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February 14, 2024

A Day in the Life of Candace Edelman

hen designer and artist extraordinaire, Alex Špekus, passed away in September of 2021, his long-time friend and Managing Director of the business, Jeff Feero, along with the dedicated team of jewelers and support staff the brand had amassed over the years, were left determined to carry on his legacy. His passing was a devastating loss in the personal lives of his many friends and colleagues, and the absence of his creative genius will continue to be felt for generations. Yet the jewelers who have long perfected Alex’s inimitable techniques are still working tirelessly on their benches, sales and special orders continue to pour in, and Candace Edelman, G.G. and Alex Šepkus COO, is still choosing the gemstones that will be featured in Alex’s iconic designs.

Having had the honor of shadowing Candy for a day while she was shopping for gemstones this past Tucson, I can attest that that simple phrase belies the ingenuity that goes into her purchasing decisions.

The distinctive textures and patterns etched into the goldwork that require a microscope to execute are design characteristics for which Alex Šepkus is best known, and it is the inventive and imaginative use of gemstones and diamonds that elevates the inherent artistry of each design. While the brand’s white diamond or gold-only pieces are highly lauded, the unique color combinations, the quality of each individual gemstone or the incorporation of unexpected gems in their colored gemstone pieces are absolutely revered. And for over 2 decades, Candy has been the driving force behind this celebration of color.

Ask Candy why she selects certain stones, and she states it plainly, “Because I liked it.” Having had the honor of shadowing Candy for a day while she was shopping for gemstones this past Tucson, I can attest that that simple phrase belies the ingenuity that goes into her purchasing decisions. Sure, she buys what she likes, but there are any number of factors racing through her head when she bellies up to a booth and starts looking through bins, trays and envelopes of gemstones.

While searching for gemstones, Candy always has with her a “key ring” containing molds of Alex Šepkus designs rendered in silver. If she sees a stone that she likes that seems to fit the shape and size for a particular piece, she will literally drop it into the frame of the piece and see if it’s a match.

When doing so, she’s taking into account the beauty and depth of the stone, the ability of her jewelers to make minor adjustments to the piece or gemstone if necessary, and the hardness of the stone per the Moh’s Scale of Hardness. Speaking of Moh’s, at one booth where we’d been hovering over the counter for an hour, the dealer presented to Candy a stunning sphene and the following (hilarious) interaction ensued:

Dealer: Check out this sphene.

Candy: It’s beautiful, but what am I going to do with it?

Dealer: Set it.

Candy: It’s too soft.

Dealer: No, it’s not.

Candy: What is it?

Dealer: It’s sphene.

Candy: *rolls eyes*

Dealer: *searches google* Oh, it’s 5 to 5.5

Following this conversation, Candy told the dealer that she was bringing six stones she’d selected outside to see them in natural light. We walked out to the parking lot with the tray of stones and Candy held each up to the light, placed them on her hand, placed them on my hand, and looked at them for all possible angles. At the completion of this process, after the literal hundreds of stones she’d just looked through with this particular vendor, she selected three.

Next, we made our way to a nearby opal dealer and started the search anew. Candy pulled out her trusty key ring of forms, often striking out her search if a stone had too much depth and wouldn’t sit comfortably within the piece. Yet the uniquely shaped and exquisitely colored Australian opals also allowed Candy to start thinking about perches for the brand’s one-of-a-kind bird pieces. This process brought with it a whole other level of consideration. If the band of beige on the opal sits at the bottom of the finished piece, would the post connecting the bird to the perch be visible through the more transparent blue band at the top of the stone? Would drilling into the exact spot she envisioned compromise the integrity of the stone? In the end she selected three stones, and I can’t wait to see how the little birdies enjoy their new homes!

A big part of the fun of walking around with Candy is feeling like I’ve broken through the fourth wall. Contrary to being annoyed that she’d spent so much time at their stands and selected so few stones, dealers respect her eye and are honored she’s opted to work with them; she commands respect among every dealer we encounter. She’s a welcome presence at every booth she steps up to, whether she’s beginning her search or finalizing a decision on stones she’s asked to be put aside, or simply saying hello to long-time friends. At a certain stand known for extremely high-quality stones she asked the dealer, “What’s the most expensive stone you have right now?” and was handed a stone that was the price of a large house encased in a small, white plastic case, before the dealer walked away to tend to another customer.

Establishing and maintaining relationships with dealers is paramount, especially for brands as specialized as Alex Šepkus. Designers and stone buyers protect their contacts with a vengeance, knowing that key relationships mean first dibs at stones, proprietary access to new deposits and advantageous pricing or consignment terms. And while there is definitely a sense of secrecy involved (note, I haven’t mentioned any of the dealers Candy met with by name), there is also a generosity at play throughout Tucson in many meaningful ways. Designers and stone buyers know what other designers and stone buyers are on the hunt for, so if they see something someone has mentioned, they’ll take a pic and text it along with location and pricing. I also saw Candy walking around with one of her retail partners the following day, assisting her in buying stones for the store’s bespoke collections.

Candy’s passion for gemstones runs deep. She becomes truly connected to each and every stone she selects, seeing their value not just in the prices, but in minute details of a particular piece (sometimes preferring stones with inclusions verses “clean” stones), the stone’s structural integrity, its ability to be paired with other stones and an “interesting” or “weird” factor that only she can see. Collectors of the brand’s work understand that pieces sometimes take weeks or even months of work on the bench to create, yet they may not be aware that the selection of each and every stone is just as painstaking.

Candy has also amassed her own personal collection of gems, minerals and specimens, and she’ll occasionally get distracted and pause her “official” search to contemplate a purchase of something for herself. These purchases are inevitably “weird,” just like Candy likes them, and when you ask her what she plans to do with that stone she seems almost confused by the question, “It’s for my coffee table,” she’ll state, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. After the end of my time with Candy, I was left overjoyed to have witnessed her enigmatic process, enamored with her profound level of knowledge and expertise, and hoping that one day we’ll all be privy to Candy’s Coffee Table Collection (CCTC).

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