Tamara Fondell is the owner of Alaska Jewelry and Goldsmith Gallery.
The Goldsmith Gallery store has been open in Sitka, Alaska since 1990, and the alaskajewelry.com website has been operating since 2000.
Tamara, you moved to Alaska 29 years ago. What inspired you to move?
My husband was a goldsmith and we always wanted to own our very own business. Sitka was a place where we thought that opportunity could take place. So, when our son was 3 months old, we sold our Colorado Springs home that we’d lived in for 8 years, packed up everything we owned and headed north!
How did you get into the jewelry business?
My uncle is a goldsmith and it just so happened that he needed someone to work in his store. My husband was 16 at the time, baling hay in the hot Iowa summers. So, when my uncle offered him a job apprenticing as his goldsmith, my husband gladly accepted. (A raise and air conditioning… how could it get any better than that?!) My husband found that he not only liked this work, but was actually very good at it. So, he kept learning and eventually the desire to strike out on his own won - and that’s when we made the leap to Alaska!
You encounter many visitors at Alaska Jewelry. How do most travelers find your location?
Aside from my locals, many of my clients are visitors to Alaska, primarily via the cruise ship industry. Sitka is a small town with about 6 “downtown” blocks. My store is in a large building directly across the street from the location where cruise visitors begin their day in Sitka. The large selection of hand-blown glass that we have displayed in our street windows helps draw visitors into the shop. We also have a lot of clients that have never visited Alaska Jewelry, but have come to know us through our website. Not to toot our own horn, but we really do sell a number of things that many people have never seen before. This is part of what makes us… us! Our staff, and the items we sell, are fun and unique.
What makes Sitka such a great tourist destination in the summer?
There really is no other place like Sitka. It truly is a “local” town with very little presence of seasonal stores. But Sitka isn’t just any old town - it’s stunningly beautiful. The combination of the ocean views, things to do, and the friendly local flavor is hard to beat.
What types of designs inspire you? How do you choose the designers/designs that are best suited for your customers?
I want my client to have an experience at Alaska Jewelry’s Goldsmith Gallery that they won’t have anywhere else. I have never been very good at fitting the mold (in life or in fashion!). My store represents designers that create items that have a personal flair to them - options that anyone can wear, but also designs that are unique and make a statement about the wearer. I personally love quality pieces that are bold and beautiful, graceful, and even a little edgy. I adore jewelry that makes me happy and excited about life. If I love it and am satisfied that the quality is impeccable, then I am confident that my client will love it, too!
When it comes to designers, I choose artists who care about the final product - designers who back up their product to me and the customer and are proud of the work they do. I select items that have a broad base of style so I can find an item that will fit anyone’s taste (and pocketbook!). I want my customer to feel amazing when wearing jewelry purchased from my store. After all, jewelry is very personal and should be something that tells a story about the wearer. And I definitely think my designers achieve that in their final work.
What are some of your popular Alaskan-inspired pieces from Alaska Jewelry? Which jewelry items do you recommend as must-have souvenirs to take back from a trip to Alaska?
We have beautiful jewelry that is inspired by the Glaciers of Alaska. It is our trademark item, “Glacier Ice”. We work with designers to achieve one-of-a-kind items set with Natural Blue Zircon, a stone that is unmatched in the blue intensity of color and brilliance. Natural Gold in Quartz is another design carried at Alaska Jewelry. Alaska is one of only three places in the world where this stone is found. Our selection is amazing, durable, and the designs are completely original.
I’ve never been to Alaska. As a local, what do you recommend I see, do, and eat?
I love to run through Totem Park. It is a beautiful setting along the ocean that’s filled with Native totem poles and draped with huge trees. It brings me both peace and energy.
Heading up to the top of Castle Hill and taking in the panorama of Sitka is also a must-see. Anyone can make it to the top and see where the transfer of the territory of Alaska occurred when the Russians sold Alaska to the United States. (Always good to get a little history lesson on your travels!)
Food, well, that is a no brainer…seafood of any kind! We have several restaurants that do a remarkable job preparing fish that is fresh from the ocean just outside our doors. Honestly, you will never forget your meals here.
And lastly, (of course) I also think you should visit Alaska Jewelry to see all the beautiful creations, to say, “Hello”, and to let me help you select a design that will forever commemorate your visit to Sitka, Alaska!
Interview by Dining Traveler