Wallace Williamson was growing weary of restoring Oriental rugs when he spotted some unusual jewelry in a fashion magazine. The baubles caught his eye because "they looked as if they had been salvaged from a Roman or Greek ship. I thought maybe I could get the same effect by painting on metal."
Williamson immediately refused any more Oriental-rug assignments and spent the next two months searching for a magic formula that would enable him to cover mass-produced jewelry with faux finishes. A chemist friend later told him he was lucky to have stumbled onto the right combination, which he and partner Joan Rinsler hope to keep secret.
The company name, Excavations, reflects Williamson's original fascination with ancient artifacts. But he has since gone beyond "the green, oxidized look" and come up with myriad others, including one that Rinsler calls his "lingerie, bridal look," captured in pink or white lacey bracelets.
Experimenting with new color and texture combinations, the two artists often hit upon the wrong mix. Or sometimes they buy the wrong jewelry--and give Rinsler's 13-year-old niece the bounty.
Sales, however, have been anything but disappointing. In less than a year, Excavations has developed a following that includes a number of boutiques, such as Champagne in Redondo Beach.
Nordstrom, which originally bought 400 to 500 pieces ("They sold out in a week," Rinsler says) has become the company's biggest account, and its best showcase.
Petite, blue-eyed Rinsler has made several appearances for the store, including one in the Westside Pavilion branch, where she fielded questions from customers fascinated with such items as a purple-and-black mesh scarf sprinkled with flecks of gold.
"Some of the pieces look as if they are made of stone or silk, and they give the feeling you are wearing a piece of art," Rinsler said.
Many of the bracelets, earrings or necklaces are painted in an eight-step process that takes about half an hour. Williamson believes the attraction of the jewelry, which retails from $30 for earrings to $75 for an elaborate necklace, comes from the strong color combinations he has devised.
Rinsler thinks the unusual colors coupled with the unusual finishes give the jewelry a "fun, racy appearance. People like it because it's sensual."
Williamson's work as a portrait painter has given the team another advantage: "We do colors that flatter hair and skin tones," says Rinsler, demonstrating the complementary powers of a brilliant blue bracelet against three complexions of women in the room.
They work out of Williamson's cottage in West Los Angeles where the walls are covered with fine examples of Oriental rugs. From his restoration of similar artworks, Williamson became "extremely conscious of how the colors relate. It got into my blood."
"Blue," he explains, "means sky. Green and brown are the earth colors and red is fire."
The Excavations team wouldn't exist today if it hadn't been for Rinsler's own Oriental rug. "We met through the Yellow Pages," she laughs.
"She called me and asked if I made house calls," he remembers. He didn't, but in her case he acquiesced when she claimed her rug was too heavy to lift into her car. "It was so light, a child could have carried it," he chides.