Tucked away in Oakland's lovely Temescal Alley is a beautiful sunlit shop full of jewelry, home goods, art, and more. Step into ESQUELETO, the thoughtfully curated store owned by jewelry designer Lauren Wolf. After starting her jewelry line, Lauren Wolf Jewelry, in New York, Lauren relocated to Oakland and opened the store in 2011. Featuring her own designs as well as pieces from other designers and artists, the small store has a rather large selection of unique finds. I stopped by to chat with store employees Rachel and Sha-Ron (this location's manager) since Lauren was away at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Showcase picking out beautiful gems to incorporate into her jewelry and decorate the shop with.
How long have you been working for the company?
Rachel: About two years.
Sha-Ron: Same, about two years.
How long has the store been at this location?
Rachel: A little over 5 years now.
What was the history of the company before the store?
Rachel: Lauren Wolf, the owner, has her own jewelry line for a while. She got started before the store and through opportunity the store came about. It was a good opportunity for her to sell and show her work and showcase other designers that she likes as well.
While the store primarily focuses on jewelry, clay homewares, framed art, and gemstones also line the shelves by the front of the store.
How does she go about finding other designers and artists?
Rachel: We get plenty of artist submissions either through email or people coming into the store, but she has also included people she knows within the jewelry community. Some are her friends or people she admires, and she’s approached them to sell work in the store. Right now we have the most jewelers we’ve had in five years, so it’s been a progression to get to where we are now.
Are most of the designers local or from all over?
Rachel: It’s a mix. There are quite a few from the Bay Area but there are also some from New York because that’s where Lauren got started with her jewelry. She went to school out there. But they’re all local in the sense that they’re small designers. We communicate with each designer about special orders or their work. It’s all handmade small businesses.
Jewelry is mostly displayed in cases that are separated by artist. It's easy to see the distinct style of each designer as well as how each style mixes into the overall curation of the store.
Speaking of the local community, what's special about the Temescal Alley area to you?
Rachel: I think the coolest thing for me, just working here, is that in such a small area there’s such a high capacity of stores that are all owned by small business owners who are very much a part of the business. If you go to another store in the alley, you’ll probably see the owner of the store within the store working, helping, and curating their store. And it’s not just clothing stores, there’s a keyboard store, a place where you can have guitar lessons, an apothecary, and more! There’s just so many things that make the community really special.
I know that you have a store in Los Angeles as well, I was wondering if you could speak about the expansion process?
Sha-Ron: At the time that it happened, we were both fairly new. That store turned a year this summer, so it’s not very old. However, I do know that Lauren had been here around 4 years at the time, and the manager who started here wanted to move to Los Angeles. Her name is Alexis and her and Lauren are very close. Lauren was thinking about expanding and thought about Los Angeles, and with Alexis wanting to go there, it really worked out well. I think that when people are thinking about expanding, a lot of it depends on their business plan but also the people they have working for them. It was kind of a right place at the right time situation, and Lauren is very smart at choosing where she goes and what she does. Like her curating, it’s all very tight. I think the process happened very organically. She kept what was going on with Alexis’ life in the mix, and it’s really a beautiful thing to have seen. Lauren really supports the people who work for her!
The store is so full of beautiful things that if you forget to look at the floor, you'll miss valuable pieces!
Are there any major differences between this location and the Los Angeles one?
Rachel: They have definitely a similar curation and vibe. But down there I feel like they go for more a bold, high contrast look. It’s most of the same designers - they might have one or two we don’t have, but we also have some that they don’t have. However, as far as the selection goes, I think that they’re aiming for a more bold statement piece product mix. It’s LA, it’s a little bit of a different clientele. But it’s a beautiful space.
Rachel waits to greet customers at the register.
Is there anything about Oakland or this area in particular that lends itself to the merchandise you carry in the shop?
Rachel: In terms of a jewelry store, we have a very wide selection for people, and that’s come in handy here just because we get people who want all different things. People who come here tend to want things that are non-traditional or have a more handmade quality and unique design. Something that’s one of a kind is definitely something that people mention. Working here is fun because I have a lot to show them, so I get to have fun with that. It’s not just a few styles I can show someone. It’s great knowing that anyone who comes in can find something that they really love.
Rachel shows off her favorite rings deigned by store owner Lauren Wolf.
What’s your favorite part about working for a local business?
Rachel: I think what I like the most about working here is that we are a small, tight-knit group. There’s only a handful of us and we all know each other really well. We also get to know the merchandise really well and the processes really well. Learning about different jewelry processes is really fun, especially learning about all the vintage jewelry. It's super fascinating. What they did back then versus what we do now is really cool to look at and understand.
I didn’t even realize there was vintage here - can you talk more about the vintage pieces?
I think our oldest piece in here is about 200 years old. We had one from the 1770s once and that was really cool. The oldest one we have now is from 1800 (they’re beautiful diamond earrings).
Some pieces from the vintage case. One of my favorite items in the whole store was the buckle cuff pictured to the left.
I found it hard to do the amazing jewelry in the store justice due to the lighting (it was a rainy day and the lighting wasn't as good as it usually is) and the reflection of the cases. However, I decided to pull some images from the store's website of my favorite pieces. You can find the links to see more about each product underneath the photo grid. While you're on the website, take a look around. There's so many great pieces listed there - it was hard for me to pick just six!
Many thanks to Sha-Ron and Rachel for telling me more about the store and their experiences working for such a great company! If you're in Los Angeles or the Bay Area, be sure to visit ESQUELETO at 482 A 49th Street (Oakland) or 1298 W Sunset Blvd (Los Angeles). If you're elsewhere, the store has a great online shop and blog as well as a lovely Instagram and Facebook. And if you're a Boutique Geek like me, don't forget to follow along on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates on my posts.
Lauren's love of gemstones shows not only in her jewelry but also in the store decor - beautiful stones can be found everywhere from the windows to the jewelry display counters!