Karl Lee, Ali Lee and Carrie Armstrong form a perpetually creative family of jewelers sharing a family bench under the name Big Sur Goldsmiths. With a combined 90 years of goldsmithing experience, the family studio continues to produce some of the most unique, timeless, handcrafted fine jewelry on the West Coast. Their fastidious and brilliant work has been recognized by art lovers around the world.
Karl Lee began his passionate, rich and prolific lifetime career in the arts in the “Art Barn” at The Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California during the 1960’s. Karl went from ceramics to metalsmithing and by the 70’s had perfected his skills in traditional methods of metalsmithing both in casting and hand fabrication.
With an exceptional eye and passion for gems, construction, creativity and design, Karl quickly developed a loyal following of galleries and collectors around the world. By the 1980’s he worked primarily in gold and platinum, as well as pushing the eccentric idea, (for that era), of fabricating pieces mixing 22k gold and silver. Karl’s work emphasizes goldsmithing of timeless minimalism pieces showcasing his gem collection as well as other collections of eccentric one-of-a-kind pieces exploring meaning and design.
Karl’s son Ali was born and raised in Big Sur with jewelry and art that were served with dinner; an artesian lifestyle. Ali’s early childhood memories of searching the floor for lost gems, buffing, filing, sawing and constructing shape his personal constitution today. Aurthur was taught all things as his father’s apprentice from the late 1980’s and later went on to work as a bench jeweler for Kocek Jewelers in Carmel California in 2000. Working with another master goldsmith who has a different aesthetic, history and approach only added to Ali’s repertoire.
The studio has grown into a family of jewelers with his son Ali and daughter-in-law Carrie Armstrong, continuing Karl's 50+ year tradition of handmade excellence. Ali met artist Carrie Armstrong in the early 2000s. Together, they work in the iconic style of Karl Lee Design-Big Sur, honoring The Golden Mean, and their own unique styles. Lee and Armstrong offer original artisan jewelry that is pleasing to those who appreciate delicious gemstones, high carat gold, and excellent craftsmanship with a wide breadth of technique and design. All jewelry is entirely handcrafted using traditional old-world methods in hand fabrication such as fusion, keum-boo, gypsy setting, hand-rubbed bezel setting, reticulation, granulation, and hand forged chain necklaces. All metals are alloyed and milled in studio using reclaimed silver and gold. A wide variety of gemstone materials are used with an extra emphasis on tourmaline, ruby, sapphire, diamond, garnet and turquoise. Many of the gemstones used are from Karl’s collection which he began in the 1960s.
Carrie has a metal rich background of welding, and worked for an Italian metal sculpture artist in the 1990’s where she was first introduced to metal form, patina, cutting filing and soldering. She honed her skills with a BFA from Southern Oregon University with an emphasis in printmaking; etching, engraving, and metal properties became additional tools lending to art explorations in metal work. Upon meeting Ali and his father Karl, it was a natural progression for Carrie to be introduced to the jewelry bench. Karl recognized her potential and began teaching her fabrication techniques and tricks while encouraging her to create independent designs of her own as an accentuation to the studio. When Karll passed in 2013 he left Carrie his jewelry studio and faithful Eski dog “sugar.”
Big Sur Goldsmiths offer captivating and exquisite jewelry with a congruence that runs among all three jeweler’s compositions that can be easily observed, yet each artist offers variation in design and techniques. The timeless pieces crafted in the studio are guaranteed to please the most discerning of taste, as they have for over 50 years.