P eter Indorf is everywhere. He’s on the wrist of the woman waiting in line behind you at Elm City Market; he’s on the left hand of your radiologist; he’s dangling from the ears of that dazzling presenter at the benefit.
It was in 1969 that the affable Peter, with his gap-toothed smile and twinkling eyes, started selling his hand-made jewelry; his first studio was in the back of an International Harvester parked near Berkeley, California. “The truck had a little workshop, a cot, a pot-bellied stove,” he recalls, with a fond grin that suggests that the place was a perfect world unto itself. He was a hardcore hippie back then – that part hasn’t changed much – today, however, this hippie heads up a multi-million dollar business that includes a 2,000-square-foot showroom and workshop in Madison, and a smallish, beloved jewelry store on Chapel Street.
Peter grew up in Meriden, and like so many of his Woodstock generation brethren, he “barely finished high school” and left home at the age of 17. “I had a good art teacher,” he says. “He encouraged me, but I am pretty much self-taught when it comes to jewelry.” (That teacher, Jordan Abeshouse, was head of the art department at Lyman Hall H.S. and later became a client of Peter’s.)
While living in California ashrams and being something of a yoga nomad, Peter discovered that by pursuing jewelry-making, he could both make and sell his art. “I was cranking out rings in the back of the truck, making jewelry at picnic tables with a propane torch, then running them into San Francisco. I’d sell them all, then go to
Peter Indorf Jewelers
1022 Chapel Street, New Haven (map)
Mon-Wed 10m-6pm; Thurs 10am – 8pm; Fri-Sat 10am – 6pm
203-776-4833 | email@example.com
Berkeley to buy materials, and start again.”
Peter thought he was going to spend the rest of his life in on the West Coast. But marriage and a child brought him back to Connecticut, where he was made resident jeweler at Olde Ways, a legendary Chapel Street artisan’s shop. “My specialty was designing leather necklaces with silver hooks and beads and nuggets of turquoise,” he recalls.
In 1972, he opened Peter Indorf Jewelers at the corner of Chapel and Park Streets, in a spot vacated by friend and noted goldsmith Derek Simpson. “That’s when I graduated from craftsman to jeweler,” explains Peter. “I became certified, got involved with the American Gem Society, and got into gemology, diamonds and precious stones. I became a certified gemologist appraiser, which is the highest title for an accredited gem lab. The combination of art and science gave confidence to a lot of people.”
While Peter’s following grew, he welcomed two brothers into the fold: Paul, who took on the appraisals, and John, who is now the only Certified Master Bench Jeweler in the state of Connecticut.
Time to grow again: in the mid-1990s, Peter Indorf Jewelers moved up the street, closer to the New Haven Green, where it remains
today. In the meantime, the Indorfs opened an expansive new place in Madison, housing both a showroom and the main workshop. In 2007, the company opened yet another store in Old Saybrook; although it was gorgeous, the timing was poor. The recession hit, the company floundered a bit, and that location was shuttered. The decision to close wasn’t entirely based on finances, however: Peter wanted to keep his business personal — and nimble — in a “people over profits” kind of way.
“My heart lies in the design and creation of jewelry,” says the artist (who is also a talented photographer, by the way). “Everything here is based on happy times in people’s lives, celebrations of occasions. We actualize what’s in people’s hearts.”
That actualization has changed dramatically since Peter’s back-of-a-truck days. CAD/CAM technology has advanced to the point where much of his custom design work is a computer-aided process allowing clients’ dreams to be rendered via sophisticated programming. With that done, “we can more quickly explore and show alternative designs,” the intent being always to have the client satisfied with the final design choice. Though Peter’s enchanting drawings still line the walls of his Chapel Street shop – most created in colored pencil on black paper – he’s also pleased to show off handsome designs on his iPad.
How wonderful, then, in a “something old/something new” sort of way, to view grandma’s diamonds reborn in a ring to please a modern bride. Besides re-setting heirloom gems, Peter helps his clients “liquidate jewelry they don’t want” – that is, the company buys precious stones and gold, often over the counter, and, in many cases, re-uses it in the manufacturing of new pieces.
Peter Indorf is now celebrating 40 years on Chapel Street. Though he’s always creating fresh designs and collections with the latest gadgets, his profession is ancient, and his daily life is punctuated by a stream of glad stories from customers across the decades. This suits him just fine. “I’ve been through hell and back, and I’ve never been happier,” he says. “I’ll probably never retire… they’ll have to carry me out of here.”
Written by Todd Lyon. Photographed by Hayward Gatling.