Rapaport Magazine

Dazzling Dance

Custom and designer collections are center stage at Jewels That Dance in Asheville, North Carolina.

By Joyce Kauf
Simon G.
Every time I show a diamond, I always point out the dazzling dance of light across the stone,” says Paula Dawkins, owner of the aptly named Jewels That Dance. It is an image that inspires her eponymous designs and custom work, as well as the selection of designer jewelry that she offers in her store in Asheville, North Carolina.
   Dawkins, a self-taught jeweler, readily admits that the selection of the name was just one of several fortuitous opportunities that played a significant role in her life, from the choice of a career to her opening a store. She had never studied design nor was jewelry even an avocation. But after graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in psychology, Dawkins needed to earn a living. When a friend suggested she make jewelry and sell it at craft shows, Dawkins discovered her métier. “I had an affinity for metals. I could look at something and see how it was made. It just came easily to me.”

Seizing the Moment
   Dawkins didn’t plan to open a store, but was looking for studio space when she parked her car in front of a store with a “for rent” sign. “I saw that it had showcases on the wall and a burglar alarm and decided that I could sell jewelry to pay the rent.” She soon developed a following. “People kept coming in and asking if I could make something for them. That is how it all started.” This year, Dawkins was named to the top ten of the 50 top design retailers in the country by the Design Center, sponsored by JCK and awarded at the 2015 Las Vegas show.
   Dawkins likes to say that she was there “before the Renaissance” came to Asheville. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, Asheville had always attracted artists and tourists who came to marvel at its Art Deco mansions and the Biltmore House, the 250-room chateau built by the Vanderbilt family of industrialists and philanthropists. But when Dawkins first opened her store in 1983, then called Jewelry Designs, downtown Asheville was filled with vacant spaces after many stores relocated to a new mall. Subsequent investment in urban renewal drew people and stores back to downtown, creating what she calls a “vibrant little city.”
   In 1986, Dawkins moved to her current location, a 3,200-square-foot site that houses her showroom and the studio where all the jewelry is made. That was also the year that she changed the name of her store. “Martha Graham was performing in Asheville and luckily we got the back page of the playbill. My business partner Carol Schniedewind created the ad that featured a stick figure with arms and legs outstretched as if dancing across a stage, with the words “Jewels That Dance” written above,” Dawkins recalls. In another “aha moment,” Dawkins knew instinctively that the name captured her design philosophy. “We adopted that name and logo and it appears on everything now,” Dawkins points out.

Color Dominates
   Dawkins creates two collections a year and also does custom work. Together, these rank as her top sellers. While she also designs with raw diamonds, her preference is colored gemstones, including sapphires, rubies, amethysts tourmalines and aquamarines.
   Designs from Gabriel & Co., Simon G., both bridal and fashion, Todd Reed and Alex Sepkus are strong sellers. Bridal ranks as an important category. Dawkins explains that her criteria for selecting designers are that they “deliver on their promise” and also that they do not sell on the internet in competition with her store.
   After a trip to South Africa where she toured the mines and met the miners, Dawkins also became very selective about her gemstone vendors. “That trip brought the industry full circle in our eyes because it showed that what we are doing here impacts people’s lives. Too often diamonds and jewelry get a bad rap in the press, but we get to tell the story in a better way,” says Dawkins, who often shares her trip experiences with her customers.

First Impressions
   With its distinctive exterior design, Jewels That Dance makes a strong impression from the start. When renovating the store, Dawkins wanted to create something on the exterior that looked like jewelry. The outside of the store is adorned with hand-engraved spiral curls that simulate the ambience inside. A local artist created a bas-relief plaster that was painted in purple and gold metallic colors.
   “I want people to feel comfortable in my store,” says Dawkins, especially because, as she points out, “a lot is happening in the store between my eclectic designs and all the colored gemstones I use.” Most of the custom-built cases are singular square cases or arranged in groups of two, side by side. “I didn’t want to have long cases that fill up the room because it’s overwhelming rather than welcoming,” she notes. Cherry-wood shadow boxes recessed into the wall were also made by a local craftsman. “I have a lot of chairs so people can make themselves at home. It is like my living room,” Dawkins adds. Merchandise is either grouped together by designer or mixed to create a story and show the customer the options of combining different designers’ work.
   “Sometimes it seems as if the town grew up around us,” says Dawkins. “When we started there wasn’t much going on, but I’m so glad we stuck it out. Everyone knows we’re the store to come to if you need anything — from a unique design to jewelry repair.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2015. To subscribe click here.

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