Interview with Peter Indorf
By Jen Payne
In December, I had the opportunity to speak with Peter Indorf about his work as a jeweler and his experience as the owner of Peter Indorf Designs.
For those of you who don’t know, Peter has been in business since 1972, first in California then Connecticut and now in Florida. The journey from then to now, from there to here, is a fascinating story…
JEN: How long have you been a jeweler?
PETER: Since the early 1970s. I started out in California and my first workshop, believe it or not, was in the back of a bread truck.
JEN: A bread truck? This deserves a segue.
PETER: Yes…a bread truck. I was living in Bolinas, California. I was in my 20s and basically homeless — even though it felt like a grand adventure! I had been living in a handmade driftwood shack on a remote beach, but after nine months I got bored living in paradise and decided to move to the village. There was a house where some artistic hippies lived, so I approached them about sharing the house. They were welcoming, but there wasn’t a spare room. I remembered seeing an old bread truck in nearby Stinson Beach, so I made arrangements to have it towed to the house and put it in the driveway. I built a bed and a workbench inside, made it homey, and got to work making jewelry that I sold in shops in Berkeley and San Francisco.
JEN: So, how did you end up making jewelry?
PETER: My great grandfather, also named Peter Indorf, came to the USA in the 1880s, settled in Meriden, Connecticut, and worked in the silversmithing industry. His son Frank Indorf followed him in what became International Silver Co. My father Donald Indorf also worked at International Silver along with many others in my family— including myself at one point. My mother’s father Theodore Page was a Bulova Watch salesman from the 1920s to the 1940s, and later he and my uncle Marvin Page opened Page’s Treasure Shop in Laconia, New Hampshire. So I’ve had the DNA for metalwork and jewelry for a long time.
When I was living in the artist community, I met a craftsman named Bob Buck. He taught me the rudiments of jewelry making. Then I began a period of self-discovery, and I educated myself through trial-and-error and reading books on how to make jewelry. It all came together after that.
JEN: What is your background and education?
PETER: I was not a good student in the traditional sense, and I never went to a four year college. I did enjoy the hands-on work with Bob Buck, and subsequently learning all I could about the craft of jewelry making on my own.
Later, when I started the business, there was so much I needed to learn — how to cost account and price my jewelry, how to train jewelers, sales people and management. Along the way, I realized I learn best working collaboratively. Once I figured that out, I became a lifelong student! I took the Dale Carnegie Course, and management seminars at Bryant College. I took design and gemology courses at the Gemological Institute of America and earned my Graduate Gemologist diploma. Later, I was awarded the Certified Gemologist Appraiser title from the American Gem Society. Most recently I mastered CounterSketch Studio, a state-of-the-art computer aided design (CAD) and manufacturing platform, and am currently learning how to use the art jewelry design platform MatrixGold.
JEN: How did you come to owning Peter Indorf Jewelers and then morphing into Peter Indorf Designs?
PETER: I started on a shoestring in 1972 and worked as Resident Jeweler at the craft shop Olde Ways in downtown New Haven. I founded Peter Indorf Contemporary Jewelry Design in 1974, mostly creating sterling silver jewelry. I changed the name to Peter Indorf Jewelers when I started to create gold and platinum jewelry and moved to 1177 Chapel Street in New Haven. I built the business piece-by-piece from there, and ended up with three fully-staffed, successful, retail locations in Connecticut.
After 44 years, though, it was time for a change. I closed up the stores and took a year off, moved to Florida, and decided to start Peter Indorf Designs. Now I am a private jeweler working out of an office instead of a store. I use my website as my shop, and promote it with social media. I still support my Connecticut clients and have picked up many new clients all over the country.
JEN: So, you’ve been in business since the early 70s, first in Connecticut now in Florida. Tell us a little about how your business and the industry has changed over the years.
PETER: Ha! I remember keeping inventory on index cards in a card file!
I think the jewelry industry has been dragged kicking and screaming into the new age. Most are happy to just keep doing what has been working. But, I’ve always been interested in technology. I got my first Mac in 1985 and started to do my own advertising and marketing materials. Then I developed a computer program to handle most of the tasks a jewelry shop needed. Like I said — I’m a lifelong student. It’s why I’m so involved in CAD now, and applications like CounterSketch Studio and MatrixGold. However, I still love to make handmade jewelry, too.
JEN: You’re not just a business owner, though. You’re an artist, as well. What is it like to manage both the business operations and the creative work?
PETER: Now it’s a piece of cake in comparison to what I had to deal with when I had three stores and 15 employees. For a long time, I was more of a business owner and just oversaw the creative process. I always kept a jewelers bench, but had a very hard time sitting still for more than 10 minutes! It was hard to manage with employees and craftspeople, oversee accounting, legal, insurance, banking, payables, advertising, community involvement, designing merchandise, overseeing purchasing and inventory management…there were a lot of hats to wear.
Now, with no employees, low overhead, no large investment in inventory and a much simpler business model, I can concentrate on my custom work, commissions, and creating new inventory for our website. I still have help, but it’s done through partnerships with other talented jewelers in both New York City and in Lafayette, Louisiana. It’s a huge improvement in my quality of life and my creative efforts…and I can give still my clients all the personal attention they want.
JEN: Tell me a little about what kinds of creative skills go into your jewelry? I know, for example, that you use technology to help create your work, but that in itself takes skills, correct?
PETER: You definitely need to be an artist. You need to know what colors go together, understand gems and the processes of jewelry making. It’s helpful to be a student of jewelry history and jewelry design, too, since those provide unlimited inspiration. I learned many skills along the way: how to fabricate handmade jewelry, gem setting, wax carving, and hand painting jewelry designs. Eventually, I even invented my own style of jewelry design, creating sketches four times larger than life using colored pencils. In the last five years, I’ve added creative technology into the mix, which gives my work even more possibilities.
JEN: As I recall, you’re also a photographer. Do you find that your jewelry creations and your photography overlap creatively?
PETER: Yes, my wife Pat and I love to take photos and are very involved with the Camera Club of Brevard. I am currently a board member and serve as the Public Relations Chair, and Pat serves as Competition Director. Our club is very active, even with the pandemic. We host Zoom meetings with world class professional photographers, hold virtual photo competitions and photo walks.
I recently won Third in Class B for this photo of the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston.
Of course, it’s not just a hobby. I use photography and photography software in all aspects of my jewelry work, product development, communications, and proposals. Most of the images you see on our social media, websites, blogs and client communications are my own work.
JEN: Browsing through the collections on your website, I can see so many influences. What inspires you? Where do you find your inspirations?
PETER: I’m inspired by many things, the beauty of nature, the people who wear my jewelry, the emotions behind why a piece of jewelry is selected or given. In my work, you’ll see the influence of flowers, leaves, the cosmos, mandalas, fractals, different cultures especially, paleolithic, ancient, middle ages, and also cultural periods, like Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Can you guess the inspiration behind my newest creations, the Oceana Collection
JEN: Do you have a “most favorite piece” of work, one that you are most proud of?
PETER: Wow, that is hard. Well…one is my patented Unity Ring. It’s a band of gold and a band of platinum that intertwine together to form one ring. They are separate but do not come apart—just like a strong relationship. This design was inspired by a Gimmel ring from Europe and it took a few years to perfect it. The Unity Ring became one of our best-selling bands and we did many variations, different widths, some with diamonds set in the platinum.
JEN: Tell me a little about the jewelry I can find on your website, like the Peter Indorf Collection and the Signature Collection?
PETER: The Peter Indorf Collection features all of our custom-designed jewelry in one place, including bracelets, brooches, chains, earrings, gemstones, lapel pins, necklaces, pendants, rings, and wedding collections. It’s mostly available by special order so we simplified the selection. If you click on the Buy Now! tab, you can see the jewelry that is currently in stock and ready for purchase through our secure shopping cart.
Under the Signature Collection, you can find almost anything a fine jeweler sells. The Signature Collection is curated by my partner, the fine jewelry manufacturer Stuller. Any of these items can be special ordered directly from our website.
JEN: So much of your work relies on an understanding of the gemstones you use. I see that you hold credentials from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the American Gem Society (AGS) and the Accredited Gemologist Association (AGA). How does that influence your work?
PETER: That is a good question. The GIA — Gemological Institute of America — is the authority worldwide in the field of gemology with offices in all the major cities of the world. I studied with GIA over 7 years mostly home study, learning to grade diamonds, colored gems, pearls and jewelry design to earn their ultimate degree, the Graduate Gemologist (GG) title. Once you have your GG you can apply to the sister organization, the AGS — the American Gem Society.
AGS is the professional wing — like joining the American Medical Association after medical school. They were both founded by renowned gemologist Robert Shipley in 1931.
I started with AGS by becoming a Registered Jeweler, earned my Certified Gemologist (CG) title, and then my Certified Gemologist Appraiser (CGA) title. By then, I had also established an Accredited Gemological Laboratory.
My ongoing work with GIA, AGS, and AGA, including annual conferences and seminars, truly helps to separate Peter Indorf Designs from other jewelers. We are gemologists, designers, jewelers, gem cutters, appraisers and much more.
JEN: Recently, on your blog, you featured a tour of your studio. It was fascinating! I don’t think people realize how much is involved in your day-to-day work. Can you tell us about a typical day in the studio?
PETER: I work out of two places, my home office and my studio. I usually start at home in the morning by catching up on my email communications with my clients. I also hold, phone, text, Zoom and FaceTime calls with current and potential clients.
It’s also a good time to add inventory on the website. That usually involves photographing finished items in my photo studio and coordinating time with my wife Pat, who graciously steps in as one of my models.
I usually do my design work at home, either with black museum board and colored pencils or one of my CAD programs. I’ll research and order materials, source gems, coordinate with my partners, prepare proposals, and process incoming and outgoing payments here as well.
Afternoons are reserved for in-studio appointments with local clients, time at the workbench making jewelry, cutting gems, doing appraisals, and arranging shipping. Cilck here to Tour the Studio now.
By chance, we ended up really well-positioned for the circumstances of 2020 and the pandemic. Working from home, utilizing various technologies, enhancing the website, and scheduling studio appointments are second nature already.
JEN: It’s clear that you enjoy your work and you enjoy interacting with your clients. Tell us how people can connect with you?
PETER: Peter Indorf Designs can be reached in a variety of ways. Our office phone is 321-914-0118, and our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our website has contact forms on every page that come directly to me — so you can ask questions about specific items or request a design appointment. Clients can also message me on Instagram, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp. I’m available for in-studio appointments, phone calls, Zoom and FaceTime appointments.
Peter, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today about Peter Indorf Designs. It’s been inspiring!