The Finer Facets of Making Heirloom Jewelry

Katie Simonetti was able to brand her signature fine jewelry when she opened up shop in the Grove Arcade.
Photo by Jack Robert

The interior of Asheville’s Grove Arcade is an Art Deco marvel. With soaring arches, bright skylights, and whimsical staircases, balconies, and friezes, the building itself resembles an opulent jewelry box. And inside, one can find the shimmery gold and glimmering gemstones of Katherine Alexander Fine Jewelry within the Alexander and Lehnert Jewelry storefront.

A collaboration between jewelry designer Katie Simonetti and her luthier husband Alex Tolini — a graduate of Haywood Community College’s Professional Crafts Program who contributes his business and sales savvy — Katherine Alexander Fine Jewelry is a labor of love built on masterful design. Simonetti has been drawn to art, craft, and making things since before attending Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. It was there, though, that she found herself at a jeweler’s bench on a cold upstate February day. 

Photo by Jack Robert

“Suddenly everything made sense,” she says. “I’d never felt that way before.”

After graduating, and following a brief foray into teaching, Simonetti attended Boston’s North Bennet Street School, the oldest trade school in the country. For two years she studied the ins and outs of jewelry making and went to work with a local jeweler, continuing to learn on the job. 

Then she took “a sharp left turn” into the auction business, which gave her entrée into the history of fine jewelry. “When I moved to Asheville a year-and-a-half later, I stayed in auctions. I worked for Brunk [Auctions], as a Jewelry Specialist. I really grew up in that position.”

Pieces range from timeless and demure to (literally and figuratively) edgy. Simonetti’s newest, yet-to-be-debuted work will be an ode to the bold, chunky designs of the designer David Webb, born in Asheville.
Photo by Jack Robert

But when an opportunity came up with local jeweler Bill Lehnert, Simonetti felt it was the right time to get back to the business of making what she loved. It was a fateful decision that found her building a line, a company, and a personal mission statement as an artist. 

Tiffany McFalls Photography

These days, Katherine Alexander Fine Jewelry offers a variety of elegant, luxurious, effortless pieces, as well as commissions. A new line, still in the drawing phase, is “Ode to David Webb,” one of the quintessential modern American jewelers. “He is one of my all-time favorites,” says Simonetti. “And coincidentally he was born in Asheville, in a boarding house in Montford, in 1925. I’m very excited about the collection. My pieces, in general, tend to be smaller and more demure. David Webb’s work is famously bold and chunky. Working in that style has really pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best ways.”

Commission work offers further avenues for creativity and special, one-off pieces. “It’s a fun and collaborative process. And one size does not fit all,” says Simonetti. “I like the hands-on approach.” She has a real affection for wedding jewelry, noting, “It’s very special. It’s always wonderful to create something that has such personal meaning, and may get passed down through families.” 

Tiffany McFalls Photography

But she’s also practical. “The years I’ve spent in this business, especially in auctions, have taught me that, while meaningful, jewelry is also just jewelry.” For example, she’s well aware that even priceless heirloom jewelry is often “taken apart and refashioned down the line.”

 No matter, though — for Simonetti, the process itself is still, well, the crown jewel. “For the last 20-plus years, everything I’ve done has come back to me sitting at a bench, working with my hands.”

Katherine Alexander Fine Jewelry at Alexander & Lehnert Fine Jewelry in the Grove Arcade (1 Page Ave., Suite 142, downtown Asheville),

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