Based on a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s artistic gifts and talents, Tim Wright and Alex Maryaskin have forged an inseparable bond that got its start in a jewelry store that promoted and fostered artistic expression in jewelry making. These were the founding principles for the two artisans when they opened their own store where incredible jewelry designs are created as well as works of art, including a Fabergé-style gold egg with a retail replacement value of $217,000.
There are individuals that possess such incredible talents their skills force people to stop and take notice. For Tim, that moment happened in February 2001 when Alex walked into Charlie’s Jewelry with an exquisitely crafted silver vanity mirror. As an immigrant to the US from the Ukraine, money was tight for Alex. But he wanted to make a special creation he could sell to make some money. And, perhaps with a little luck and timing, find a work opportunity at Charlie’s Jewelry in Newport News, VA.
Purchasing silver outright would be costly. To help save on precious metal investments for his mirror project Alex purchased old silver quarters made before 1964. “Quarters minted before that year were made of 90 percent silver,” says Alex. “This mirror was fabricated entirely out of old US quarters.”
When Alex presented his hand-fabricated silver vanity mirror to Charlie, the store owner could not believe his eyes - same for Tim. Based on the incredible filigree work, fabrication and overall workmanship Charlie agreed to put the mirror in his store on consignment for $1,800.
It took some time for the mirror to sell, but Alex’s talents as a jeweler were immediately recognized. Alex began working closely with Tim at Charlie’s store and at their home shops, doing everything from basic repairs to custom pieces and other bench jewelry work as needed.
Sadly, Charlie passed away in March 2003. And, with his passing came new management and new ways of managing the store. “In the past, Charlie gave us much in terms of creative freedom,” says Tim. “The only guidelines were if we could sell it, we could make it. All that changed when his kids took over the business.”
Tim and Alex worked for Charlie’s children for a couple of years, but could tell the family business was hurting and sales began to suffer. As proactive as they are creative, the two set out on their own. Each man had his own bench shop at home. Pieces were designed and fabricated at their home studios and then sold in local and regional craft and art shows. The business partners eked out a living for a number of years, but wanted more stability and a place to call their own.
“We were able to do this for about four or five years, then it became too much moving and running around,” says Tim. “On May 22, 2010, we opened a small 900-square-foot store.”
Two years later, Simply Unique Jewelry Designs, in Yorktown, VA, doubled in size. In addition to a major build out, they hired four full-time people and one part-timer. Business boomed with jewelry designed and crafted by Tim and Alex.
Sales successes continued to hum along very well for Tim and Alex. Years passed and Christmas 2015 was one of the busiest holiday seasons on record for the dynamic duo. But, with busy store traffic and countless hours spent at the bench, Alex was burnt out. “I needed another project to get me fired up again,” says Alex. In addition to the handcrafted silver vanity mirror, Alex created a silver chalice and was thirsting for a new big project.
Back in his home country, Alex worked on an interior church restoration project, which included gold leaf and filigree work on columns. He also liked the idea of fabricating a Fabergé-style precious metal egg set with gemstones. In early 2016, he hatched the idea of producing an egg.
The egg project began with no sketches or even basic renderings. “On hour one of the 538 hours it took to complete the project, Alex sat down and simply said ‘I need some gold wire,’” says Tim. “And, that’s how the egg project got its start.”
Of course, Alex made many calls for more wire, and more wire and even more gold wire, to the tune of 300 feet of 30-guage gold wire totaling 10 ounces of white, yellow and rose 14-karat gold. Perhaps drawing on his church restoration project back in the Ukraine, Alex created small scenes and portions of a church that would be incorporated into the handcrafted eggshell.
Churchyard and structural pieces - such as a well with a hand crank to a bucket, an upper-level landing, a bell tower and steeple to name a few features - would ultimately come together inside the eggshell. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Fabergé-style egg without some intricate and mind-blowing details including stain glass windows set with gemstones, a working gate and doors that open to tiny worship scenes such as an open church pew, a scripture mount, a pipe organ, and even a portrait of the Virgin Mary.
But the real trick for the egg project was fitting all of these pieces together within the confines of the eggshell, as well as taking the components Alex made down to four moving parts that would move together with clockwork precision. When the many components came together, the completed structure was too tall.
“There’s actually a piece we saved that had to be cut off to fit in the eggshell,” says Alex.
Once the sizing issue was overcome, the next challenge was making the four moving parts come together and then open and close seamlessly in unison. “The egg opens and closes using a key at the top of the egg, so the key is the most important part of the four moving parts,” says Alex. “The eggshell itself moves as does the church and the lapis base. Getting all four parts to open and close with the turning of the key was perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the project.”
The lapis lazuli base was another tricky, time-consuming portion of the egg project. Alex was told he’d have to wait two to three weeks for the base to be produced from an out-of-town cutter. Anxious to see his project completed, Alex worked with a local lapidary artist to cut a lapis sphere in half to produce the egg’s base.
Material investments alone totaled $25,000. And, Alex’s labor is about $50,000. Tim and Alex have priced the egg creation at $165,000. It comes with an 8-page retail replacement insurance appraisal stating a value of $217,000.
The business partners would certainly like to sell the egg for obvious reasons; first, to recoup their initial investment but to also set aside some seed money for Alex’s next big project - which has yet to be determined. For now, the egg is on display in their store and has been the source of much media, social media and walk-in attention from customers.
Alex and Tim are also looking to get some industry recognition for their egg creation. In 2014, Alex earned a Saul Bell Design Award in the “Hollowware/Art Objects” category for his silver vanity mirror.
“We’re looking to submit Alex’s egg for another Saul Bell Design Award,” says Tim.