PORTLAND'S EVER-CHANGING brick and mortar scene has been rapidly turning districts into unrecognizable labyrinths of restaurants and shops that may look like “iconic” Portland, but have garnered a bit of mistrust among longstanding residents. Those of us who feel trepidatious about the newness also find ourselves incredibly excited when well deserving old guard “industry” folks finally get their chance to carve out a piece of the city they’ve spent so many years defining.
That’s why I’m proud to be reporting on new boutique Gem Gem, brought to you by veteran jewelry makers Allison Bartline and Heidi Lieberman. The flagship store will boast their respective house line brands, Allison Bartline Jewelry and HoneyFox, as well as a cascade of carefully curated, beautiful jewelry for a discerning eye. Even better, Gem Gem retains much of that Southeast charm so many of us want to preserve.
Tucked into a beautiful, older Belmont district building that’s been carefully transformed into a high-end jewelry shop and metalsmithing workspace, Gem Gem tells its story right when you walk in the door. There’s no question these two jewelry makers are trend-setting and raising the bar with their design sensibilities.
I asked Allison and Heidi to offer some background on their boutique, respective lines, and how they came to bring so much “awesome” into one awesome shop.
MERCURY: Tell us a little about your vision for Gem Gem.
We wanted to have a store that highlights not only our own jewelry lines, but the work of other jewelry designers we admire. We wanted it to be a bit of a destination that our customer seeks out—because they know they can find a well-curated selection of jewelry they can’t find anywhere else. Like those special places you find on road trips, and then always daydream about going back.
Where did the name come from?
There’s this beautiful photograph of the Gem Theatre in Pioche, NV, by Ed Freeman. All the design elements in the store—the colors, logo, name—all came from that image. We want the store to feel like it belongs in that photograph. The theater marquee in the image is angled, with “GEM” on both sides, and appearing straight on as “GEM GEM.” We identified with the word, because it’s short and succinct, yet has so many meanings. It can mean special, unique, highly regarded, and jewel all in one.
What makes Gem Gem special?
It’s a working studio with a storefront. We only carry jewelry in our tiny store, so the focus is on our 14 designers and pieces we admire—which you normally don’t see in Portland. The size of our space requires us to be very choosy with the pieces and designers we carry, and this makes our selection exceptional. In addition, we’re both collectors of vintage jewelry, so we have a curated collection of favorite pieces available in-store as well.
How did you get your starts?
ALLISON: I started in jewelry sales many years ago in Seattle and moved to New York City to work directly with a couple of designers there. After moving to Portland (and thinking I wasn’t going to work in jewelry again), I happened to meet a local jewelry caster and became friends. I apprenticed for the jeweler/caster, refined what I learned in New York while adding new skills from working at the casting house. All my pieces are hand-carved, cast, and finished. I’ve built a large collection over four years by making jewelry for myself, friends, and family until I was ready to become official and launch my line in 2013.
HEIDI: I built my business over five years selling colorful pieces wholesale, as well as through Instagram and Etsy. I’m currently working on a relaunch of my line to include some one-of-a-kind vintage elements, as well as hand-carved and cast pieces, or hand-fabricated elements. Sharing a studio with Allison has given me the opportunity to expand my skill set and practice new techniques. My line, HoneyFox, requires a lot of detail—a practice I hope will work well for my future silversmithing.
Who are your role models or icons that you look up to, fashion-wise?
All are maximalists in one way or another, and definitely not afraid of wearing jewelry. We really admire Iris Apfel, Michele Lamy, David Bowie, Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, and Bruce Springsteen.
Gem Gem is located at 2324 SE Belmont.