Alexandria Rossoff, Glenn Wark and the Living Art of Jewelry

Lois Castelli-Leff
Posted on December 18, 2015, 7:47 am
9 mins

Jewelry is truly timeless: Natural gemstones are the work of ages, and it takes a lifetime to learn how to best bring out their beauty with the most exquisite cuts and beautiful settings. Those who have these skills are rare, and with few apprentices learning the trade from masters, they are only growing rarer.

Seattle is blessed to see these arts alive and well at Alexandria Rossoff’s jewelry boutique in downtown Seattle. Rossoff has an encyclopedic knowledge of jewelry and gems and a knack for finding extraordinary treasures wherever she travels. Her partner and “kindred spirit,” Glenn Wark, creates custom jewelry, which may even echo or update designs from other eras—Victorian, Art Deco, Mid-Century—all of which are represented in Rossoff’s stunning collections.

Rossoff recently relocated her boutique to street-level in Rainier Plaza from atop the Fairmont Olympic. That space had the feel of a Viennese salon, offering an intimate setting for clients to discuss the design process for custom pieces. The new location on 4th Avenue in the Rainier Square complex is just as sophisticated, but airier and more modern.

It was designed by Rossoff alongside her brother Holden Luntz, Director, and Principal of Holden Luntz Gallery, Palm Beach, specializing in fine art photography. His influence is seen in the fabulous vintage framed photographs throughout the shop. Luntz has over three decades of experience in the fine arts arena and a broad knowledge of contemporary, modern and vintage 20th-century photography. He opened his gallery, “with the mission of acquiring and presenting the work of significant photographers whose work has either defined or is expanding the parameters of fine art photography.” The dual display in the boutique is beautifully complementary: marvelous photography, captured in an instant, alongside the jewels, those precious labors of ages.

Alex began her career in 1980, a graduate gemologist of the Gemological Institute of America, a Registered Jeweler, Certified Gemologist and Certified Gemologist Appraiser of the American Gem Society. She also holds an appraising credential from the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers.

Although highly educated and practiced in her field, she is truly humble and appreciative when discussing her own life’s work. “I am rewarded by daily interactions that are congruent with my personal values,” she says. “I try to preserve the old and translate what has been lost over time.”

Rossoff isn’t so much a retailer as a steward of hand-picked paragons of Georgian, Victorian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Retro, and Mid-Century jewels. Her customers become stewards as well, and all show a commitment to the preservation of the past as well as our precious resources.

For those who want something new and unique to them, working with Rossoff and Wark is a way to ensure that one’s jewelry is produced ethically and with mastery.

Wark grew up in the jewelry business, and explains, “My father was a manufacturer of jewelry in Los Angeles for fifty-one years. I began when I was just fourteen years old on Hill Street in Los Angeles. The Arts and Crafts Movement opened up opportunities in apprenticeships in all of the arts. It is an old system which goes back hundreds of years.”

The achievement of ”Journeyman Status,” means that you have acquired the credentials to act as a craftsman with perfect execution. This is an art that demands long hours, hard work, a keen eye, steady hands and dedication to complete a seven- to ten-year long apprenticeship.

“My father told me, never call yourself an artist,” says Wark. “If you are good enough, other people will call you an artist.”

Rossoff does just that, stating, “Glenn is a master of scale and proper balance. If a client comes into the boutique, he can look at a piece and innately know the proper scale of say, ‘Grandma’s ring.’”

The admiration is mutual. They are both authorities on the history of jewelry and continue their passion by continually learning about jewelry and sharing their knowledge with others.

Jessica Neiwert, an associate at Alex’s shop is also a Certified Gemologist Appraiser Jewelry Historian with a strong background in the Arts and Natural Sciences. She is a member of many societies related to her field. Jessica is also a Graduate Gemologist and jewelry designer and a master of her trade. She enjoys taking and reusing pieces to make new pieces of jewelry.

“We also specialize in the impossible,” she says. “At Alex’s shop, we work together to solve puzzles. Many customers come to us who have either lost a piece of jewelry or have experienced a theft and thought that their jewelry could not be replaced.”

Through descriptions and photos, Neiwert can create renderings of the piece, either by hand or by computer. The team collaborates on design and Wark reproduces the entire piece by hand. He creates his settings by hand-carving all of the intricate details into a wax form, using ancient trade techniques that have not changed for almost five hundred years passed down generation by generation.

During my initial visit to their shop, I witnessed firsthand Glenn’s talent. He was working on a piece commissioned by a beloved customer and longtime friend of Rossoff, known here as Carol. Years ago, during a vacation to Saint Thomas, Carol’s husband bought her an Etruscan-style, black Tahitian pearl necklace with carved gold barrel beads. Unfortunately, years later, it was stolen along with other jewelry. She entrusted the Rossoff team to remake her favorite piece.

Wark hand-carved the mold for each barrel bead, replicating the craftsmanship of the Etruscan era, in which each had unique markings. The team then paired the gold beads with newly selected black Tahitian pearls. They cleverly and carefully designed a reinforced magnetic clasp, which was embedded in the same type of gold beads as the necklace, thus preserving the symmetrical integrity of the finished piece.

On my second visit to Alex’s shop, Carol coincidentally came in to pick up her newly finished necklacenew, but familiar. Carol was overwhelmed with joy.

It was so satisfying to see it all. One can only imagine the satisfaction that the team feels. Neiwert remarked at one point, “We never know what story and piece will walk through our door.”

For those who want a taste of what the boutique offers from the comfort of home, the Alexandria Rossoff website is very educational and user-friendly. Items are listed by Collection, Era, and Price., making it easy to browse their one-of-a-kind engagement rings and an extensive variety of jewels, watches, and rarities.

Of course, it’s even more enriching to see these beauties in person and learn from the masters themselves. Their passion for the art and history of these objects is infectious, and when you walk into Alexandria Rossoff’s treasure box on 4th Avenue, among the fire of diamonds and the glow of pearls, the intricate ropes of gold chain and the subtle etchings in enamel and stone, you begin to feel more treasured yourself.

See the slideshow below for examples of the artful jewelry of Alexandria Rossoff.

Alexandria Rossoff is located at 1304 Fourth Avenue. Seattle, WA 98101. For more information please call (206) 381-3949 or visit the website: www.alexandriarossoff.com

Lois Castelli-Leff
Lois Castelli-Leff is a Long Island transplant, 28 years in Seattle. She has a degree in fashion merchandising from FIT and BA in textiles and merchandising from SUNY at Oneonta. Her work experience includes fashion sales and styling at Macy's NYC and Nordstrom. She held regional sales executive position at both Perry Ellis and Anne Klein and has an extensive background in showroom sales, trade shows and fashion show production. Her community service includes serving as an art docent through the Frye Art Museum and speech coach at Our Lady of Fatima, choreographer for the Magnolia Theatre, and is a member of the Katie McKay Circle. Lois founded her business, Senti, in 2010 producing glass crosses. She has three beautiful children and a dog, Baci.