Warburton’s ‘Gallery Gemma’ a major attraction at Alton Mill

January 28, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The beautiful Gallery Gemma, now established for 13 years, where it is situated on the ground floor of the heritage building, the Alton Mill Arts Centre, is the result of passion, an intense desire to learn and work ethic, along with an unyielding  insistence on quality. 

This is Anne-Marie Warburton: “It was a feeling that I was doing an excellent job with somebody else’s work and that I had a more creative side of me – I just knew that there was more that I needed to explore, that I had more in me. [Husband] David said, ‘Well, you’ve always loved jewellery, why don’t you explore that?’”

The suggestion was the spark.

“Then, I found out that I could take an on line course with the Gemological Institute of America – the GIA – the world-leading institute of gemology,” she began to tell her fascinating tale. 

With her usual intensity, she worked at the online courses, which, not long into them, required her to take practical courses. Actually, putting the lessons to work.

She made it sound simple: “For the hands -on courses, GIA has its main university in Carlsbad, California, but I discovered their satellite campus in Manhattan, New York. So, I fly down to New York and went to the satellite campus there. For all the practical hands on work, I did it on site at New York. I flew down there, as I went along.”

Ms Warburton recounted, “I graduated from there but there is just so much to know, every year, I go to school to learn more techniques – one of the things I love about it is I’m constantly learning and growing as  a jeweller – I love it.”

It was clear at that point she had to open a shop: “I thought I would open up a gallery in Collingwood and it just didn’t come to fruition and I started looking a little closer to home.”

To find what you want, you need to have an idea of what that is. Said Ms. Warburton, “I had a vision of a gallery that sold designer jewellery, where everything didn’t look the same – I wanted to sell more interesting, unique art jewellery.”

Recently, she has learned, somewhat surprisingly, “I didn’t really imagine that would happen, would be that the jewellery that I was making would the best selling jewellery in the gallery.”

Continuing with the history of Gallery Gemma in the Alton Mill, “I found a location at the Alton Mill –  I was the first retail store to move in there. I was so enthusiastic and I believed so much in what I was doing.”

Enthusiasm is one thing but business demands precautions. “Funnily enough, the person who helped me negotiate the lease had me write into the lease that, if they weren’t finished in a year, I could walk away.

“When the year was almost over,  Jordan [Grant, co-owner of the Alton Mill, with his brother, Jeremy] called me to say that it’s probably going to be another year before the mill would be finished. 

“A colleague of the person who helped me with the lease, a top person in the commercial real estate business, he came and walked around the village and the around the building and he said to me, ‘Anne Marie, get out now.’ ”

She laughed at the memory and history shows she did not take his advice.

Explaining why, she said, “Truth was I love it there; I love the Grant brothers and what they’re trying to do there and I love the people in the area.”

Building a business, building trust: “People come and trust me to make jewellery for them and re-make other old pieces. They like the other artists in the gallery too, the painters upstairs, the textiles – the galleries.”

A mother, she had personal considerations as well: “It also allowed to me raise my children – they were in school then.”

It had been a turbulent decade for business when she reflected, “The other thing that happened was 2008 – it was a world-wide crisis. There were just things you would hear people say, like, retail will never be the same again.” 

Yet, doors have stayed open and the chips fell where they did. Gallery Gemma has seen its own ups and downs but, overall, it is well-established and her repeat customers, as well as people coming for the first time, return.”

She went on to say, “In analyzing things for last year, the things I made outsold everything else 2 to 1. I told myself I should be making more jewellery. Just last week we moved things around to give me a good space to work. We’re getting a new workbench to enable me to work more. 

“In a couple of weeks, I’m going to the gem stones sale in Tucson Arizona. It’s a big deal, and it’s fun; it’s not winter. I’m looking to see about new trends and ideas.”

She talked about keeping her designs fresh, “I have a real interest in what other artists are doing in other fields. I did an on line course with Frank Gehry, the architect. He gets his inspiration  from nature and looking the buildings around him – noting that things are not built in isolation.”

Ms. Warburton talked about the clients who commission her to make custom pieces for them or reuse the gems and precious metal of jewellery they have inherited, “People tell me a lot about their lives – the saddest and happiest times of the jewellery I’m remaking. It’s a wonderful connection.”

From the beginning, Anne-Marie Warburton has been in love with the continuing precess of learning. She commented, “The more courses you take , the more you see different things to do; I live  for  this – I just love it.”

About a year ago, the Alton Mill Arts Centre broke through to people’s awareness and  things started to happen for the Mill. Said Ms. Warburton,  “I want everybody to succeed. People are starting to appreciate what is there.”

Of her staff, “I also have really wonderful people that work for me, Natalie, John and Nicole; they bring energy and Natalie is great merchandiser . She’s a real help in merchandising: inventory, designers, choosing stock from them – she does this with me and she does the displays.

“Nicole does the social media and John is a great sales person and he loves jewellery; he’s retired and imparts that calm to our clients. He’s also an IT man. So, he helps with that. Hanakl is my bookkeeper.”

“Ambition? We love having our events with experts and other showing their pieces . We want to know what people want to wear; what do they wish we had there?”

In her opinion, “The Mill has hit a critical mass – enough press, word of mouth; once people come there, they come back.”

She pondered on the whole picture and humorously, summed it up: “Sometimes, I would blame the Alton Mill for the hard times but there are no, no regrets.” 

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