Golden Touch

R ocks and foil wrappers were among Alexis Gage’s favorite playthings as a child. Decades later, she still plays with solid and shiny things, only now she uses a blowtorch. 

Gage’s business card identifies her simply as a “goldsmith,” but she’s also a designer, certified gemologist and retail business owner with an appointment-only showroom in an industrial building not far from downtown. A series of glass cases showcasing her hand-built, one-of-a-kind jewelry is lit to create a magical ambiance on a dark winter afternoon, and an antique gilded mirror captures the sparkle. Here, you can browse some of Gage’s wares: a necklace made of unique 18-karat gold triangle links interspersed with huge, gray-green Tahitian pearls (“not your grandmother’s pearls”); a pair of earrings made of rosy-cheeked watermelon tourmaline stones in five-pronged gold settings; a black corded choker wrapped with a spiral of gold and hung with five polished purple tanzanite gemstones.

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Gage, who takes commissions for custom pieces, strives to create elevated jewelry that’s still wearable in today’s more casual world, “not just something that sits in a jewelry box and maybe gets worn once or twice a year.” She points to a beaded necklace of lightly polished emeralds in crystalline form and notes it would look great with a plain white blouse and a pair of jeans.

Gage has intentionally avoided opening a storefront, preferring her small workspace and private showroom. When clients come, they can linger, try on existing pieces, talk about what they’d like and “be relaxed and just try and play,” she says. She understands that purchasing jewelry from her can be “a big commitment.” Most of it is priced from $650 to $1500, though some pieces might run as high as $7,000 (exclusive of engagement rings, which often cost more). She’ll do her best to work within customers’ budgets by scaling pieces down or purchasing less expensive stones to create a similar effect.

A native of Greater New Haven and an alumna of St. Thomas’s Day School, Gage finished her secondary education at Phillips Exeter Academy, where she was a combination artist, scholar and athlete, then bucked the system and went not to a prestigious college but to design school, where she completed a double concentration in textiles and metalsmithing. She started by working in copper and silver and learned computer-aided design and metal casting. After a few years of bench experience in San Francisco and Vermont, Gage enrolled in the Gemological Institute of America in New York City and became a certified gemologist. Finally, while working as a jeweler in Stamford, she began the transition to owning her own business.

Though she has the skills to cast metal and sometimes does so to meet a client’s budget, mostly she works today by hand. “I’m totally inspired by antiquity and how things were made before electricity,” she says. She’d prefer to do her goldsmithing “as the craft initially was developed.” The resulting “organic” pieces, in all their unique irregularity, “really have a beating heart.”

Wearing a black apron and a pair of safety goggles, Gage sits down at her bench. Her tidy workspace is decorated with a vase of orange tulips, bright and colorful against a window gray with rain. Arrayed along two benches she inherited from her late grandfather—he died before she was born, “but I always feel like he’s part of everything I make”—is a collection of files, awls, hammers, pliers, even an antique curling iron. She demonstrates how to make a tiny gold ingot out of scrap gold (nothing is ever thrown away) by first cutting a long, narrow well into a block of charcoal, then filling the well with scrap. Finally, she fires up an acetylene torch and melts the gold into liquid form. This lower grade of gold will go into some of her own playful designs, like the “Rorschach” earrings she’s wearing; she buys “clean” gold sheets and wire, mostly 18-karat and above, for commissions and other projects.

Once a week, Gage leaves her bench and takes the train to New York City’s diamond district to shop for precious stones and other supplies. Officially located along 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the district’s main drag is a notorious tourist trap that Gage suggests the uninitiated should avoid. “They’re just trying to get people to pay a very high premium for things that are run-of-the-mill,” she says. She does her own shopping with trusted purveyors located anywhere between 49th and 38th Streets and often sits down with her mentor there for a cup of coffee and to share designs and advice.

Back home in New Haven, Gage finds other forms of inspiration. Her “Lost in New Haven” collection, a nod to artist and outsider historian Robert Greenberg’s installation of the same name, includes necklaces set with fragments of found pottery and castings from an antique nutmeg spoon turned into pendants, earrings and cufflinks. A bulldog knickknack has recently been cast into wearable pieces, too. On a larger scale, a walk down Chapel Street sparks ideas via architecture and even the mechanics of buses and trains. If you study the way things move, then scale them down, you can apply them to jewelry, Gage says. She admits she skipped physics in high school in favor of art classes; the lessons come intuitively and from experience.

As for the sales end of her business, Gage knows how to inspire her customers. Even on a day when she’s working at her bench, she’s smartly dressed in black (charcoal smudges won’t show) and wearing not only her earrings but three gnarled, stacked gold rings, one of them set with a light yellow diamond. She says she wears them often, and everything is for sale. “I’ve sold things off me before,” she says with a laugh. “That’s a lot of fun.”

Alexis Gage, Goldsmith
New Haven showroom open by appointment
(203) 909-0001 | ag@alexisgage.com
www.alexisgage.com

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1, 3-5 and 7-9 photographed by Dan Mims. Images 2 and 6 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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