Rapaport Magazine

Behind the Steel Door

Sophisticated art and jewelry attract the blue jeans set at Art + Soul Fine Art/Jewelry Gallery in Boulder, Colorado.

By Joyce Kauf
Adel Chefridi
A nine-foot-high steel door might seem intimidating to most people. Not at Art + Soul Fine Art/Jewelry Gallery in Boulder, Colorado. “People love this door. They come to play with it and stay to shop,” explains owner Debbie Klein. The imposing blackened steel door with a heavy glass center opens to a collection of fine art and designer jewelry and a very warm welcome from the inviting staff and Harry Winston, Klein’s dog, who sparkles in his role as store mascot.
   Klein was working at Christie’s auction house in New York City when she vacationed in Boulder and decided this is where she wanted to open a store. The downtown area “was the only place to be” with its heavy customer traffic and accessibility to parking. Still, when she opened Art + Soul in 2000, the area was very much “in development.” Klein points out that although they were surrounded by construction for the first three years, it did not deter customers.

Filling a Niche
   Klein always knew that she wanted to carry art and jewelry, with a focus on high-end art. While Boulder is an affluent community, it has a “cowboy vibe.” But she wanted to fill a niche in the city. “I knew there was a market for people who didn’t want pictures of deer on their walls,” she asserts.
   Initially, Klein carried “considerably” lower-price-point jewelry in silver. While living in New York City, she had studied silversmithing at the School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design but, by her own admission, she knew very little about diamonds or gemstone jewelry. All that changed after a chance meeting with jewelry designer Anne Sportun at a wholesale show in Philadelphia. “I saw her wonderful line of 18-karat gold with diamond stacking rings and thought, ‘this is perfect for Boulder.’” Klein admits, “I never spent so much money before.” She started with six rings and consigned another 12. Klein credits Sportun, and other designers, for mentoring her and teaching her about jewelry and merchandising. It turned out to be a mutually beneficial relationship; Art + Soul is now the top Anne Sportun account in the country.
   Carrying a designer line also gave new focus to the gallery, prompting Klein to change its name to Art + Soul Fine Art/Jewelry Gallery in 2008. “Jewelry is now at the same caliber as art and maybe even higher,” says Klein, who explains that she looks for what is unique about the designer, the work and the material. The extensive list of lines she carries exclusively in Boulder includes Adel Chefridi, Alex Sepkus, Lisa Jenks, Paul Morelli, Stephen Webster, as well as newest addition, Moritz Glik.
   Paramount among Klein’s criteria for selecting designers is her customers’ tastes and often their budgets. “This is a blue jeans culture, which means I have to select unique, wearable pieces that can be worn both at a farmers’ market or a benefit.” Women who buy jewelry for themselves are her top sales category, followed by bridal and alternative wedding rings.
   Aware that Boulder is also a college town, Klein likes to stock “decent price points” from $100 to $500 for people starting out. She also counts on her “fabulous men” who shop three times a year at birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. The store keeps track of what they buy. “It is a great, established and reliable clientele to have,” Klein points out.
   To better serve her customers, Klein earned an Accredited Jewelry Professional (AJP) degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and two members of her staff have completed the GIA’s Graduate Gemologist (GG) program.

Industrial Allure
   The 3,000-square-foot store has a clean and contemporary look. The space was initially a two-room stereo store and renovation exposed the original poles, beams and ducting, which Klein made the main focus of the gallery. “The store designed itself,” Klein explains, adding that the “somewhat industrial setting was edgy for its time 13 years ago.”
   For ease of shopping, jewelry is consolidated in one area, but the cases are on wheels, facilitating easy movement. Adding cases in the front of the store helped make the jewelry more accessible. While the jewelry and art complement each other, they are merchandised separately. Klein often displays a piece of art or sculpture behind the cases so that both jewelry and art are visible from the street.
   The jewelry is featured in glass cases, bordered in contrasting black and blonde wood. Klein favors mixing metals from the same designer within a case. For example, the Paul Morelli silver and gold meditation bells are merchandised together. “The customer may buy the silver but return for the gold next time. This way, it can be aspirational,” Klein notes.
   “You can come in for a painting and fall in love with a ring or vice versa,” says Klein. Her secret for success is bringing “super-wearable yet sophisticated jewelry to the community in a friendly setting where even a steel door can’t keep you out.” 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2013. To subscribe click here.

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