From first glance, it’s clear that the artisanal pieces that fill the showroom of Peyton William Jewelry are an expression of Gabrielle Egan’s individuality. Every necklace, bracelet, ring and earring is one of a kind— handmade exclusively by Egan, one at a time. They read like art in a gallery, displayed in a lightfilled space she named to pay tribute to her grandmothers and their creative influence.
Located in Charleston’s King Street Historic District, Peyton William Jewelry is itself a reflection of Egan’s design aesthetic, with clean lines and crisp white walls providing a fresh canvas for displaying her innovative collections. Her furnishings— original paintings and curated décor, such as custom lighting and seating—often prompt admiring customers (like me) to ask if they’re for sale.
Water and the natural world—“anything and everything outdoors”—fuel Egan’s creativity. A free spirit who grew up combing the shores of Cape Cod for stones, shells and driftwood, she says there was always some kind of experimenting going on, an attempt to transform earthly treasures into art.
Nurturing that creativity was an unconventional family life, which sometimes caused Egan to wonder as a 10-year-old, “Why can’t we do something normal.”
“There were a lot of bohemian folks,” she says with a smile. “My family dabbled in the arts, learned basketry, took pottery classes. My mom and aunt made quilts. Dad played the guitar. Instead of going bowling or to the movies, we’d go to antique auctions, museums in Boston. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the exposure.”
After high school Egan followed her parents to Vero Beach, where she soaked up the colorful Florida aesthetic, exploring places like Miami, South Beach and Key West, discovering “all kinds of strange and unusual folks doing all kinds of unusual things.”
Egan’s early successes in the marketplace were selling oil paintings at arts and crafts shows. It wasn’t until she married that she found her way to jewelry making to avoid working with toxic materials.
“It was 2003, when I was pregnant with my oldest son,” she recalls. “Mom came over with beads and wire. … I had a first little show at a fund-raising event and, within a few hours, I sold everything I’d brought. That’s when I thought maybe I could do this along with my job.”
Jewelry making went from a part-time gig to a full-blown career following the couple’s move to Asheville, North Carolina. Egan found a mentor in master craftsman William Churlik. A local artist renowned for his artisanal jewelry, Churlik had an unconventional approach to teaching. He offered a small, intensive class and pushed each of them to question their goals.
“He asked us, ‘What are your aesthetics?’” recalls Egan. “‘What do you want to take away?’ I was able to focus on learning what really spoke to me. And there were no shortcuts. We learned the old-fashioned way—using hand tools.”
Over the next few years, she advanced her technical skills and applied them to a broad range of materials. “I love big, colorful gemstones, like labradorite and moonstone, with luminous colors that are reflective,” she says. “And I like to experiment—putting together different shapes and textures, for example.” She also likes to cut by hand, “using all sorts of hammers, saws and torches.”
“I don’t always have a plan,” says Egan with a laugh. “I look at the various shapes and colors and put them together as they inspire me. I try not to overthink it.”
Currently, Egan’s multiple pursuits include creating all the jewelry for her shops in Charleston, Kiawah Island and Vero Beach. Her Atelier Gallery on King Street—a respected contemporary art gallery—was Egan’s first entrepreneurial endeavor in the Lowcountry. Atelier was established in 2008 to promote inspirational artists, from the Southeast and beyond, whom she’d met on her own artistic journey.
From young beachcomber to painter to jewelry craftswoman, Egan has come full circle and is ready to move on—again.
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer and marketing consultant.