Ellie Thompson has been a creative her entire life. She designed clothes in high school, was a dancer, a theater geek. Aspirations as a gemologist fueled moves to California for school, to Chicago for work, and, finally, to the doors of one of the top appraisers in the country, Richard Drucker. As his assistant, Thompson apprenticed in the trade. Shortly thereafter and at Drucker’s insistence, Thompson opened her fine jewelry appraisal company The Chicago Gem Lab. She was just 24.
The Gem Lab was a near immediate success, as was Thompson’s initial foray into design work, her true passion. Soon, Thompson sold off the appraisal side of the company and embraced custom design full time, providing unique engagement rings, repurposed heirlooms and more for a host of loyal clients. She assembled a crew of craftsmen – some of whom remain with her still, 20 years later – and they set to work creating wearable works of art.
Her collections vary dramatically and are informed less by trend than by a particular gemstone, accessibility of materials, wearability, her surroundings, and classical approaches to blending urban and rural. “The difference between one collection and the next is like speaking multiple languages,” Thompson remarks. “I develop a new language every time I have a new collection.”
Over the past 25 years, Thompson’s custom jewelry business has evolved to include numerous collections, a Chicago retail storefront, and gallery space spanning the country. She has won countless awards and enjoyed professional acclaim in spades. But her joy remains in connecting with the craft and the people who share her love for it, particularly in her Roscoe Village shop. She appreciates interacting with the families and the neighborhood. She offers children her special “gem box” full of sparkly treasures, teaching them about their chosen stone and sharing their excitement. She ignites that selfsame passion in budding enthusiasts and collectors that fueled the evolution of her creative process, engaging with the community to “be a part of something bigger than [herself].”