Only by circling the world did jewelry innovator Gaia Pelikan learn what he wanted to express through the ring designs that are now closest to his heart. He grew up around his family’s jewelry business in California, learning its ins and outs. While his early attempts to make his own mark in the field were successful, they left him somehow unfulfilled. So he began exploring. “I was a jeweler,” he explains, “but I learned to be a goldsmith in Europe.” He settled in Baden, Switzerland, where mentors helped develop his vision of “wearable art.” Examples of Gaia’s inspiration include rings forged of iron salvaged from a 1930s’ truck he found in the desert. Such magical transformations well earn him the description of an “alchemist.”

GAIA: “I have been around jewelry since I was a child. My father had a jewelry store in California and I was able to work doing repairs, sweeping the floors, learning a lot. I went to Seattle, and met an old master who taught me a few tricks and old world techniques. He was a fabricator, the only one in a staff of 40. After working with him, I knew there was something more than what I had seen in the past.

Next, I created a trade shop where I was doing mass production for JCPenney, and I had 10 trade stores for repairs. I was doing chain soldering and making a lot of money, but there was no soul in the work. After a while, I got burned out. I started to take bicycle trips around the world. I traveled for three years, getting experience, seeing different jewelry stores and how other people do things, basically living a simple life. I finally ended up on a Greek island, Santorini, where I met a Swiss artist, and she did some designs for me. When she had to return to Switzerland, I decided I would go with her. We went there and I found some work at a simple jewelry store. I went in with the attitude that I was a master and I was the greatest, and then I saw tools that I had never seen before, and techniques that I had no idea how they were done.“Basically I took myself down from a master to an apprentice and humbled myself enough that the man there would give me a chance; he showed me a lot of different techniques until I was able get the idea. Then I went to work at a factory in Lucerne, and I was able to learn the most difficult diamond settings: Pavé, Brite Cut, Gypsy.

After awhile we started up our own gallery in Baden, Switzerland, which we ran for about seven years. There, I was able to work with other goldsmiths and other artists in a new way. I changed from...this is one of my theories, that there is a ‘jeweler’ and there is a ‘goldsmith.’ A jeweler is usually a caster and does repairs. Not so much creative. A goldsmith is one who fabricates and forges like an old smith did and that is totally different in the jewelry industry, because you create an original master when you make a ring. A caster takes one master and then makes unlimited copies. So what I learned here was to be a goldsmith. I was a jeweler, and then I learned to be a goldsmith in Europe.
“After my wife and I separated, I came back to America. I ended up in Sedona, where Geoffrey Roth in Tlaquepaque gave me a chance. I started to work for him and created my own line of jewelry. I showed my pieces at Fairchild’s in Santa Fe, and did quite well. It took up a lot of time, so I had to leave Geoffrey and go out on my own. I created my own little studio in my house.

In our jewelry, we’re going for the Talisman/good-luck charm effect. When you have a ring on, it’s on your finger and you can touch it and you can feel it. In this there is incredible energy because it’s a part of your body almost. Earrings and pendants are for the other people. They see them; you can’t feel them, you don’t even know they are there sometimes. But a ring is a personal good energy/good luck charm and so that is what we try to specialize in, though we can do everything, of course. My goal is to make people happy with their rings. With wedding rings, for example, you are giving them a union, a bond that really ties two people together because they are constantly in touch with them. That is why I like the rings.

Stainless steel is my love right now because it is so durable and holds up so well. I want our rings to last lifetimes. We use high-end metals, 18 karat instead of 14K; there’s more gold in it and more longevity. It is more pure and turns into something that has a higher energy. I really love using different, unique, some would say bizarre stones, like the black diamond, like champagne diamonds, rose cuts, there are so many different special cuts. We use a lot of opals and fossils. Very few designers are using these things because they are difficult to work with, but we have the talent or skills to work with these things. Our alchemy line, for example, is fabricated piece by piece, unlike about 90% of the country’s jewelry, which is casted. We are setting ourselves apart from the rest of the jewelry world, and we are setting a price that’s within the range of the casting world. We don’t want to outprice or overprice ourselves or become too elite. We want it to be in an affordable range where everyone can have one; that’s our goal.

I am constantly going to shows to see what the new things are. I know what’s out there, and I never copy anybody. I do all my own original ideas. A lot of people try to copy me, but the line is so difficult to make that only about 10% of the jewelers in the country can do it. I am able to do something so difficult that I can’t be copied that easily. And if they are at that skill level where they would be able to do it, why would they need to copy anyone else anyway?”

Article and photo courtesy of Sedona Monthly Nov. 2003

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