Former Mark Knipe jeweler branches off with custom shop Gems First

  • Sarah Huggins, owner of Gems First at 88 N. Main St., is shown at the workbench. The downtown business opened at the end of last month. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/13/2017 12:15:39 AM

A former jeweler at Mark Knipe Goldsmith has branched off on her own with a new business specializing in custom jewelry.

Sarah Huggins, 33, opened up Gems First at the end of last month on the second floor at 88 N. Main St., realizing a longtime dream of hers.

While growing up in Barnstead, she said, she became fascinated by the rocks she found in her yard, borrowing microscopes from school to peer into the quartz crystals she dug up.

“I love rocks. I’m a total nerd when it comes to that,” she said. “Inside each stone there’s like this galaxy of stuff living in there that tells a story, where it’s been, what happened to it.”

In 2005, she said Knipe hired her for her first job in the field based on her passion – because she had no jewelry experience at the time.

“I’m sure I looked like a deer in the headlights for the first year, but it was amazing and it introduced me to the high-end part of jewelry, which was fabulous,” she said. “That way, I know what quality is.”

But she gained experience working under Knipe for 11 years and became certified by the Gemological Institute of America, which helped her work up the guts to go into business for herself after Knipe announced his plans to retire.

At Gems First, she said, she hopes to use her experience with computer-aided design to build custom jewelry for her customers, especially reusing pieces that have sentimental value but aren’t being worn, often because they look dated.

“I really want to help (my customers) take the jewelry that’s living in their jewelry box and get it into a beautiful design they can wear all the time,” she said. “You can use the same gold in a lot of these settings and melt it down into something that is completely new in whatever style you want.”

She said she hopes to eventually establish a storefront right on Main Street, but for now she’s on the second floor and has to do her casting at home. She said she’ll also meet customers at their homes if they can’t come into the store.

And now that she has her own store, she’ll also start to look out to her next ambition.

“Ever since I started working in the field, my dreams just keep getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “So much so that they may not have been realistic, but I still hold onto that dream of wanting to be the president of the American Gem Society, so I’m shooting for that.”

Gems First is open Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information is at


(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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