PHOTOS & STORY By GAYLE WILSON
Carmen Jaeger admits she wasn't keen when her husband suggested they move from Germany to Lunenburg County in 2013.
A certified goldsmith and silversmith and self-taught jewelry designer who had owned her own high-end gallery, at the time she was on a short hiatus to look after their two young children.
Even though her husband had been offered a job as an electrical engineer for a medical technology company in Chester, she hesitated.
"My first reaction was, 'No.' My second baby was just born. And I said, 'I can't.'"
Four years later, sitting in her studio gallery on Lunenburg's Lincoln Street, named simply Carmen Jaeger Goldsmith and Jewellery Design, she has no regrets about their ultimate decision to move.
In fact, it's the opposite.
"We decided to come here because of the ocean, and I was, my whole life, curious about living in another language. How would it feel?
She has built up her goldsmith and jewelry design business in Lunenburg over the past three years, "and I would say it has a very healthy base. I'm connected to local people," she told LighthouseNOW in an interview.
Opening in May of this year, she described business this summer as, "Good. Crazy good."
But it's not just the business side of things that have come together.
"There are amazing people living here. And I pretty soon made good friends, really, really deep friendships. Even in another language," says Jaeger.
It is perhaps not surprising Jaeger has crafted a successful business in Canada. From an early age, she says, she's been making the best of a situation.
And that is what ultimately led her to become the crafts person and designer that she is.
As a teen growing up in rural Germany, she says her family's budget didn't stretch to the brand-name and expensive clothing her peers often wore.
So she started designing and sewing her own clothes.
"I turned it into the opposite, and I said, 'What I'm wearing, this is one of a kind.'
"And it was just joy and fun to develop something that's unique," Jaeger recalls, suggesting "that was the seed" that led her to the metal and design crafts.
She attended college, where she learned about gemstones, the properties and behavior of gold, silver and non-precious metals, the theory of designing and craft skills such as welding, and walked away with a certificate as a goldsmith and silversmith.
Landing a job with two master goldsmiths in Heidelberg, Jaeger thought she was able to do everything then. "But I wasn't," she admits.
Twenty years later, Jaeger has come to realize, "You need routines. And then you need to develop your own techniques as well."
It was while working at a goldsmith and contemporary jewelry gallery in Frankfurt that she started gaining a foundation in business.
She learned how to organize a store, provide quotes for custom work and do the billing. The owner was "kind of a crazy boss" who would close the premises for days at a time and undertake a complete redesign of the layout.
"That person taught me to think bigger ... you know just to overstep known lines. It was good," she recalls. She also established contacts with a variety of jewelry designers.
From there she would move to a similar gallery in Karlsruhe, near the French border, to be closer to her future husband.
"It was an awesome spot and had a really good selection of designers," she says of the store that she would eventually come to own.
In time, though, she sold it to an employee so she could start her family.
Jaeger admits she was somewhat "scared" to move to Lunenburg and be a stay-at-home mother with two young children, fearful that her social network would become limited.
"I was always working and I was always active," she explains.
However, once her children were in day care, she started dabbling in the jewelry business from their home in Lunenburg's New Town.
She put the word out that she was open to doing jewelry repairs, and soon had Himmelman's Trophies and Gifts giving her sizing business.
As time went on, she started doing more design work, including wedding rings.
"I love what I'm doing. And it makes me sad when I'm not doing it. It's because it belongs to me. I need to do that."
She set aside a few days to sell at the Lunenburg Farmer's Market, and held a few "pop up shops" in town with local business women.
One of these was Svenja Dee of the floral design business Tulipwood. "She really took me under her wing. She introduced me to her customers."
As word spread and her customer base grew, this spring Jaeger decided she had outgrown her home-based premises and landed a rental deal at 228 Lincoln, which she has divided into studio space and a retail area.
After a hectic summer, she's preparing for a slower period between February and April, when she says she'll work on her designs.
She's determined to stay open year-round.
While the summer showed her the tourism market is a an important one, she says the people who are living in town "still have needs.
"And I would not survive if I just only deal with the tourism."
As well, Jaeger notes tourists are more "anonymous," happy to come into the store and "just buy. "Usually I'm used to doing a lot of explanations around the material and the design."
The business that happens outside of that season is "the more personal business," she adds.
Nonetheless she's excited to have received additional orders from tourists who called or emailed her later.
"It can't be better for an artisan."
While Jaeger has a website, she's been hesitant to develop a web shop.
"I think it will be a future thing. It's just I have to figure out how I would deal with the amount of work that would come on top."
For now, she still likes the idea of having personal contact, and the opportunity to explain a bit about her creations.
"Because each of my pieces carry a little bit of me," says Jaeger.