As a teen, Lee Elliot used to hang out in a jewelry store near his house. That's where he learned how to do a lost wax process, from there he made the first few pieces of jewelry. One was a sterling silver pendant he made at 14 which he carries in his pocket to this day, and still wears the ring he designed in 1965. By the age of 17 he realized he wanted to be a jewelry designer and set out to exhibit a dozen pieces at a Christmas Craft Show in Greenwich Village. Determined to have a jewelry store, in 1965 at the age of 18 he rented his first store in Greenwich Village and in his first month grossed $250.00 in sales. And after 42 years in the jewelry business and owning his third store, Lee Jewelers in Sag Harbor, he says, "I love, love, love what I do. I do earn a living, but I don't make any money," he exclaimed.
With Elliot it's a labor of passion as he cultivated his talents at a young age. He credits growing up in his father's hardware store as how he learned to use tools, and his mother, a dress designer gave him the ability to design. He explained it as, "Being born a right brain and raised as a craftsman."
Elliot loves the physical challenges that come with soldering, polishing and stone setting. Being born with a birth defect, he was left to compensate for the lack of having 10 fingers. "I make jewelry even though I have six fingers total. Therefore, I cannot be handicapped, thus am only as different as we all are different in our own way. I am here to show you that we can do anything we want to - if we really want to do it bad enough," he confessed.
The lack of fingers may have deterred the average person, but not Elliot, he went on to design jewelry, opening a Southampton store in 1987 where he styled the necks, ears, and hands of locals and visitors alike for 17 years before moving to the Sag Harbor location two years ago. As a tribute to the Bulova Watch Company, whose factory was a mainstay in Sag Harbor up until two years ago, he's one of the few jewelers to carry the Bulova brand. While others are replenishing their stock of Rolex
and Swiss Army watches, Elliot is showcasing the Bulova - Sag Harbor sentiment in his store and on his wrist.
When it comes to style and the consumers purchasing habits he's seen the trends first hand. With 4th of July
to Christmas being their hottest selling periods, August and December are their peak months. Since last spring Elliot has seen a resurgence of the PEACE sign, made popular in the 1960's with the Vietnam War. He's designed a few of his own and also sells those made by others, but says it's been a popular gift for women buying either for themselves or by men.
"With metal we're selling far more yellow gold than white. Especially our yellow gold - hand hammered chains and discs as pendants and earrings. In terms of engagement rings and wedding bands platinum and white gold make a strong statement. When we observe the trends of gem stones customers are gravitating towards faceted multigem stones strung together as a necklace or earrings," Elliot said. The gem stones people seem to be attracted to have been green citrine, blue topaz, pearls, sapphire, peridot and amethyst. The Ceylon sapphire, lighter in color than the blue sapphire happens to be the second hardest stone to the diamond and is one of Elliot's favorite to work with, because of its color and strength.
Elliot has noticed the peaks and valleys of buying habits. "In years that we sell more rings than necklaces, there are years we sell more pendants than rings or necklaces, and right now we're selling necklaces and earrings," he observed. "Jewelry has always been the strong accent of who we are now, and to what we are wearing."
With the East End being a seasonal area, it is difficult for local crafts people to survive solely on their art and crafts, therefore only a few of the items in his store are made by local artists. Elliot makes sixty percent of the jewelry in the cases the rest of the space he dedicates to American Handcrafts from blown glass, ceramics, wooden jewel
boxes and hand made porcelain.
"I try to give my customers all the information I can, most of the time I pretend to know what I'm talking about," he jested adding. "Then I allow them to shop around knowing my designs are unique and my integrity is up front."
Elliot has passed along not only his right brain thinking, but his knack for design, as his 19 year-old daughter Dori is artistic and creative lending her abilities to design multi-
stone pieces under the guidance of her father. She also works in the shop, as he did with his father's hardware store.
"At 60 years-old, I'm back in school with a 3.8 average, earning my BFA at Suffolk Community College. My daughter was in high school while I was going to college," he scoffed. Both have an eye for photography as you'll see with some of his prize shots on the wall, black & whites taken in 1967 of Janis Joplin
and B. B. King, hanging beside his acrylic paintings of Southampton seascapes. "I eat, sleep and breathe art," he ended.
If you're seeking a Valentine trinket, stop by Lee Jewelers on 42 Main St. in Sag Harbor.