The room sparkles. Everything in Samara Jewelry Designs shimmers and glistens – pearl earrings, rows of diamond bridal rings, heart-shaped necklaces, pieces with blue sapphires, with red rubies, with precious gemstones that reveal a rainbow of mesmerizing colors. I step slowly, examining one piece after the other – ‘oohing’ and ‘awing’ and ‘oh-my-God’-ing the brilliance and beauty of the jewelry.
Owners and jewelers Greg and Samara Christian smile and welcome me in like an old friend. The couple complements one another in many respects – as artists, as jewelers, as friends, as husband and wife. Any intimidation I felt crossing Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay has vanished – they are, after all, featured in 500 Gemstone Jewels, a prestigious publication that highlights the top international jewelry designers, and they are winners of the 1990 Spectrum Award from the American Gemstone Association. Elton John even tried on one of Greg’s pieces.
With all their success and knowledge of fine jewelry, it’s hard to believe they began with very little.
“Silver and agate – that’s what we started with – to gold and fine gems,” laughs Samara. “We would save a little money, buy another showcase, save a little more, buy another piece of equipment. We just took small steps.”
“Truthfully, the clientele that believed in us pushed us in the direction of precious gemstones and gold and platinum,” says Greg. Not only the clients, but the couple’s complementing jewelry-making skills influenced their direction – and their introduction.
Greg smiles, “Sam and I met in the art metals lab in [the University of Wisconsin] Stout. Sam was a year older. She was so good in arts metals. Her design work was strong, unique, different. I was intimated by her, but my instructor said, ‘You need to work with this person.’”
“Well, I was strong in design work,” says Samara, “whereas he was strong in technique. We both had something to learn from each other.”
After Samara graduated, she returned to her native Door County, started a little store in Egg Harbor and taught summer art school at Sevastopol Schools in Institute. “My goal originally was to teach, make jewelry and sell them at art fairs; but, I liked to make jewelry too much,” she laughs.
In the early ‘80s, Samara brought Greg to Door County and “everything was meshing,” according to Greg. “Her father took me salmon fishing. I was so taken by Door County – the community. Samara’s family settled in Door County, we had a commitment to one another, we wanted to make jewelry together – we started a small store.”
For 27 years the couple owned and operated Gold and Silver Creations on Jefferson Street, before selling and “retiring” for a mere three and a half years. Overwhelmed by the demand for their work, they reopened as Samara Jewelry Designs in June of 2010.
“We have fun, goof off,” says Greg. “We have a passion for what we do.” That passion is contagious, and accessible – even for a young woman who has felt that jewelry was for others, for the wealthy, celebrities, and brides-to-be. Therefore, my finger numbs when Greg slips on a sparkling, custom-made engagement ring and describes how well the piece complements the length of my finger. He draws a diagram to illustrate how diamonds sparkle and then opens a black box containing various diamonds, to demonstrate the difference in size and brilliance.
“We work with our customers,” says Samara. “We look at personality. What is their lifestyle? What size?”
“We look at quality of stone, explain differences, present facts of gemology,” adds Greg. “We take time to explain the experience.”
The couple employs a technique called lost wax casting to create many of their pieces. “Sam has the ability to design spectacular pieces,” says Greg. “I do casting or finishing. Sam’s personality comes out; I can see her personality in our pieces.”
In creating a variety of jewelry that appeals to a variety of people, Samara begins by crafting an elaborate piece. “I make what I call one-of-a-kind pieces,” says Samara. “I have a very unique shape stone; I go a little more complex, then create a second version – a smaller stone, more affordable, more accessible.”
“They have different price points, variations of the same style – same design, different colors,” says Samara. “Start with one – now, let’s make it more marketable.” And the market is open and receptive to the couple’s jewelry all over the county, country, and world.
“We have clients from all over – the Midwest and international,” says Samara. “Door County attracts people from all over. We’re not big-city people; we’re very fortunate we can live in this environment and people come to us.”
“[Door County] is a Mecca for art,” says Greg. “Door County residents and visitors appreciate fine art.”
My finger continues to tingle as I slip off the diamond ring and shake hands with Samara and Greg, who says, “Regardless of who walks in the door, happiness doesn’t have to have a price tag. I want you to have a piece. We love making jewelry.”