Green Lake Jewelry’s Seattle Workshop

Every company has an About tab, where there’s a summary of where they came from, or what they do. Well, to really know what Green Lake Jewelry Works does (and how we do it differently), you have to know how we got to doing it in the first place. Our story is no more heroic than the successes of any other organically-grown small business, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.

Our store is now located in Northgate, a community with wide tree-lined streets and bountiful shopping on the north-end of Seattle. It’s a place with a great stake in American history, as it was home the Nation’s first ever conventional shopping mall in 1950 –  which after decades of make-over’s still stands just as strong today. We like Northgate, and after nearly 5 years of business here, it seems our customers like it too. They often ask, however, why our name isn’t “Northgate Jewelry Works?” And it’s a reminder that we’re no longer in Green Lake, the legendarily scenic Seattle burrow we called home when we first opened in 1996.  Yet, it’s still 5 minutes south from us now, and just around the corner.

It was in a 300 square-foot wedge of retail space along Green Lake Drive where the store first opened. The impossibly small quarters, with a low ceiling separating the shop from creaky apartments above was all tempered by the big and bright windows, commanding a view of the lake and city skyline beyond. There were so many curious visitors in those days; neighbors, weekend walkers, cyclists with helmets in hand, and new moms with parked strollers, all cupping their hands to the window, guessing at what we were up to.

We were waiting to make jewelry. Perhaps it would have been easier for us in the beginning if our tiny display case was blinging with rare stones, set into expertly fashioned precious metals. But we didn’t have any money for that. Instead, we filled out that simple display case with mostly green wax ring molds, peppered here and there with a few finished pieces, acquired over the years of metal-smithing and stone-setting for others.   We dealt in possibilities, mainly.  Our initial sales were hinged on promises and handshakes more than 3D renderings or a library of immaculate work. Some trusted in us, then, most recommended us – and like tossing stones in the lake across the street, our business rippled.

After 4 years the shop picked up and moved to the next block over, changing our address by only a few digits, but into a roomier 2000 square foot showroom and workshop. Our identity took hold here, where we decided how a jewelry store should really look and feel and operate. It was one thing to walk into a quaint shop and meet with the one jeweler directly, but now there were many jewelers to meet with – moving between their bench and display case, all working with customers directly. Each jeweler brought their own style and feel to the place, making it more of gallery or collaborative than just a retailer.

It was clear we weren’t just a retailer, we weren’t just an average jeweler. For one thing, we ousted the sterile fluorescent lighting synonymous with mainstream glass and brassers. Instead, we filled the space with soft glows and art glass. We painted the floor and worked with local carpenters and sculptures to bring a dream alive. We did away with sales people and relied on craftsmen to make themselves available to browsing customers. We offered guests espresso or tea before getting to know them. By all measures it was the kind of business that reflected the down-to-earth Northwest sensibilities our customers expected from fellow Seattlites. We understood each other.

By 2004 the production of one of-a-kind pieces began to demand even more artists and jewelers, who were now relocating from other parts of the country (and for some, even the world). More work benches, more buzzing and hammering: It was becoming all too close for comfort and another move was eminent. The shop was now a hub of activity with a precious spark of creative energy, still too premature to divide off and risk losing with two shops. The search for a new home brought us these few miles north from Green Lake proper, where we found a building that just had ‘the right bones’ – as they say.

What happened next may defy many notions about what a company is in general; organizations characterized by time cards, confining job descriptions, or parking space hierarchies. It may surprise some to know that the present location in Northgate was built by the same jewelers and artist who work in it. Instead of contracting builders or a design firm, Green Lake Jewelry Works was literally designed and renovated from the ground up by it’s own people – making the level of ownership that goes into each piece crafted within it’s walls that much more significant. From the masterfully painted floors to the smoothly contoured hardwoods – It is all the satisfying result of people sharing in a belief of what a jewelry store should be, and always willing to roll up their sleeves to make sure it stays that way.

Today our shop stands alone, both literally and figuratively. While our family business has grown to include more and more talented people, we continue to rely on those founding members who have been there with us, helping with all the heavy lifting. It all stands as testimony that people like working here, and maybe that’s why our customers like working with us. In the end, Green Lake Jewelry is beyond just a place where goods are sold – it’s a fun place to visit, and while we don’t actually charge money for it, also remains as one of the best places for espresso around.