Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=231528
Story Retrieval Date: 11/27/2014 7:04:51 AM CST

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A Diamond in the Rough

by Eman Shurbaji
Aug 21, 2014


 

“Is that an Eve?” a woman asks as she leans in to inspect a ring on her neighbor’s middle finger.

 

It was, in fact, an Eve, a namesake design jeweler and entrepreneur Eve Alfille upholds with honor.

 

Based out of Evanston, Ill., Alfille has stood the test of time through not only her inquisitive designs and use of fine gemstones, but also her creation of fall and spring series. Each series is a new line of jewelry pieces with a common metals or element theme. Yet it was her strategic business approach, not new lines that catapulted her ambitions during economically shaky times.

 

Following the 2008 recession, Eve says most jewelers scaled back or created “more airy, open designs.” Others expanded into upscale department stores and boutiques.

 

Alfille did neither. Instead, the 79-year-old turned her attention to creating new products out of what already exists: She began accepting an influx of orders from people who wanted their jewelry re-designed. While she continued to produce jewelry lines, her focus shifted to fixing the old—not creating anew.

 

For Alfille, it meant keeping her now 27-year-old storefront and dozen staff. For customers, it meant changing their grandmother’s outdated ring into a pendant befitting of their personal style.

 

It was a move Alfille believes made her an increasingly national destination. She first corresponds via email and then customers come in and visit her in person. So, people still come in through her doors and view her designs, but for a different reason.

 

“We have our identity, but we created a new market when people didn’t have disposable income,” Alfille said. “So we became more problem-solvers.”

 

Yet problem-solving isn’t a new theme in Alfille’s life.

 

Born in Belgium and raised in Paris, she enrolled in Montreal’s McGill University at age 16. She majored in business and went on to work as an accountant and moved to the Chicago area after marrying her husband in the late 1960s. In Chicago, she worked as a stockbroker and medical translator.

 

While working as a stockbroker, she innately questioned human interest in jewelry. She later worked as an archeologist in Mexico and Isreal, and interest grew.

 

“Archeologists are most of the time digging dirt for shards and cooking tools, but you always find jewelry,” Alfille said in in-person interview. “It’s amazing that people with no wealth or disposable income put aside resources for something without direct utility.”

 

Alfille took her hunches further by enrolling in welding classes. She created sculptures, but something was missing. Sculpture lacked the interaction she looked for in art.

 

“There’s a character of an object on the body that’s intimately connected with life,” Alfille said.

 

She eventually took her vision further by opening shop in her Evanston home. As business grew, apprentices were hired and showings were booked. Soon, UPS traffic became an issue, and she needed a business location.

 

Her official shop opened Oct. 22, 1987 at 623 Grove St. in Evanston. Twenty-seven years later, she still sells exclusively from her boutique and has no interest in expanding into other markets.

 

Her half dozen staff is largely the same group as the day she opened. Daughter Diane and her husband Matthew Arden assist Alfille to this day.

 

Marianne Rubin, a sales representative, has worked with Alfille for 14 years.

 

“Her work is so original, there’s never a doubt that when I sell something to someone, they’ll find something of equal value somewhere,” she said. “They won’t.”

 

Jewelry and pearl expert Elisabeth Strack of Gemmologisches Institut Hamburg has known Alfille for 20 years, and they met through a shared interest in jewelry.

 

“I would describe her work as showing unusual and extraordinary creativity, combined with accuracy and honesty,” Strack said after a presentation about pearls in Eve’s jewelry studio.

 

Whether using freshwater pearls, aquamarine or diamonds, Alfille isn’t shy about her greater vision.

 

“I wanted to be a part [of jewelry] history, and in 400 years be remembered,” she said.