Over the next few weeks, Sofia Jewelry is celebrating its 20th Anniversary, and as can be expected for one of Mill Valley’s classiest shops, it’s doing so in style. The shop, located at 80 Throckmorton Ave. downtown, is kicking off its celebration on November 29, with actress Lesley Nicol, a longtime friend of shop owner Susan Priolo and best known as Mrs. Patmore from the hit show Downton Abbey, spending the day at the store. Nicol will be at the store from 2–5pm to meet customers, who will get a preview of the jewelry brought in for a trio of special trunk show events to follow on Nov. 30, Dec. 2 and Dec. 4. Click here for more details, and scroll down for a fantastic essay written by Priolo family friend Valerie Singer.


The Priolo family, owners of Sofia Jewelry in downtown Mill Valley. Courtesy image.

In the current commercial atmosphere of instant teenage billionaires and an escalating big box presence, the idea of a family business seems almost quaint. Yet a distant drumbeat can be heard on the wind, restlessness within the mechanized sameness and conveyor belt commoditizing of everything, from fashion to food to, yikes, even art. Cutting through this miasma of mass merchandising we’re sensing a small revolution. People are asking suddenly for something different, starved for specialness and hungry, at last, for handmade. Simply put, we’re desperately seeking a side order of soul.

Cue the Priolos. Just as the guilds of renaissance Italy nurtured the passing on of craft from one generation to the next, the Priolos are keeping it all in the family. Carl Priolo and his younger brother Chris’ childhoods were suffused with art and the making of it. Their father made his living as a sculptor and a jeweler, and their mother was a talented and dedicated painter. So when Chris, an up-and-coming composer, was lost to the scourge of AIDS, Carl’s first reaction was to make art. The inspired result is a line of jewelry they call ‘Let Love Out,’ a visual symbol of the beauty of infinite and inclusive love.

Carl met his wife, Susan, in an artists’ space in the Haight-Ashbury during one of the numerous creative peaks points that sweep through our enchanted part of the world. Susan came to SF from her native London for the sunshine and the artistic freedom that defines the Bay Area. Once again, it was art that changed the course of their lives. Susan introduced Carl to the lure of the performing arts. His gifts of handmade jewelry for her won her admiration and her heart.

With the third generation soon on its way, the couple combined their skills to create what has become the go-to of in-the-know jewelry aficionados the world over. The jewel-box boutique, Sofia’s, on Mill Valley’s charming main street, has a reputation for especially fine handmade pieces, and a place where you can sit with the jewelers to create exactly what you dream. It is also an experience to satisfy your soul–an authentic gallery not a shelf to be filled with machine stamped designs. The Priolos are celebrating their 20th successful year in that beautiful, inimitable space.

This shop is the center of their company, but its heart is the contributions of the Priolo children. Sophie and brother Lucas grew up in Fairfax where, everyone knows, there’s an extra bit of fairy dust mixed into the fog that hovers over Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate.

Lucas went on to become principal dancer for the Texas Ballet Theater, and also a great favorite of fellow Texan, Lyle Lovett. So much so that Mr. Lovett invited Lucas and his dance partner to perform along with his six man band playing live at Bass Hall in Fort Worth. On that very stage Lovett called Lucas, “…one of the greatest dancers in the entire world.”  It’s high praise indeed from one of the most singular artists in music today.

After Lucas retired this May, in a moving, 17-minute ovation, he and wife Julie, (ex-prima ballerina for the same company) are moving north. Little sister Sophie led the way and settled with her artist husband, Jarrod, a year earlier. “Finally,” gushes Susan with her trademark radiant smile. “It’s been our clever plan since day one. To get everyone together and really make it a labor of love.” She laughs merrily.

Lucas, as did his father, carved out a workshop behind his Texas house and in his rare free time began crafting jewelry. Lucas’ work in gold and silver it is a bit more organic than his dad’s complex, elegant take on medieval design and stunning use of gems. Having established himself already with the discerning Fort Worth crowd, Lucas is forging his own voice in metal and stones, and though it is in keeping with the senior Priolo’s sensibility of peerless quality, craft and imagination, you can discover the distinctive forms when you see Priolo & Co’s collections side by side in the shop. Lucas and Julie join their parents in the shop this summer.

As the family is at last encircled around the elder Priolo’s hilltop home, with at least as many windows as there are books plus a boulder as big as the Ritz in the backyard for added drama, something else has been completed. To elevate a business from workshop to the world is not easy, especially at a time when commerce can be overwhelming, and everyone shouts to get attention. But to weave a harmonious vision of gorgeous and wearable jewels from different generations, experiences and viewpoints is nothing short of alchemy.

People who know the family (and there are thousands if you follow them on social media) and know their art—and wear it everyday, all seem to say the same thing; it’s not just a ring or a bracelet or a necklace–it’s a handmade piece of art, and I know the family that made it.  

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