Island jeweler crafts artful heirlooms
Like a Jazz musician improvising while playing a song, Peter Gibbons uses ingenuity to craft durable pieces of personalized heirloom style jewelry that can be passed down to friends and family members for generations.
Gibbons, who has been crafting jewelry for 44 years, told The Summer Times that he tries to design “a product that will hold up” over time. It’s a business he began during his college days in his parent’s basement in Watertown, Conn. “I’m still making jewelry in a basement, just that it’s a different basement,” he said, referring to his Block Island home.
Gibbons sells his jewelry at the Farmer’s Markets during the summer: The Spring House Hotel on Wednesdays, and at Legion Park on Saturdays. He primarily works in gold and silver, with most of his pieces being made from sterling silver. His jewelry is so popular that customers venture to his home to purchase from his inventory, or place orders for custom made pieces.
His most popular pieces are his sterling silver rings, especially the ones shaped like the outline of Block Island, as well as his stylish wave rings and bracelets. Gibbons said he designs custom pieces for his clients, which includes wedding couples, businesses and organizations. When The Times visited him, he displayed a collection of cards and letters from appreciative clients, who he said some times become repeat customers.
Gibbons said, “It’s all personal,” regarding the interaction with his clients. He recounted the story of a 13 year-old girl who recently stopped by his table at the Farmer’s Market. “She was wearing a wire outline ring of Block Island that was passed down from her mother. I think her mother was probably 13 years-old when she bought it from me.”
“It’s been flattering seeing the interest in my business over the years,” he said. “You’re involved in the happy things in people’s lives. It’s nice being a part of that.”
Not bad for a self-taught jewelry designer who received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Sociology, and knew little about jewelry when he began. Gibbons said that jewelry wasn’t something he had an interest in pursuing as a career, and he didn’t even really notice it. His calling as a jeweler, he said, happened somewhat fortuitously: the result of trying to impress a girlfriend.
“In 1973 my girlfriend introduced me to a silversmith at the Big E Expo in Springfield, Mass.,” said Gibbons. “I watched what this guy was doing and thought, ‘I could do that.’” He then went home, read some books and began making rings out of silver wire. His journey took him to vendors in New York City where he purchased equipment, metals and materials for his fledgling business.
After that Gibbons was hooked, and seized the opportunity of crafting and selling jewelry to the public. His first order came from a friend who owned a store in his hometown and ordered 20 rings for a total of $150. Gibbons said that was a lot of money at the time, so he quickly went about delivering the order.
Gibbons said he officially began his business during graduate school, an admittedly slow building process; although he noted that the sale of his jewelry was helpful in paying off his student loans. To augment his income, he worked as an industrial glass blower, a job he held for about 20 years.
“I never thought I’d be able to do this full time,” said Gibbons. “I had no goal in mind. I just did it.”
All the while, Gibbons felt a strong pull to Block Island where his aunt had a home that he visited since childhood. He married his wife, Sue, in 1984, and the couple relocated to Block Island full time in 2001. Gibbons set up his jewelry workshop in the basement of his home. At the time, he sold his jewelry during the summer, and worked construction jobs during the winter months.
During the summer, customers who can’t make it to the Farmer’s Market will sometimes contact Gibbons, and then drop by his home to add to their jewelry collection. The Times witnessed four teenage girls, who were giddy as they shopped in Gibbon’s basement workshop for rings to add to their bejeweled fingers. The girls said it was something they looked forward to doing when they visit the island.
As for the elevation of his craft, Gibbons said he feels like he is progressively more creative with his jewelry. At this point, “I can pull from what I’ve learned” over the years, which means innovation and inspiration leading to new discoveries in techniques of crafting.
One thing Gibbons said he’s learned over the years is making sure his customers are happy; that includes making jewelry repairs. “I want my customers to get what they came for. If I don’t have something in stock I will make it for them. I don’t like to say no to anybody. People don’t forget that — that’s for sure.”
Peter Gibbons can be contacted regarding his Block Island Jewelry at: 401-578-1125 or via email at: BlockIslandJewel@aol.com.