“Wow…what beautiful colors…so delicate…” was what I overheard from a customer as I browsed the Sonya Ooten Gem Bar in LA’s Larchmont shopping district last week. The oohs and aahhs summed up the reaction Ooten’s jewelry designs have inspired since she launched her business ten years ago. Each pair of earrings and necklace she creates is a one-of-a-kind treasure, which reflects her passion for semi-precious stones and the techniques handed down to her from her two grandmas: one a Native American from whom she learned beading and weaving, and the other a Polish immigrant who taught her crocheting and tatting.
Though Ooten’s unique jewelry—which features gems crocheted with strands of silk, gold, or silver—can be found in the Sundance catalogue, Barneys and other boutiques nationwide, it’s a great treat to visit her L.A. store that she opened a year ago where her entire collection is displayed and she is often on-hand, peeking in from her workshop where she creates her goodies in the back room.
Ooten pulls off a glamorous yet down-to-earth style, dressed in jeans, sandals, a madras shirt, and of course a pair of her fabulous drop earrings. “It’s accessible. Fancy, but not formal,” is how she modestly describes her creations that are routinely snatched up by such celebrities as Patricia Heaton, Nicole Kidman, Hilary Duff, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “Every piece is organic and the designs are inspired by the individual stones.”
Her stone-based style is showcased clearly in her latest line, the Fishnet Collection. These necklaces and earrings feature semi-precious gems encased in a gold strand weaving that give them a sexy peek-a-boo look, like the stockings they were inspired by. She takes a more vintage-chic approach with her Cosmo earrings, where gold is crocheted into circles with pearls or gems, creating the look of an exquisite puffy doily.
“I designed the store as a combination of a comfortable home and natural history museum,” she tells me. Crystal sconces and chandeliers give a soothing old world feel to the two small white-walled rooms, where Ooten’s creations are displayed like precious specimens under glass bell jars or hang elegantly from sanded tree branches.
Gal-friendly shopping perks abound. At the curved display case bar, customers can pull up a Lucite stool, set their purse down on a slide-out shelf, and sip a glass of wine, nibble on chocolate kisses, or Ooten’s homemade fudge as they try on her jewelry. There’s also a luxurious bathroom, complete with a vanity table where lotions, perfume, hairspray, and nail polish are available for those who want to give themselves a little pampering.
Ooten’s spirit of creative fun is expressed with her Gem Table, an ingeniously designed piece where glimmering stones in all sizes and colors are displayed under its glass top. Customers can sit with her there, choose stones they like, and together create jewelry for themselves based on her designs. Some choose their birthstones, others work with her to make pieces to match a particular outfit, or create elixir jewelry, using stones that attract such attributes as prosperity, health, or serenity.
Time floats by in the Sonya Ooten Gem Bar, as shoppers like me find themselves lingering in this femalicious spot, which beautifully reflects the personal passions and innovative talent of this award-winning designer.
238 North Larchmont Boulevard, Los Angeles
Mon – Fri: 10:30-6
Prices start at $275