Downtown Portland jewelry maker wins major design award

lemoncitrineView full sizeThe pendant that Portland jewelry maker Mark LaJoie created with an 18-carat lemon citrine -- which he calls "Sunrise" -- won the "designer of the year" award from the Designer Jewelry Showcase, a catalogue publisher for the jewelry industry.

Mark LaJoie has been making beautiful pieces of art with metal and stone for more than 40 years, the last 17 for downtown's venerable

. Last year, his creativity demanded to be fed, to fashion jewelry simply to satisfy his muse.

Fate, too, apparently fell in love with

's efforts because he has been named the "designer of the year" by

, a publisher of an international directory for jewelry artists and jewelry stores.

LaJoie's winning piece is a monumental 25-carat

in an unusual handmade setting of more than 1.25 ounces of 18 carat yellow gold. The design features fleur-de-lis, a tribute to LaJoie's French-Canadian heritage.

The pendant is about 1 1/2 inches by 1 1/3 inches. The stone is about the size of a large green grape.

LaJoie said the piece, which he named "Sunrise," was the first he created on his own time. He bought the citrine on eBay; it had been mined in Brazil and cut in a checkerboard pattern in Thailand. LaJoie polished the inside of the setting with a mirror finish, to show off the gem's fresh color.

He has created half a dozen other pieces featuring amethysts and madeira citrines, which are a dark orange-brown.

Ettagale Blauer,  the founder of the Designer Jewelry Showcase, says three industry judges considered the entries in this first designer-of-the-year contest, and she was the final word. "Sunrise," she says, "is so well integrated; there's not a touch wrong. It's just extremely well-balanced, well-thought-out and well executed."

LaJoie, 58, started in the business when he was 16 in his hometown of Hartford, Conn., traveled to Seattle, met his wife then moved to Portland. He says Margulis Jewelers is "an excellent place to work." But jewelry making has become so widely industrialized, he says, that the industry is losing people with his skills. "I'm one of the last old timers around," he says.

The Designer Jewelry Showcase award is the first LaJoie has ever received in his career. When he learned of his award, "I was honored and overwhelmed. But it doesn't surprise me. I know so much, and I've benefited from so many good people teaching me things. And I get to practice this every day of my life."

Jewelry, he says, "make people feel better. It makes them feel successful. . . . From long ago, cave men and cave women decorated themselves with bones or teeth or other objects around them. It's a natural desire for the human to adorn himself. Nothing wrong with that."


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