There is only one Goldsmith Gallery in El Dorado County and Kaye Irwin owns it. The gallery has 16 jewelry display cases with diamonds, colored gemstones, wedding rings, estate jewelry, consignment pieces and watches. Irwin and her staff buy gold, offer custom jewelry design and repair, appraisals and even string pearls.
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Irwin is a risk taker and that’s why she purchased the Goldsmith Gallery two-and-a-half years ago from the former owners. “I knew of the store and heard about their retirement sale,” she recalled. “I went in looking for a jewelry camera that I could use in my job managing the jewelry department at Home Consignment. Four days later I had bought the store.”
It was a huge risk at a time when the economy was low and gold prices were high, but Irwin knew she had the skills, the experience and the industry contacts to make it. “I’d been making jewelry since the 1970s when I was a kid and made personalized jewelry as gifts,” she explained. “I opened my own little store in Turlock and we did all the work in-house.”
Irwin later managed jewelry stores in San Diego and Sacramento. “The store in San Diego mined tourmalines and one of my scariest experiences was crawling through a vertical tunnel to view a new tourmaline pit,” she recalled
Then she worked for six years at Home Consignment in Folsom where her skills as a graduate gemologist were in great demand. “But I always wanted my own store again and when I saw the Goldsmith Gallery, it was perfect,” Irwin said. “The owners had really done a great job of setting up the store.”
While Irwin knew she had the skill and the experience to run her own jewelry store, the financial resources were more risky. “But I had a good reputation in the industry and had made a lot of contacts that I knew would help if I needed it.” Filling 16 jewelry cases with fine jewelry at the height of the recession was hard, but, now, a couple of years later, Irwin said, “We made 10 percent more this December than the December before, better than the national average. We’re in a growth mode.”
Surviving a struggling economy took some adaptation.“Not as many people were buying jewelry and those that did needed pieces that were in the $150 to $300 range — hard to do with the high price of gold,” said Irwin. “We do a lot of remounts and restoration. We’re able, skill-wise, and willing, to repair or create anything and do it well. We also try to stock for every price range and have a sterling silver department with some great pieces.” An estate jewelry department also provides lower cost pieces with a unique look.
This year Irwin plans to focus on expanding her men’s jewelry selections. “Men are sometimes ignored by jewelry stores,” she said. “Men’s alternative metals like tungsten and titanium are good looking without the high price of gold.”
She also wants to make more of the store’s jewelry in-house. With two full-time employees and one part-time, including master jeweler Owen Dennis, formerly of Freund’s, Irwin has a great design staff. “We all get involved,” she said. “Recently Owen created a medallion for a couple’s son that reflected all his favorite interests: hunting, gold panning, arrow-making, eagles and baseball. It was beautiful — the whole family cried when he opened it.”
With the resurgence of yellow gold and the popularity of colored diamonds in cognac, pink and yellow, designing custom pieces has gotten even more exciting, said Irwin.
“Designer pieces with diamonds and the price of gold are ridiculously high; we can create similar or better pieces in-house for about half the price and do a great job,” she explained. “We also recycle jewelry, creating something beautiful from older pieces people bring in. There’s a place and a use for everything.”
The Goldsmith Gallery is a risk that Irwin feels paid off. “I really fell into it. This is exactly what I wanted.”
Goldsmith Gallery is located at 3951 Missouri Flat Road, Suite 150 in Placerville. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday; closed Sunday. Call them at 530 621-1188 or visit the Website at goldsmith-gallery.com.