Get ready to be dazzled by Bishops Jewelry Gallery’s new store in the Bentley Mall. It was designed by decorator Chloé Waggoner, owner of Sisu Studio Interior Design in Anchorage, and the vibe is simple, welcoming, discreet and sophisticated.
Owners and jewelry designers Rita and Bill Bishop are looking to take their business to the next level at their new location where they hope to attract more walk-in business.
The space, previously home to a chain jewelry store, was remodelled and opened as Bishops Jewelry Gallery in early March. The Bishops expanded jewelry collections, put in a seating area for customers to design custom pieces using a computer program and added shadow box displays, ornamental mirrors and stools with velvet seats.
“We wanted intimacy,” said Rita Bishop, who minored in jewelry-making at the Cleveland Institute of Art and studied under designer John Paul Miller. The store specializes in custom jewelry.
“When somebody is buying something from us, an heirloom, we need a peaceful space where you can sit and design something that is going to last forever,” Bishop said.
Visitors to the Bentley Mall will be hard pressed to walk on by: A flat screen television is hung on an outside wall to show mall-goers what’s inside.
Shadow box window displays show off some of their inventory to include necklaces, earrings, pendants, watches, diamond engagement rings, gold nugget jewelry and gemstones.
The store carries pieces by award-winning artists to include New York designer Frederic Sage.
They also offer jewelry restoration, engraving and appraisal services.
“We custom design every day,” Bishop said.
The Bishops started in the jewelry industry as designers and wholesalers in 1985 and became one of the biggest suppliers of gold nugget jewelry in Alaska.
At the height of the wholesale business, they sold to 150 stores, including in Canada and Japan. The Bishops continue to provide gold nugget jewelry to select stores.
In the early days, they made jewelry in a single room cabin in Soldotna from gold nuggets mined in the Interior.
The couple met through Bill’s mother after Rita had done some textile artwork for her. Bill’s stepfather was a gold miner. His mom paid for the job with 2 ounces of gold and later introduced her son.
They began by selling gold nugget jewelry to small gift shops. They created a silver jewelry line highlighted with natural gold nuggets, making it very affordable for tourists.
In 1987, they moved to Fairbanks and started a family. Two of their three children became involved in hockey, which inspired them to create a line of hockey jewelry.
Bill Bishop, a former chef, is mostly self taught though he studied technical aspects of jewelry-making at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He specializes in computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing.
One of the services offered by Bishops Jewelry Gallery is in-store 3D printing to create solid resin models of custom pieces for customers to try on. They can paint the model to represent the metal color and add stones for a realistic representation.
It was Bill’s idea to open a retail store in Fairbanks in 2008. The wholesale business was in a slump.
“Gold was so high, nobody could afford my product,” said Rita Bishop.
They started with a location on Airport Way and moved a couple of years later when they found they needed more space.
“It was exciting because it challenged us to become even more creative.”
University Avenue near the Fred Meyer store was Bishops Jewelry Gallery’s home for a decade.
Rita Bishop said a loyal customer base has kept them going. Now they are hoping to grow at a location with more foot traffic.
“I think the Bentley Mall helped us be surrounded by very successful businesses that are advertising,” Bishop said. “Where else are you going to go shopping indoors in a nice location?”
The jewelry gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.