THE SUMMER sky is pouring down rain, but jewelry designer Phyllis Lang doesn’t seem to mind.
The proprietor of Atelier Galerie has ridden out plenty of storms since she first opened her tiny studio shop on the corner of Abercorn and Oglethorpe in 1997 and knows the old adage well:
“If you don’t like the weather in Savannah, wait 15 minutes.”
Sure enough, the sun begins to peek out from the clouds as Lang describes her journey from a hobbyist looking to swap out her corporate day job to a small business owner with an original jewelry line coveted by visitors and locals alike.
“I came to Savannah in 1996 to get a Masters in Fibers from SCAD, thinking I would get a job in textile design,” she recalls.
“Jewelry had been a hobby for years, but I didn’t know anything about marketing or selling it, other than at a few shows.”
The city’s charms worked their wiles on her, however, and when she discovered that the adorable 300 sq.-foot space across from Colonial Park Cemetery formerly occupied by an insurance agent was up for rent, she took the risk, setting up her blowtorch and tools behind the display cases.
Foot traffic and word of mouth brought a steady stream of clients eager to purchase Atelier Galerie’s collectible earrings, necklaces and bangles, and the shop is celebrating 20 years in business with a reception on Saturday July 7.
“We are just so happy to be here, every single day,” says Lang.
“Twenty years has just flown by.”
Savannah continues to serve as an inspiration for her work, and Lang is best known for her layered silver and bronze pieces inspired by the city’s exquisite wrought iron gates and balconies.
“The architecture here is part of what makes this place special, and the wrought iron is the jewelry of these beautiful buildings,” she muses.
Dragonflies of all sizes are also a recurring theme, adorned with turquoise beads or a coppery patina.
“In real life, they tend to follow me around,” she grins.
“They’re pretty magical.”
Atelier Galerie also carries selections from 35 other jewelers and artisans from around the globe, including local Margie Sona’s icy blue larimar pieces and embellished oil paintings by Michele Snell. A separate line of bronze nature-inspired pieces called Atelier 150 is crafted on site by Lang and her apprentice Sherry Haas, using a unique patina she developed.
In order to keep the inventory stocked, Lang doesn’t accept commissions for custom work, no exceptions. Several years ago she had to gently rebuff a particularly persistent customer, who called several times hoping for a special design.
Lang later found out the caller was superstar Sandra Bullock, but she has no regrets.
“I couldn’t have done it anyway,” she says.
“I have to stick to my model to make it work.”
(She also has a celebrity fan in Adam Sandler.)
Complementing the edgy original works are on-trend styles like lariat necklaces and spin rings. Most items are “gift priced” and average in the $65 range, and the “Bird Girl” charms and ornaments fly out the door.
But it hasn’t all been breezy sunshine. The 2009 recession was a challenge, and Lang often put in 16-hour days, designing and making jewelry long after the shop’s doors were closed.
“I was driving all night to sell at a show just to make a few hundred dollars, but it got me through,” she remembers.
These days, the store bustles with tourists and loyal locals, and Lang hopes to stick around this historic corner for at least another couple of decades.
“I don’t plan on going anywhere. There’s still too much I want to make,” she laughs.
“My to-do list from three years ago still has things on it.”