In the 1930s, anthropologists dug up a matched set of sea shells in a South African cave. The ocean, they noted, was many miles away and the type of mollusk not a food source. The scientists assumed that whoever brought them back must have found the shells beautiful. Seventeen of the shells had been perforated, as if to be strung. The holes in the shells also showed wear from twine or leather.
The conclusion: 100,000 years ago, one of our ancestors collected the shells for a necklace, to wear or give to someone else. The scientists suspect that the find is the earliest example of jewelry.
As anniversaries, birthdays or holidays like Mother’s Day approach, shoppers will be looking for symbols of esteem and affection beyond what they can find at the beach. A new jewelry and fine crafts shop opened in Belmont a few weeks ago – Alchemy 9.2.5, at 48 Leonard St. in the heart of Belmont Center.
The name is taken from the medieval attempts to transform base metals into precious gold, and hence wealth and power. The owners of the shop hope to transform objects, jewelry made from gold or silver, into lasting tokens of affection.
The 9.2.5 number comes from a silver alloy. Because pure silver is too soft for jewelry, metal smiths use the alloy 925, which, coincidentally, is also the first three digits of the new shop’s phone number.
Three decades of teaching jewelry making and a Belmont resident for 17 years, Munya Upin has always wanted her own shop. She could display her own work and that of her fellow artists.
Upin taught high school students at Lincoln-Sudbury High School and Philips Academy in Andover; university students in Wisconsin, Texas, and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; and adults at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln.
As she taught and practiced her art, she developed a philosophy of business, a gallery for “sharing beautiful work with the public.”
At the DeCordova, Upin met her business partner, Kirsten Ball from Carlisle. Ball had lived in England most of her life and had trained as a gilder, a decorative technique for applying gold leaf or powder to objects.
The two women went on to become friends, colleagues and collaborators with other metal smiths and jewelry designers at Metalwerx in Waltham.
Upin and Ball knew the challenges of selling jewelry to the public from their homes, at open markets or at trade shows. When the store front at 48 Leonard became available, Upin and Ball decided to have their own gallery. The building they were moving into once housed a blacksmith and now would be given over metal working for jewelry.
Alchemy 9.2.5 offers the work of as many as 25 artists, including that of the owners. Most artists come from surrounding towns or throughout New England. Everything in the gallery is handmade, and the inventory is always changing as new pieces arrive.
As for the owners, Upin specializes in woven metal work, and uses these skills in her jewelry to carry over into her Judaica, objects to honor Jewish holidays or customs. Ball’s work is in sterling silver, contemporary style, with clean geometric lines.
Besides jewelry, the gallery will include glasswork, fiber, and ceramics. The shop will also offer custom design orders and some jewelry re-purposing.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m.
The Web site is under construction. is at http://www.alchemy925.com/