COUTURE PRACTICES - 33 Jewels, Santa Barbara

March 2008

At age 12, on a family visit to Santa Barbara, Calif., Diane Garmendia fell in love with the city and returned to her native New Jersey vowing to live there one day. In 1995, when she was 25, she hitched a U-Haul to her car and made good on her promise.

Earrings by Sarah Graham

Garmendia had spent years running an art gallery, so when she arrived in California she relied on that experience to create a portfolio of local artists whom she represented. She loved the autonomy and, of course, the art, but she describes those years as “feast or famine.”

A chance encounter in 1997 brought her to Oliver & Espig Jewelers, an upscale store on State Street, the heart of Santa Barbara’s retail district, and that’s when she rediscovered her passion for jewels.

“My grandfather was a jeweler in New Jersey for 40 years and it all came flooding back to me,” Garmendia recalls. “This was art on a smaller scale.”

A part-time job at the store led to a senior buying position that allowed her to travel the world in search of jewelers whose work resonated with her love of fine art. Then, two years ago, she opened 33 Jewels, a cozy 750-square-foot boutique in El Paseo, a historic Spanish-tiled complex that also houses Bryant & Sons, a respected jeweler whose selection of Patek Philippe and Cartier is a perfect counterpoint to Garmendia’s one-of-a-kind pieces.

“Because the store doesn’t look like a traditional carpeted, white-walled store—we have carved Balinese cases, cork floors, a faux sunrise [wall] finish—people aren’t sure when they first walk in,” Garmendia says. “I have to put the big diamond pieces in the front to qualify us.” Besides the requisite engagement rings, 33 Jewels stocks about 20 different jewelry artists.

Garmendia’s business partner, Emanuel Jacobson, a Turkish bench-jeweler whose family runs a small jewelry chain, Ozel Jewelers, in Redlands, Calif., executes the custom work. Like the other designers represented in the cases— among them Gaia Pelikan from Arizona, Ken and Noelle Simpson from Bali and K. Brunini from Southern California—Garmendia promotes Jacobson’s antique-inspired jewels as artwork, especially during the city’s monthly “1st Thursday” series, when all of the galleries in town, including the art space directly above the jewelry store, stay open late. “I try to have an art artist and a jewelry artist,” Garmendia says. “I promote the downstairs jeweler as art. I emphasize that it’s all handmade by one guy sitting at the bench.”