Terrie Day laughs as she describes her childhood: "I was that weird kid sitting on the driveway, picking through all the different stones." A lifelong fascination with gems, minerals and fossils, plus a love of world travel, all converged to bring Day to where she's standing today — in Sabai Jewelry (3115 Magazine St., 504-899-9555; www.sabaijewelry.com), her graceful jewelry showroom.
Globetrotting with a backpack as a young woman made Day decide to incorporate world travel into her livelihood. She enrolled at Louisiana State University to get a teaching degree. "I was going to teach at international schools in Asia — that was the original plan," she says.
To pay the bills, she sold jewelry at the French Market, where she discovered her knack for sales. "I made three times as much selling jewelry in the market as I did student teaching," Day says. "I thought, 'OK, I'll just travel back and forth and buy jewelry.'"
With $1,000 in savings and a bank loan for another $5,000, Day started her business, trekking to and from Asia for handcrafted jewelry. It sold fast in the French Market. After a few years, when store space opened on Royal Street, Day jumped at it. The name Sabai is a Thai word referring to a state of deep contentment and well-being; the "S" on the store logo represents a road winding up a mountain.
Day began indulging her other passion: stones. She designed pieces featuring fossils and gems found at rock and mineral shows. Today, Day works with artisans in Bali and Nepal who turn her designs into chunky, colorful jewelry pieces with artful details. One of the signature looks for Day's pieces are "lace" bezels of Balinese granulated silver.
Now located on Magazine Street, Sabai features Day's designs plus one-of-a-kind handcrafted work by artists from Asia and New Orleans.
"Gem hunting is my favorite thing to do," Day says, taking out a bag filled with uncut Ethiopian fire opals. "I buy them already cut, but this is my passion: raw stones." Green amethyst, Peruvian opal, watermelon tourmaline — if it catches Day's interest, you'll see it shimmering in a display case.
Day shows off one hand-hammered silver cuff, pointing out its intricate details. "This is the work of an old master craftsman in Nepal," she says, indicating the differences between his bracelet, and that of his apprentice. "This is the old beautiful stuff you can't get anymore."
Though most pieces are inspired by Asian art and culture, Day carries contemporary jewelry by artists such as Clyde Casey and Michael Michaud. Also scattered around are sculptures, paintings and stones.
The shop's imaginative vibe inspires one customer to tell Day the Greek legend of how the amethyst got its color (wine from the god Bacchus). "There are a million stories in this place," Day replies with a smile. "That's another good one."