When a family friend contacted Eleni Prieston with the hope of crafting an engagement ring, she was happy to help. After all, Prieston has made many such memorable gifts during her decades as a goldsmith. Her friend’s request came with a surprising caveat, however: the accessory needed to be completed within 24 hours.
Sitting against a backdrop of scenic glass windows that frame the lush forest outside of her Sag Harbor home, Prieston recalls a happy ending: she met the deadline. By tuning in to her friend’s artistic abilities and time constraint, she was able to teach him how to create the exact project he desired.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than starting out with a white canvas and ending up with three dimensions,” Prieston said.
Interest, skill level and scheduling are main factors in determining what a student will learn when studying with Prieston. Her home studio-based goldsmithing lessons are becoming more and more popular (as multiple calls during the course of an hour-long interview can attest), and they may last anywhere from a day to several sessions.
“It’s very open and inviting,” Prieston said.
Usually, classes are one on one, but sometimes they comprise a mother and adult child or spouses looking for a unique way to bond. Other students may seek out instruction to repair a jewelry item, try a new career path, or, like the speedy engagement ring owner, make a token for a loved one. Prieston’s specialty is working with high-karat gold. She feels its pricey nature requires her students to seriously consider their designs and how to maximize the precious metal.
“I am a proponent of less is more,” she said. “You have to think a long time before you [use] your one ounce of gold. You’ve just spent $1000, and all you have is a little thing sitting there. Ok! I better be really sure how I want to use this.”
If goldsmithing is not in your budget, Prieston will teach you how to metalsmith with other materials like silver or brass. Or, you can learn basic beading. Students who thrive in class and decide to cultivate their own jewelry line may be invited to showcase their wares at Prieston’s Sag Harbor boutique, Made. Filled with curated, handmade goods ranging from rings and necklaces to scarves and stainless steel handbags, the 5-year-old shop represents artists who Prieston believes push boundaries.
Prieston has been involved in Long Island’s artistic community and has seen it grow and change for 40 years. She loves being headquartered near the ocean on the East End and draws from her natural surroundings to inspire her jewelry company, Byzantine Gold (named for the artist’s ancestral origins). Prieston’s pieces, sold at home and abroad, encompass the Byzantine and Etruscan style, which she prefers for its scaled-down and clean aesthetic.
“That’s what I try to get to in my work,” Prieston said, “I try to strip things out and make them as simple as they can be in a powerful way.”
Five years a bench jeweler, two years in Manhattan’s manufacturing industries, two years of goldsmith apprenticeship, as well as academic and personal study all contribute to Prieston’s artistic background. Throughout her career, the goldsmith has always appreciated one central theme when it comes to her work, which she additionally imparts to her students.
“It’s about the imprint of the hand,” she said, “I want to be able to tell that a human being made it. It has to have life.”