The Story of Green Lake Jewelry Works
My cousin and I started a small repair and custom trade shop in Atlanta in the late ‘80s. I was going to school for industrial engineering and needed a better way to pay for college. He knew jewelry making, and I had more of a business mind, so we combined our efforts, each contributing our specialties.
After almost a decade of trade work, I recognized a niche in higher volume custom, specifically bridal, work. So in 1996, I sold my 5-man trade shop and moved to Seattle to open Green Lake Jewelry Works. That was before the internet was popular and digital cameras were still new and expensive. However, we bought a digital camera, added a website long before most, and were ultra-early adopters of CAD/CAM technology.
Green Lake Jewelry Works was always a custom-first (and practically only) operation. We have never been a jewelry store as much as a shop with a studio showroom attached. As I mentioned, being early adopters of new technology and trends has always been our signature. For example, we were casting platinum when many jewelers were still learning how to work on antique platinum pieces and were still focused on white gold.
But it seems the greatest differentiator for us has been our emphasis on using our website for everything from our portfolio to our production control systems. One key element of this is having a developer on staff. We hired our first full-time developer somewhere around 2002, allowing us to build a world-class website for a one shop operation.
Flash Forward 30 Years
Green Lake Jewelry Works: Awarded INSTORE’s Coolest Store in 2012 & 2017*
*2nd place, Bellevue location – Read more here
My stores are not “Tuttle Designs” or “Jim’s Fine Jewelry.” The main reason we are what we are is just that; Green Lake Jewelry Works is an amazing team of some of the finest designers, CAD modelers, bench jewelers and other jewelry professionals under one (well, now TWO) roofs. We all work toward a common goal, creating new, bespoke designs of the highest quality at approachable prices every day. That is the magic sauce! And the look and feel of our locations are direct corollaries to this.
Our locations are shops first, and showrooms second. As manufacturing jewelers, we obviously need a lot of shop and design space. By making our shops visible, visitors watch us create. The look of the showrooms is simply an extension of our artistic and creative sides. Our staff did the physical layout and all of the decorative work — the floors, blown glass lights, and cabinetry. We added large Espresso bars for two reasons: Seattle coffee culture and because our clients tend to spend quite a lot of time in the shop and we wanted to offer drinks and snacks.
Green Lake’s core idea is to bring bench jewelers onto the show floor so customers can see them at work. I started the shop to give my fellow artists and myself a place to meet and work directly with clients. Today, making an open kitchen or open shop is commonplace, and people love to watch our masters at work. But back in the ‘90s, before “Dirty Jobs” made work cool, this idea was all new. To me, it made perfect sense. I didn’t want to hide the artists doing the work in a back room.
We also wanted to highlight the concept that we make all jewelry in-house. To make this happen, the entire shop — from mills and lathes to polishing machines and benches full of microscopes, to heavy equipment — simply HAD to be visible. Also, we use a row of monitors in our stores to view design examples from our website, CAD renders, and to search our gemstone inventory, while writing up jobs live on the floor with the client.
As I mentioned, we were early adopters of most technologies and Matrix® is a good example of that. We’ve had Matrix since beta, Revo Mill 8, as well as growing and 3D printers since way back. We were also in the initial group of outside designers building models for CounterSketch®. Today, the bulk of our conceptual design work begins on pencil and paper. Then, virtually every piece we make is CAD modeled. Most are rendered for design approval and then milled or grown for casting.
The Future of Cool Stores
Our Bellevue location is pretty close to my ideal shop of the future. We built our design stations around our designers’ needs with touchscreens, all-in-one computers, and benches with all new Leica scopes and top-end equipment. We have Eastern and Northern light from tall windows, a giant projection screen, and soft cloud-like shop lighting. If the location were 50% larger, a dedicated jewelers school along with pearl and watch departments attached would make the place perfect!
If and when we expand to another area, I would like to position us in a larger market and create a true super shop. This space would be nearly 15,000 sq. ft., with more perks like onsite education for both the public and those in the trade.
I can’t overstress the principle that custom is no longer a niche, but the mainstream. It is vital for today’s independent jeweler to survive. And finally, for jewelers who are reading this, raise your prices. We cannot afford loss leader departments any longer.