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Fiat Lux Owners Talk Selling Diamonds and Goat Hammers

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Photos by Aubrie Pick

Fiat Lux owners Alexei Angelides and Marie McCarthy opened their 250-square-foot (yup, it's tiny) jewelry shop in that adorable part of the Castro located on Church Street between 16th and Market two years ago. The couple has created an environment where not only does their beautiful new line of locally-made diamonds sell well, but so do their more unique pieces, like a vintage goat hammer (only 500 were ever made, check it out in the gallery), headdresses, and a large, elaborate necklace that a customer bought and wore as a loincloth. They also make hammered silver and gold rings in their home studio, which is two blocks from the shop.

You'd think that would be enough to keep them awfully busy, but Alexei happens to also be an academic who is zeroing in on a Ph.D. in philosophy at Stanford and also studies proof theory. And one shop is not enough for Marie—she also owns Rose Gold tattoo parlor in the Haight. The radness of this couple knows no bounds.

When did you open Fiat Lux?

March 23, 2011.

How has it been working together as a couple?

Alexei: Marie's been in the world of jewerly and fashion for years and I haven't, but I've always have an appreciation for handmade things. So we meet in this nice middle ground where I really like pushing the handmade, wabi-sabi imperfect things, and she really likes the edgier, bolder things, and the shop sort of meets right in the middle.

Marie: It's actually been amazing because it's so much work and it's really fun and really rewarding, but we work all the time. And if you're in a relationship and the other person doesn't understand that, it's really hard to relate on that level. We've learned a lot of things together. We both make jewelry. We're not always in the shop together so it's not like we see each other all the time and it's not hard in that way. It's just fun and we just make decisions together. We dated for three years, we've had the shop for two years, so it's almost like the shop and our relationship merged and grew together. It's really fun.

How have things changed since you opened?

Alexei: A lot.

Marie: Definitley a lot. We started with a lower price point becasue I had a store on Haight Street for 10 years called Offbeat and I did local designers there too, but Haight Street was so awful to be on. So we got down here and Alexei was like let's leave all the jewelry out so people can try it on, and I was like, "THEY'RE GOING TO STEAL IT!" So when opened and we had a lower price point and slowly we've started carrying diamonds and other things and it's been so fun to be in this neighborhood. People really respond to it well. So I think price points have changed and we take a little more risk with what we get.

Alexei: The two things I think we've learned in the past two years is that clothing doesn't really work for us. We were trying to do handmade and local but our style isn't very Burning Man and that's the style of most of the clothes around here that people are making locally. Or like, jersey—no really sharp looks and that's what we like. That's something we learned about the jewelry too, that people respond to the sort of middle ground stuff that's better than Etsy but not extremely fine jewelry. So people really dig it and feel like this place is special for them.

Who do you find are your best customers?

Marie: I think the magic of the small space is that it's really intimate, so our clients really do become our friends. We have them over for dinner and hang out. Those are our best clients because they know what we're doing and they trust us and they want to support us.

Were you nervous about oepening in such a tiny space?

Marie: No. We actually specifically looked for a small space. Because on Haight Street my space was huge and I felt like I was always kind of buying filler, like things that I wasn't really into but that poeple would just come in and buy, and I dind't want to do that anymore. I wanted it to be really specific and really curated. And it's really hard to find a small space in San Francisco actually.

Really? That's surprising.

Marie: I know. Everything's like 1,000 square feet and we just wanted it to be fun for us—less of a money stress and more of a love.

Has this neighborhood changed much in the past two years?

Marie: It has stayed pretty much the same I think.

Alexei: It's changed maybe a little bit. I think there are more techie types with a little bit more money to burn. We definitley started with the lower price points and we still have the customer who comes in for the $30, $40 and $50 stuff, but now we also have people who just come in for the higher, like $1,000 stuff.

Marie: For girl power.

Alexei: For girl power. We have this thing that's happening.

Marie: Our $1,000 diamond ring—girls are coming in and just buying it for themselves and we're like yeah, do it!

Alexei: It's the coolest thing because we introduced this and thought, "Yeah this is engagement," and what started happening is out of probably the first 20 rings that we put in the shop, 10 of them went to girls buying for themselves. It's awesome that a girl will just spend a grand on herself.

Marie: You have to get over the guilt of it, like 'Oh I should be going on a trip or buying a computer,' or whatever. But then these become heirloom pieces for them—but modern heirlooms.

Alexei: I think the niche that we fill in that space is different, weird, but high quality. That's why we have a goat hammer.

Marie: The weirder the better. I think that's what we learned in this space too. Because the neighborhood seems to be a little more conventional but it's not at all. People are really creative in this neighborhood and into having things that are different, which makes it really fun for us.

Alexei: We actually tried trendier pieces, but it didn't hit in here.

What's the oddest thing someone has bought that really surprised you?

Marie: I think the headdress was really weird. And using the necklace as a loincloth was really amazing.

Who made the headdress?

Marie: Eleanor Amoroso. We try to stay local as much as possible and we were really strict about it at first. And now we add in some people here and there. Eleanor is British. Occassionally I get really obsessed with something and want to bring it in.

Where'd you find the goat hammer?

Alexei: Massachusetts.

Marie: Vintage stuff we get from all over. We say, 'Oh we need to go to the desert because we need to get some vintage,' but it could also be some R&R for us.

Alexei, I hear you made Marie jewelry as a gift early in your relationship.

Alexei: She's been making jewelry for a long time so it's very hard to buy for her. So I called the woman who instructed her over the years, who's this 65-year-old former 1970s Playmate who's really awesome. She's kind of a Tiburon hippie now but whatever, she's great. I called her up and was like, "Can you show me how to make jewelry?" I took a couple ring-making classes with her. Marie and I were a new couple, we'd been together like 6 months.

That's about the time you want to show you really get her.

Marie: I couldn't believe it.

What was it?

Alexei: I engraved like a snake into a ring, it was silver. And I made another kind of abstract thing.

Marie: That one he used some science on.

Alexei: Basically I messed it up so I dumped it in a bunch of acids to try and rub away some of the metal so it looked like this weird eroded ring. It was not very good.

I bet it's treasured though.

Alexei: Yeah it's a treasure that's never worn.

OK, time for the lightning round! Tumblr, Pinterest, or Instagram?

Instagram. (both)

Beach or mountains?


Marie: beach; Alexei: mountains.

Cats or dogs?

Dogs! (both)

Kanye or Jay Z?

Alexei: Jay Z! Marie: Sabbath

'60s, '70s, '80s, or '90s?

Marie: 70s; Alexei: 80s.