“The coolest challenge is when people bring in a photograph of something and you start figuring it out,” says Alex Maryaskin, co-owner of Simply Unique Jewelry Designs
Originally from Ukraine, Maryaskin met his co-owner Tim Wright while Maryaskin was working a maintenance job for Hidenwood apartments. Maryaskin had melted down quarters and used the coin silver to make a filigree style mirror (for which he later won an award) and brought it to the jewelry store where Wright had been working for 15 years.
“Our jaws just fell to the counter,” Wright explains, “Not only was it amazing, but he made it with a dinosaur tool—a torch nobody uses anymore.”
Since then, Maryaskin and Wright have been like brothers as they embarked on their business partnership. But it was certainly a process. The two worked for five years, building up capital and inventory before they had enough to start without borrowing money, and when they opened, the store was half its current size. Of course, they’ve grown since then and have accumulated many loyal customers.
“The only reason we’re still here is that we do the work. There are not many people who can do what we can do,” Maryaskin explains.
Although Wright was a “rock hound” as a kid, he started a career as a chef before realizing that working every weekend and holiday was not his dream. His friend’s father was a goldsmith and when he offered Wright an apprenticeship, he immediately gave the restaurant his two weeks’ notice.
Maryaskin was mostly self-taught in Ukraine. He did restoration work for a church interior and repaired artifacts, mostly filigree work. He had to learn how to match patterns and as he matched, he learned new things, creating his own ideas.
As of this year, Maryaskin has won the Saul Bell Design Award twice (2014 and 2017), one of only two people to do so. It is not an art competition, but the most prestigious international competition in the world for metal-smithing—the Oscars of their industry. He created a golden egg with a church inside that spins four different directions, completing all of the engineering and building without a single sketch.
“I just needed a heavy project at some point in time,” Maryaskin laughs, “One thing I learned is that I’ll never do that again without a blueprint.”
The egg took 538 hours to build and was valued at $217,000 even before winning the Saul Bell.
“The more complicated design you come with, the better for me because I’m very mechanical and precise,” Maryaskin explains, “I love a challenge.”
Wright adds, “Tell him he can’t do something and five minutes later, he’s already figuring out a way to do it.” For example, 10 percent of people who walk into the store come to see Maryaskin’s fish tank, not the jewelry.
Someone told Maryaskin how you aren’t able to put creatures and corals from different oceans in the same tank, but in four years, Maryaskin created an example of live corals and a self-sustaining tank that works and thrives. Challenge completed. “You tell me I can’t, you just got into war,” Maryaskin declares.
Maryaskin and his wife have two children: the older studying biochemistry and the younger in middle school with aims for graphic design. Wright just recently married in 2015.
Although Wright and Maryaskin do sell pieces out of a case, they deal mostly with custom repairs or designs. The first thing they do is find out what someone is looking for and then narrow down the categories from there. They’re able to do digital mock ups and if there’s anything they don’t do, they know someone who does.
The two have had some strange requests over the years. One sergeant major came in with an award belt buckle that he received that was cheaply made and Maryaskin found a way to fix it.
“Nothing goes out that door until we can put our name on it,” Maryaskin says, “We have a very high standard quality control. In this industry, there is nobody left to sit down and actually do the work anymore.”
Although Wright and Maryaskin have trained two apprentices since they opened, both had to move away, and there were others who couldn’t live up to the high standards of this dying trade.
“When people have come to work here, what has enticed them is creative freedom. Wright and Maryaskin are trying to find a new apprentice to stay and keep the industry alive.
Despite the difficulties in finding an apprentice, the two are thriving.
“I feel like I’m the luckiest man
on the planet,” Maryaskin reflects,
“I combined my professional career and my hobby into one building. I come here every day and do whatever I want as long as the repair counter is caught up. It’s feels like I’ve always been here,” he says.
TO THE POINT
Simply Unique Jewelry Design
Address: 1215 George Washington Memorial Hwy., Yorktown, Virginia, 23693
Contact: Alex Maryaskin and Tim Wright, owners
Business: Jewelry Design