High School classes lead to business

MARTINEZ, Calif. – The first ring that James Peirano made was fashioned from a slice of copper pipe and enameled. “The summer school teachers at Pleasant Hill High School said, ‘Tell your counselor to call me. I want to put you in the Junior Jewelry class.’”

He was a freshman then.

Another teacher asked if he could make more. When Peirano said yes, the teacher sold them in Berkeley for five times what Peirano charged, and they were in business.

“After that, I got a job in Berkeley being a silversmith and won the Mt Diablo Unified School District Art Scholarship. That gave me the money to buy the equipment I needed,” James recalled. He continued to work, selling his work at Art Fairs and taught jewelry making classes at PHHS, and the Crucible in Berkeley.

Peirano honed his skills with Manford Rosengarden, a Martinez resident and Shell Oil employee who did custom jewelry projects for Macy’s in Concord.

At age 12, Rosengarden immigrated to Shanghai, China after his parents died in a German concentration camp. There, he joined several master jewelers from his hometown in Germany, and they taught him the trade. Rosengarden passed on the gift when Peirano to apprenticed with him for four years, but never stopped making his own jewelry and doing custom projects for stores, including Romain’s, located at the Nob Hill Shopping Center.

Ruth Romain’s decision to leave the business gave Peirano and his daughter, Valerie, the chance to make Valerie’s childhood vision a reality. “Dad has been a jeweler he was in high school. He established his own business in 1976,” Valerie Peirano said. “When I was little, I went to my dad’s shops and we used to talk about us having a business together. When the opportunity came up, we decided to do it.”

Valerie was a Cal State East Bay graduate teaching English as a substitute teacher at schools around the Bay Area at that time. Now she is qualified as a Master by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) and knows the latest trends in jewelry.

Valerie Peirano said, “We remodeled the store, added vendors for jewelry choices, more developed of a presence online and in the community.”

The Peiranos offered the same high-quality custom work but in a more comfortable, friendly new ambiance. Valerie explained the changes.

Some people feel a little apprehensive when they enter a fine jewelry store. Perhaps it is because the shopper is about to make an important purchase based primarily on appearance and the price. It is almost a leap of faith to purchase a meaningful piece of jewelry without learning more about it.

“I‘ve always been a people person. I like to get to know my customers,” she commented.

Jewelry, especially meaningful pieces take time to select or design. The taste of the recipient, if it is a gift, what the person will be doing when they wear it, budget, and the quality of the stones are some of the factors to consider, according to Valerie.

“If you are going to buy a loose stone, and I will always order three different qualities of the same stone if they are available,” she said.

Sometimes a well-cut, less than first quality stone will appear as nice as a first quality stone. The buyer can choose the stone and design that is best for their purposes.

Customers are invited to the store’s annual gemstone show where the best stones collected by their gemologist are displayed. James Peirano has an off-site 1,000 square foot jewelry studio where turns the beautiful ideas for settings into reality. Often, a customer’s old jewelry is recreated into new pieces there.

“We continue to offer watch repair…and one-of-a-kind pieces,” Valerie commented about a Larimar pendant from the Caribbean that was in the display case that day. The next case held beautiful fused glass jewelry, plates, and bowls.

“It’s a real family-run jewelry store, my daughter, manages the store, displays, and sales, and my wife (Debbie) makes the all fused glass,” James Peirano remarked. “She is a nurse at John Muir too.”

Regarding jewelry trends, Valerie said diamonds have not gone out of style, moonstones are making a comeback from the 1970s, but are now in fine jewelry. Yellow gold is making a huge comeback. Layering necklaces (of different lengths) is popular and so are stackable rings.

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