As a child growing up in Lima, Peru, Alejandro Vinces loved to spread the contents of his mother’s jewelry box out on her bed and carefully examine each piece.
“I was probably around 8 or 9 when I became fascinated — she had beautiful jewelry,” he said. “I would also take apart my father’s watches. I wanted to see how all the parts fit together.”
As a teenager, Vinces was on track to become an electrical engineer in Lima, yet after a few years, he made the life-altering decision to follow his true passion: designing jewelry. He studied jewelry art and design, then trained with jewelers for roughly seven years before moving with his wife, Marta Cacho-Sousa, to Tampa, Fla., in 1993 to join his brother.
“The economy was tough in Peru,” said Vinces. “We arrived in Florida with $300 in our pockets.”
Fortunately, Vinces had a marketable skill. His jewelry-making skills and design expertise quickly caught the attention of area jewelers.
“That’s how I got my labor papers here in the U.S.,” said Vinces. “I had to prove that I wasn’t taking a job from an American. What I do is somewhat of a lost art.”
Customers began to seek him out because of his remarkable hand-made pieces. Before long, he found himself working for large jewelry companies, filling orders for high-end customers from the likes of Italy, South Africa and Brazil.
“I made jewelry for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” said Vinces. “In Tampa, I was able to refine my skills through working with a master jeweler. I perfected the art of setting stones, learned from other designers and learned how to work with platinum and palladium.”
But after 10 years in Florida, Vinces and Cacho-Sousa — who by then had a family — decided to tour the country in search of a new home.
After exploring New England, Appalachia, Washington state and the California coast, it was Tahoe and the nearby foothills that eventually won them over.
In 2005, the family moved to Grass Valley. After spending the past several years working for other jewelers out of his home workshop, Vinces has finally done what he’s always wanted to do: open his own business.
On Nov. 9, Vinces opened the doors of Alejandro Designs on Neal Street in Grass Valley.
In addition to jewelry on display, customers are able to watch Vinces at work, as his workshop is in plain view.
“I thought about putting a wall up and having my workshop in the back,” he said. “But I want people to see my work space. I want them to see the process, the labor that goes into it. Plus, I’m a social person. I like to talk.”
On display are pieces ranging from modern silver to antique vintage rings, as well as Vinces’ own designs. Of particular interest to him is antique jewelry from the 1920s and creating fine replicas. In addition to creating custom designs for his customers, he also does jewelry repair and changes watch batteries. Customers, many of whom travel from out of the area for his craftsmanship, are invited to watch and learn about every step of the process, he said. Because he enjoys a close relationship with clients, Vinces said he is determined to keep his business small and simple. What he has now in his modest store, he says, is perfect.
“It’s rewarding when people get the exact jewelry they want and appreciate the work that goes into it,” Vinces said. “When they walk out the door with something I’ve created, a part of me goes with them.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.