Pleasanton Weekly

Column - September 30, 2011

There's gold in those (Vintage) hills

by Jeb Bing

Greek-born Fotios Vassiliadis has found that gold in Vintage Hills makes for a remarkably specialized and profitable business. The entrepreneurial goldsmith who first practiced his skills with his father and grandfather in Athens, opened goldNtime in the Vintage Hills shopping center three years ago, one of the first new businesses to take over long-empty retail spaces that are giving the center new economic life. GoldNtime has no flashing neon sign. In fact, it is almost obscurely nestled next to a popular sushi restaurant and a new coffee shop. Yet customers come from throughout the Bay Area, especially the Peninsula and San Francisco, even Napa, to again have their rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces and more designed and made by Vassiliadis. Though he specializes in gold -- and can spend hours talking about the precious commodity -- he also works in platinum and can add a diamond or other stone to his creations.

Custom-made jewelry is not what it used to be, it's better, Vassiliadis says. When he joined his father's shop, custom designs meant handmade, a highly-skilled, eye-bulging trade that required long hours and patience. In recent years, though, computerized autoclaves are offering more exact methods of creating the designs of goldsmiths such as Vassiliadis more cheaply and in half the time. A handmade gold ring that costs $5,000 and takes six weeks to make can be done in days for about $2,000. Another goldsmith could likely tell the difference, but for you and me the $3,000 saved is worth that risk.

Occasionally, customers will stop in GoldNtime to buy or sell gold after reading some of those two-page ads in newspapers offering those services. Gold, as most of us know, seems to beat the dollar and the Euro when it comes to long-term value. Remember when an ounce sold for $300. This week, gold dealers were selling gold bullion for $1,674. Of course, that's the price Vassiliadis has to pay for his base material. A typical custom-designed woman's ring requires about half an ounce of gold; for a man, it's more like 1.5 ounces. That's another advantage of computer modeling: those software-driven autoclaves don't make mistakes.

Vassiliadis has been in the Bay Area for 23 years, partnering or in business for himself in shops in Palo Alto and San Francisco. His interest in fine jewelry came from his father who was a jeweler (goldsmith) for the royal family in Greece when King Constantine was the ruler of the country.

When he was 10 years old, he started working in his father's workshop and then moved on to work with Omega watchmakers in Athens. In 1989, the family moved to California, and in 1991 he opened his first custom design store in San Francisco. In 2005, he went to work for Davidson and Licht in Walnut Creek, opening GoldNtime in the Vintage Hills enter in 2009

Why the name? "I have love and passion for what I do, creating fine jewelry," Vassiliadis says. "My best moment is when I see a customer happy with my work." Thanks to his reputation as a recognized top goldsmith in San Francisco, he developed connections for custom work with Macy's, which is now one of his largest accounts. Vassiliadis, his wife Mahshid, and their daughter Athina, 11, are in the process of selling their home in Fremont to move to Pleasanton, a good sign that the rebounding Vintage Hills Center and GoldNtime will have a long-time partnership.

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