Gem focuses on the hand-made, unique
Gem’s engagement rings are a popular among couples who are more interested in unusual design than “a big rock,” owner Kitsos says. | Meredith Morris~for Sun-Times Media
What’s for sale at Gem?
Gem offers jewelry, accessories and home decor items in a wide range of styles and prices. As a shopper, you can find:
Unusual, often one-of-a-kind engagement rings, $450-$5,000
Flasks marked by humorous sayings, $25-$28
Simple drop necklaces, featuring quartz, turquoise, ruby or other natural stones, $58-$300
Linen/cotton scarves for wear year-around, $48
Small diamond hoop earrings set in 14k rose gold, $400
Vintage glass bottle necklaces with sterling silver chain, $185-$195
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:10AM
OAK PARK — Don’t be misled by the store name “Gem.” There’s nothing flashy about this Oak Park boutique, with its emphasis on unusual styles and great design.
Though Gem’s shining star is jewelry, shoppers will find accessories and home decor items mixed in.
“A lot of what’s in my store is one-of-a-kind, a lot of it is handmade. It has an organic quality to it that’s understated,” said Laura Kitsos, an Oak Park resident who opened Gem’s second iteration in the village nearly three years ago, at 108 N. Marion St.
Kitsos, who makes about 30 percent of Gem’s jewelry, originally opened shop north of her current location in 2004, in a shop at 159 N. Marion St. She closed after two years due to heavy construction in downtown Oak Park and shifted to Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, where Gem thrived for five years before Kitsos lost her lease and decided to return to her hometown.
“I like that I live in the same community I have a business in, and that I might sell someone a necklace who I see in the playground the next day. You become friends with your customers,” said Kitsos, who’s lived in Oak Park for 15 years and has two boys in middle school.
Kitsos’ foray into Gem was initially inspired by a desire to duplicate the European model of jewelry stores, with customer displays up front and artists’ workrooms in the back. At the time, she made all the jewelry she sold, before she started going to shows, as she does today, to purchase items by emerging designers and others whose works strike her fancy.
“I have to identify with what they do and feel that my customers will also,” she said of her selection process. “I have to love what they do.”
Popular items at Gem include necklaces, rings, earrings and a range of accessories and housewares, including purses, scarves, paperweights, lamps, decanters, saki sets and more.
In 2010, the Chicago Reader identified Gem as a top location for purchasing alternative and unusual engagement rings.
“Our engagement ring customers are usually younger couples who aren’t focused on a big rock, but want to get something that’s really different, maybe uses a sapphire or other colorful stone, and is handmade,” Kitsos said.
Budget also matters to many of these ring shoppers, as they are saving for homes or other big-ticket items and “don’t want to spend $15,000 on a diamond,” she said.
Kitsos keeps affordability in mind, aiming for Gem to serve buyers from the affluent to unemployed. Everyone deserves to treat herself to a piece of jewelry, she said, adding that Gem is also popular among men who seek simple stone drop necklaces as gifts.
In every shop she’s opened, Kitsos has maintained a studio in the back and continues to make jewelry.
“That’s what I love to do more than anything. I’d rather be making jewelry than be on the floor,” she said. “I’m an introvert. I know I’m the face of the store but I don’t necessarily want to be.”