Fashion / Shopping

Behind a Secret Door at This Top Dallas Store You’ll Find the City’s Master of Jewels

BY // 12.11.15
photography Justin Leveritt

William Noble Rare Jewels is a place of precious bijoux, a jewel box where the finest gems glisten from behind glass cases. Look closer, though, and something more artistic is at play.

On the other side of a code-secured door, adjacent to the discreet entrance to William Noble’s Highland Park Village boutique, the unassuming artist and designer Sam Zeigler is working, hunched over a well-worn desk and a disarray of watercolors, paintbrushes and drafting pencils. At his hand are watercolor-and-pencil sketches rendered at scale of the pieces he designs at the request of William Noble’s most discerning customers.

For each custom design, whether an engagement ring or a refashioned estate piece, Zeigler first produces a masterful sketch. “I draw a very detailed pencil rendering of the piece,” he says, “then I watercolor-paint it on tissue with a black background, making it look three-dimensional. When I spray it, the tissue dissolves, making it more distinguishable as a painting.”

Make no mistake: While beautiful, each painting is also a study in mathematics, as it is through his drawings that Zeigler is able to indicate the perfect size and number of stones required based on their cut and the desired design. Frequently, he will sign and date his work as a gift for the recipient of the finished bauble — a treasure that can live outside the vault.

“We had a lady from Fort Worth whom I designed a pair of pearl earrings for,” he says. “I gave her the design with the finished piece, and she framed it and put it on her wall.”

The 80-year-old Zeigler represents a bygone era and perhaps a fading art — a time when drawing, sketching and rendering techniques by hand were common careers for artists, who were employed by industries ranging from furniture to advertising, architecture to jewelry. “My technique seems very unusual,” Zeigler says. “Now there are a lot of computer programs that have been built to do it — but nothing does it like the hand.”

With degrees in industrial design and art from the University of Oklahoma, Zeigler landed his first job designing for Linz Jewelers, the so-called Tiffany’s of the South, founded by Joseph Linz in 1891 and later bought out by Zales. At Linz, he learned to love diamonds, and even designed a pair of earrings for Debbie Reynolds.

It wasn’t until 1990 that Zeigler joined William Noble, where he continues to put much of his Linz education to work, including his ability to create highly mechanical pieces that can be worn multiple ways, transforming from a pair of sapphire earrings, perhaps, into a pair of men’s cufflinks.

“I made a book for one customer that had about 15 pages showing her how she could take her piece and move it and work it into another piece and another,” Zeigler says. He smiles as he tells a story of a similarly clever customer: “A very big customer, of a very big name, has jewelry that can do three or four things. Sometimes she will go to dinner wearing a piece of jewelry as a ring, and then go the ladies room and put it on her neck as a pin and put another piece on as a ring.”

It is clear in that moment, as Zeigler’s eyes light up, that he — modest as ever in a plaid button-down and jeans — is really the city’s master of jewels.

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