With Valentine’s Day around the bend, it seemed an ideal time to pay a visit to Eric Messin, artist and jeweler, at The Pelletreau Silver Shop.
On a rainy Friday evening, stepping into The Pelletreau Silver Shop was a trip back in time. The Southampton historical landmark, built in 1686, is a dark, wooden structure, one-story high, and sits both humbly and proudly on Main Street, surrounded by the likes of J. Crew and Chase Bank. Inside, the shop displays items and tools made by colonial silversmith Elias Pelletreau. Dimly lit, with wood beams overhead, the shop remains unchanged since Pelletreau’s time—and yet it is also the current working place of Eric Messin. Past and present come together here magically as Messin uses 1,000-year-old stones and sets them in his own, more modern designs.
Messin’s career in jewelry began with drawing and painting, which he still does, and then moved onto a brief period of sculpting—a creative outlet while he worked at a restaurant. “It became obvious pretty quickly that jewelry was my calling,” Messin said, recalling the initial sense of a mystic experience in crafting. He persisted until earning an apprenticeship, where, in the old tradition, he watched and eventually worked alongside the master jeweler. He went on to work in all of the big houses in New York, spending weekends out East. Born in France, with country roots, he found Southampton better suited to him than the city and started a private jewelry salon above the Village Cheese Shoppe. “It’s a very personal experience to purchase a piece of jewelry made especially for you,” Messin said with regard to his private salon, but no one knew it was there. He walked past The Pelletreau Silver Shop many times, but it was boarded up and, although he thought about it, he never imagine he’d end up there. A few years later, Tom Edmonds, Executive Director of the Southampton Historical Museum, decided that something needed to be done with the space and got in touch with Messin. The rest is history.
Messin finds the shop to be “very conducive to creativity.” Summers are very busy with visitors and sales and the winters allow him to focus on designing and creating. “In jewelry you express your art, and yet there must be a balance between commercial interests,” Messin explains, “there’s always a challenge to consider the physical laws, the aesthetic laws, the chemical laws…” Jewelry, unlike art, must be not only aesthetically pleasing, but must take into consideration the wearer. Messin finds the challenge to be rewarding. He not only works in high-end silver pieces, but also uses precious gems in his custom designs—such as a pink diamond ring with half-moon sapphires on either side. Messin works with his clients to create something very special, oftentimes commemorating special occasions, like the birth of a child or Mother’s Day. One such design, undoubtedly a future heirloom, was an exquisite necklace that included sapphires and peridots—the birthstones of the mother’s two children. He also designed an incredible diamond ring with teardrops, pavé diamonds and an unusual set, a completely unique re-mount design using multiple diamonds from a client’s collection. Under glass he also showcases a collection of vintage jewelry—including earrings from Van Cleef & Arpels and a classic three-stone engagement ring.
Messin teaches jewelry making classes on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, year-round, as a way of giving back to the public. “It’s so important for society to sit down, to stop, to bring you back in touch with the divine, with who you are. To come back within, it’s very healthy.” After two hours a week for eight weeks, participants take pride in having a piece of jewelry that they crafted themselves.
The legacy is kept alive in the fully functioning museum, which is known by some to be the “longest running shop in the Western hemisphere.” There were three generations of silversmiths in the shop, all of French descent, and now, 300 years later, there’s another Frenchman. Messin finds it to be a privilege and honor. Among Messin’s designs, you’ll find something distinctive with a profound connection to the universe—past, present and future.
The Pelletreau Silver Shop, 80 Main Street, Southampton. 631-287-0056, ericmessin.com. For details about the Southampton Historical Museum, visit southamptonhistoricalmseum.org.