Professional Jeweler Archive: Jewelry for Jewelry's Sake

October 2000


Jewelry for Jewelry's Sake

Gallery focuses on the art of design

Many industry traditionalists like to describe jewelry as art, but nevertheless do business in stores that scream “retail.” Merchandise is crowded into cases and tagged with its price. Brand names dominate design. And jewelry’s value is determined by its traditional high-end/high-margin materials, such as platinum and diamonds.

An art gallery requires a different sort of image, so Sienna Patti dispensed with all that. Sienna Gallery features non-traditional jewelry made by mostly unknown artisans from materials that are often surprising.

Located in a 600-sq.-ft., light-filled studio in artsy downtown Lenox, MA, the gallery depends on tourist traffic generated by the Berkshires and the nearby Tanglewood music camp. From June to October, it’s open seven days a week.

Recent exhibitions have included enamel and metal jewelry by Barbara Seidenath and Johan van Aswegen, foam arm bands by Efharis Alepidis and paper-and-gold pieces by Hisako Etoh. One artist has produced rings made from wax impressions of braided hair and cast in silver; another made crocheted frog’s legs brooches.

For its first anniversary, the gallery hosted an exhibit of material found within one mile of each artist’s studio.

Jewelry Is Exhibited

At Sienna Gallery, jewelry is “exhibited” not displayed. The difference can be subtle. Jewelry is shown alone or with other items by the same maker. There are no price tags, and Patti eschews ring stands and other props. “There is nothing in the cases to support the work,” she says. “It’s about letting the work be alone.”

Roughly half of the gallery’s items are replaced every few weeks as shows begin and end. Another distinction: If an item is sold in the middle of a show, the customer has to wait for delivery.

“Most customers understand and are proud to say their jewelry was in a show,” says Patti, 25, who opened the studio in June 1999.

Gallery Operation

Sienna Gallery is one of just four U.S. galleries exhibiting only jewelry, says Patti. It shows the work of up to 30 artists at once, but often features single or small groups of artists in special exhibitions. Exhibiting artists also lecture on their work at a local art school.

“It’s important to me that I represent the artists well – not only their jewelry but also what their jewelry is about,” says Patti. “The intrinsic value of the items lies in the fact they are all handmade and unique.”

Like most galleries, Sienna has the significant advantage of not having to buy pieces. Instead, they’re sold on consignment, with a 50/50 split. Prices range from $150 to $16,000 and average $2,000, says Patti.

Of course, avant-garde merchandise has its limits. “The focus of our exhibits is on non-precious materials, but we sell the gold more,” says Patti. “It’s a leap for people to buy jewelry that’s not gold or silver.”

This can present an obstacle for customers with technical questions. Patti can attest to her artists’ technical competence, but has no background in the jewelry industry. “Fortunately, there’s a gemologist in town who travels all over the world and really knows his rocks,” she says. “I don’t know anything about that, so I refer (questions) there.”

– by Mark E. Dixon

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications