Rapaport Magazine

An Artistic Connection

Heather Hanst is a creative force, whose Silverado Jewelry Gallery features the work of more than 100 artisan designers.

By Nancy Pier Sindt

Jamie Joseph
Ask this retailer to describe her store or her preference in jewelry, and the words that come up most frequently are “earthy,” “organic” and “artisan.” Heather Hanst’s Silverado Jewelry Gallery, located on a corner in downtown Bend, Oregon, reflects this taste. She also runs another Silverado in nearby Hood River, Oregon, in partnership with her former manager. The galleries feature
custom-designed showcases that are curving structures of wrought iron and natural
pine; the walls are covered with a clay that the owner says looks like Italian stucco, but more rustic.

   Hanst opened her first gallery, in Hood River, in May 1998, followed by a second one
in Portland
in 2000. In 2002, she helped her older sister, Robyn, open Silverado, a similarly stocked gallery in Saratoga Springs, New York. Debbie, the oldest of the three sisters, owns and operates a Silverado store in Manchester Center, Vermont. The three sisters’ stores are independently owned and operated and, owing to their locations, not in competition with each other, although the siblings do discuss business and consult with each other on a regular basis.
   By 2003, Hanst had sold the Portland store and opened her current 1,900-square-foot outpost in Bend. In the meantime, she laughs, she had a baby and built a house. Hanst says her sales in the new location totaled $2 million in the first year and have grown several times over in the years since. “Our two Oregon stores have grown huge by listening to our customers,” she says. Her philosophy is “If you don’t evolve, you dissolve.”

A Twist
   The Hood River and Bend stores share a similar décor and jewelry. For example, each boasts a large, life-size sculpture — one of a woman, one of a palm tree — and both contain an inviting lounge in which children can play while the grown-ups shop.
   Hanst refers to her operation as the “Pottery Barn of jewelry,” offering a wide range of merchandise at a broad price range. “I want there to be something for everybody,” she says, with prices beginning at under $50 for silver and stainless items and going as high as five figures for one-of-a-kind gold and gemstone designs. “I try to have an example of every metal in every style,” she says. Current best sellers are mixed-metal combinations, including blackened sterling silver and 18-karat gold.
   The owner is enthusiastic about shopping the market for sources; she and her staff are constantly looking for new artists and she receives new merchandise on a daily basis. Hanst calls the Las Vegas Couture Show her best source, but she also visits regional gift shows to pick up “fun, inexpensive things.” The jewelry is featured in wall and floor showcases, as well as the front windows. Collections are usually segregated by designer brands, which include Jamie Joseph, Saundra Messinger, Zen, Chili Rose, Melissa Joy Manning and Jane Diaz.

The Ski Connection
   The clientele is composed mostly of local shoppers but there are increasing numbers of tourists, who come in seasonally for skiing, one of the region’s major sports. The gallery is located in a downtown area dotted with numerous boutiques and galleries. One of the most popular events at Silverado is “First Friday.” During the first Friday of every month, the gallery stages an open house, serving wine and hors d’oeuvres to guests and featuring the work of a single artist. The event usually attracts a huge crowd that includes regular customers as well as “lots of new people,” says the owner.
   Hanst stresses the importance of keeping in frequent touch with her customers, which includes advertising in local publications such as Central Oregon Magazine and doing occasional radio ads. To promote an event, such as one of the gallery’s three annual sales, Hanst sends mailings to the store’s 20,000-name list. The Silverado website is not used to display merchandise or conduct business; it’s strictly to present the logo of the galleries and their locations, along with driving directions.

Diamond Surprise
   With all of her interest centered around unique designer jewelry, Hanst says she
never paid much attention to traditional diamond pieces. That is, until her customers
began looking for bridal, or, as she calls it, “celebration” jewelry. “Bridal sort of happened by surprise,” she says, “I always listen to my customers, so when they began asking for rings that could be used as wedding and engagement rings, I ordered some from about
20 different artists and put them together in one case.”

   Her clients, like Hanst herself, favor more unusual designs for their rings, such as
rose- and cushion-cut diamonds set in sterling silver and rose gold. When she entered the bridal business, Hanst says, she was “shocked” by how passionate people are about diamonds. “My clients love the idea of buying
conflict-free diamonds in environmentally friendly settings,” she notes. She is referring to the designers using recycled precious metals and environmentally safe production techniques.
   Custom designs are a specialty, although the gallery does not have on-site bench jewelers. Instead, Hanst says she likes to promote relationships between her artists and the customers. “I meet with my artists and learn their story lines,” she says. When clients want something special, such as an engagement ring, she will show them, via iPad, artists’ entire collections to illustrate the style of their work. For an engagement ring, the designers sometimes supply the diamonds and other times use the customers’ own diamonds and recycled metal.
   The Bend gallery has a total of nine employees, some of whom have worked for Hanst for ten years. She says she hires them based on personality and dedication rather than actual jewelry knowledge or experience. “I teach them the basics,” she says. “Gems are easy.” What is not as easy is finding a person with the right attitude and style. “We’re casual about work clothes. I don’t care if they have holes in their jeans, but they have to
be wearing good shoes. My people have great style.”

   For the immediate future, Hanst says she doesn’t see expanding her business much further than its current locations. “In my gallery, I want to focus on quality, not quantity.
I don’t want to water it down. I connect with my customers and it’s not just for the
money. I don’t want to lose that connection.” 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2012. To subscribe click here.

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