up? But when I finally got hold of the wire and bent it into a curve, it responded to my fingers very adroitly: Easier in a way than silver, it offered just enough resistance to give me time to consider the arc of the neck it would soon encircle. I was proud, amazed, and ecstatic: I had done it, I had created a piece in gold!

In the fashion of the period, no soldering was needed, just bending the wire, giving it a graceful angle, then bending the ends into a hook and eye. And for this I was going to get paid $350!

We loaded the car for vacation, the kids in the back, my husband at the wheel. But first we had a stop to make. Sitting in the passenger seat, nervously I clutched the address. I had rubbed the gold with a chamois cloth until it shone deep. The necklace was in my lap, the box kept open so I could admire it and savor the fear and joy of knowing I was about to become a real jeweler.

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We stopped in his circle drive: I rang. There he was. He opened the box, nodded, “Yes, that’s what she wants. She saw one at T**’s, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay what they want.”

He handed me a check, the door closed. We drove in silence. I’d have the whole trip to figure out exactly how I was now supposed to feel.

BY Eve Alfillé; Eve. J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio, Evanston, IL

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