Meet Your Merchant: Owner of Gather Jewelry, a company inspired by the rural life of her Nevada County roots
July 22, 2018
Nevada County native Leora Coronel was working at a successful yoga studio in L.A. when her husband, Gus, also a Nevada County native, suggested they move back to their hometown.
It was 2008, just as the economy was taking a nose dive, and Leora suddenly had to rethink her career path.
"I didn't know what I would do for work," she said. "There was so little opportunity at the time."
But Leora had always possessed a creative, crafty streak, and she enjoyed making feather earrings. They were popular among her friends, who suggested she sell them on Etsy, which at the time was a relatively new e-commerce concept featuring handmade items.
On a whim, she posted a few of her favorite pieces and set a price.
"I was shocked — the next morning I'd already sold everything," she said. "It was very encouraging. I had no other way to make money, so I just kept doing it."
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It didn't take long before Leora began exploring other kinds of jewelry making. But when her uncle, a Marin County jeweler, gave her a rudimentary lesson in soldering, she became passionate about metalsmithing.
"That's when I really became serious about jewelry making — I was very lucky because my husband had a stable job I could fall back on while I took the time to develop skills. I'm essentially self-taught."
Leora's husband, Gus, had opened and co-owned Good Times and Mint in Grass Valley with partner Sam Anderson. Leora helped with the launch of Mint and worked there for several years.
As Leora's jewelry-making skills, design range and inventory increased, so did her customer base. In addition to Etsy, she was lucky to have close merchant friends, such as the owner of Kitkitdizzi in Nevada City, who were willing to showcase her work.
Today, more than 10 years later, Leora's company, Gather Jewelry, has grown exponentially. While roughly 30 percent of her pieces are sold in stores, nearly 70 percent are sold online or are custom made directly for customers. The hand-forged jewelry is created in Leora's home studio in Nevada City, where she creates small themed batches and one-of-a-kind pieces, much of which is inspired by her rural lifestyle.
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One of her signature series, the Yuba Collection, seeks to capture the spirit of the river she grew up enjoying. The pieces are built around rocks collected from the Yuba River, which are then cut, polished and set in sterling silver.
She's also given polished Yuba stones to other jewelers, encouraging them to add to the collection via their unique styles. Ten percent of each piece sold from the Yuba Collection is donated to South Yuba River Citizen's League (SYRCL), whose mission is to protect and restore the Yuba River.
"You can literally wear a piece of the river next to your heart," said Leora. "I think it's important to give back through SYRCL. We've taken non-precious stones and made them feel a lot more precious. I'm hoping the jewelry motivates people to protect the river."
The Yuba Collection is just one example of Leora's broad range of styles and themes offered through Gather Jewelry, as she's now made thousands of pieces since her company launched nearly a decade ago. Working primarily with silver, some of her inspiration has come from traditional Mexican silversmithing, and more recently ancient weaponry.
"I love making things that look like they've been dug up in an archeological site," she said. "Often I like to keep the settings simple, with the focus on the stone — letting it speak for itself. Less is more."
One of Leora's favorite creative endeavors is to make custom memorial pieces, she said.
"I often do custom pieces where I'll set some ashes, hair, or a piece of fabric from the clothing of a person or pet who has passed, under a stone for their loved ones," she explained. "I'm always really honored when someone comes to me for one of these piecSOULes."
'AN ABSOLUTE TREASURE'
"I have brought home more than a dozen Gather pieces and every single one is an absolute treasure," said longtime customer Jessica Tellander. "Leora composes delicate and substantial work equally well — each piece is infinitely wearable, each an original, thoughtful, creative design. Her craft and skill produce works of art that are a pleasure to wear."
Thanks to local vendors, Leora said she gets a kick out of seeing people on the street donning one of her handmade creations. Looking forward, she says she wants to slowly continue to build on her skills and explore working with more precious metals, such as gold.
"That's what I love about a small town — I love to see people wearing something I made," she said. "It's really gratifying when people are happy with something I made with my own hands. After all these years I still can't believe people give me money to do my hobby and my art. I'm incredibly grateful."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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