Written in Stone

Ormachea Jewelry merges master craftsmanship, Old World techniques and modern artistry.

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by Michael Moore

Bertha and Hugo Ormachea inspect turquoise stones for future jewelry designs at their shop in Downtown Ventura. Hugo’s exceptional skill and Bertha’s eye for fashion have kept Ormachea a leader in the jewelry business for over two decades.


ne glance in the window at Ormachea Jewelry in downtown Ventura and you’ll know immediately: This is not the typical jewelry store.

Where one might expect to see twinkling diamonds and the soft sheen of silver and gold, Ormachea offers color, art and originality: atypical stones, a mix of metals, designs that are unusual yet perfectly in harmony. Rather than referencing stars in the sky or an idealized version of heaven, Ormachea speaks of the earth — the very foundations from which its gems and minerals emerge, to be turned into precious works of wearable art.

It takes an expert touch to imbue these raw materials with grace and elegance while maintaining their organic essence. And that achievement is due to the mind and skill of master craftsman Hugo Ormachea.

Gold runs through the veins of the Ormachea family — Hugo’s father, Donato, is a jeweler in Cuzco, Peru, as was his father before him. Even so, Hugo himself didn’t pick up the loupe immediately. He studied architecture at the University of San Antonio. He was, however, quickly disillusioned.

“Being an architect [in Peru] is not like here,” Hugo says. “Over there, all you can get is some bureaucratic project.”

An artist at heart, Hugo craved something that would allow his own imagination to take flight. So he returned to the family business. It was a less jarring transition than one might expect.

“When you think jeweler, architect, painter, carpenter — all these professions are basically the same thing. The object is to put everything together in harmony and balance. Making jewelry is better because you don’t have to deal with a contractor from zero to sell point. You are in control.”

For Hugo, jewelry making is a medium for his vision, and maintaining mastery over the process is paramount.

Hugo’s partner in business and life is his wife, Bertha. Not a jeweler herself, she has an innate sense of style and a nose for trends that have kept Ormachea both on point and a touch ahead of the curve.

“Ever since I was a child I loved to be creative,” she says. “First I was designing clothes. When I was in university, I wanted to study architecture. I loved knitting and weaving, and took classes in ceramics.”

Bertha had some design ideas for jewelry that she hoped she could sell through her sister, who worked in the tourism field. She needed a jeweler to bring them to life . . . which is how she met Hugo. Several years, two shops, one transnational move and three children (sons Sergio, Gabriel and Rodrigo) later, they are still together . . . and still a formidable team.

Hugo and Bertha initially opened a shop in Cuzco, which proved to be very successful. “We were touching the sky,” Hugo admits. “So we said, now what?”

With conflict between the government and terrorist organizations putting a chill on tourism in the Peruvian Andes, and Bertha’s sister already living in California, in 1991 the Ormacheas decided to head north with their three young sons and set up shop in Ventura. 

The Ormachea aesthetic didn’t wow the American customer . . . at first. But with Bertha’s eye for fashion and some clever reimagining of the designs (namely, introducing mixed metals and less expensive options) the jewelry store flourished.

Bertha recalls suggesting to Hugo, “Let’s do something casual.” Ormachea began to offer options in silver and brass mixed with stones. “We did wholesale with that line. After that, everything came easily. We started updating the design, working with what was the trend and what working women wanted.”

Alix Camp, a jeweler from Hawaii who has been apprenticing at Ormachea the last few years, notes that Bertha has an almost uncanny ability to pick up on what customers want . . . and what the next hot thing will be. “She interacts with the customer. And she’s in touch with the fashions. She has an idea of what’s the trend . . . and then thinks of the trend with a twist.”

From Bertha’s perspective, there’s nothing magic about it — it’s all about listening to the client.

“I try to understand each person,” she says. “What’s her style, what’s her personality. I drive them to find the piece they’re going to love. . . . Everything starts with a nice, personal conversation.”

And she helps translate their needs to Hugo, who, like any true artiste, can be stubborn. But somewhere between the customer’s idea and Hugo’s vision is a design that perfectly encapsulates both the wearer’s personality and the Ormachea commitment to artistry, balance and style.

When making his jewelry, Hugo’s jumping-off point is always the same.

“I start first with the stone,” he explains.

He goes to gem and mineral shows and looks for whatever catches his eye. Diamonds, rubies and sapphires might play a role in his work, but these staples of the jewelry trade rarely take the lead. Moonstone, labradorite, opals, coral and turquoise figure largely in his designs, and it’s not uncommon for metal to take center stage.

“Here, we make the metal a principal part,” Hugo says. “When you see my pieces, you don’t think, ‘I like your diamond.’ You say, ‘I like the ring.’ It’s all about the whole.”

Hugo works with all metals, but prefers gold (18 carat in particular) above all else. “The best metal is yellow gold. Always I work with it. The beauty is really nice. It’s nice to fire and to hammer. It’s nice to work with, in all the stages.”

Camp was immediately drawn to Ormachea’s one-of-a-kind pieces, noting that Hugo “likes to mix raw stuff with polished. I love that it has that organic feel to it. It has that artistic approach. It’s really different. And each piece is handmade; there’s no casting.”

Hugo will sometimes use silver wire, but purchases only raw gold for his creations. He makes many of his own tools and molds, and melts his metals in a crucible with a gas or propane torch. While he does use a hand-cranked rolling mill to get wire of very precise and consistent dimensions, he forms sheets using a hammer and anvil — like a modern-day Hephaestus.

“To make one-of-a-kind jewelry, you don’t need machinery,” Hugo insists. “If the power goes out, I can still do my work.”

It’s not unlike how his own father worked. Ormachea’s technique and designs are heavily influenced by Hugo’s Peruvian roots.

“When you’re born someplace like that, you unconsciously use it,” he says of Cuzco, which was once the capital of the Inca Empire. A ring based on Machu Picchu, Incan design elements, stylized representations of the sun and the moon (extremely important in Incan culture) all find their way into Ormachea jewelry.

But Hugo is quick to add that other aesthetics, both old and new, inform his work. Etruscan and Asian elements are not uncommon, and the contemporary world is a constant source of inspiration. He and Bertha travel as often as they can, and being true art lovers, enjoy museums, galleries and architecture. Exposure to the wider world helps keep Ormachea’s jewelry fresh and interesting.

“That’s how you grow,” Hugo says. “To see and be open to improving your vision for other things. Sometimes you don’t realize you are changing, because you are absorbing everything. . . . You need to be open to everything.”

It’s this quality that keeps jewelry lovers coming to the shop, year after year and, in some cases, generation after generation. Hugo and Bertha have made engagement rings for couples who come in later for other pieces — and whose children end up coming in when they, too, are looking for something special.

“They know what they want,” Hugo says. “They like something unique. So they need my jewelry. It’s not only jewelry; it’s a complement for your body.”

Ormachea has served all types of customers: the newly engaged (including same-sex couples), people looking to update old or inherited jewelry with a more modern design, those wanting to pass on something special to their heirs. Bertha recalls one man, dying of cancer, who ordered bracelets for his wife, son and daughter, each with a special engraving.

“The personal design we do becomes kind of emotional,” she says.

“For us, it is a passion,” Hugo adds. “It’s not just a business. We make art. People like it, yes, but first we make for ourselves.” 

Ormachea Jewelry
451 East Main Street, Ventura


Ormachea Jewelry evinces an elegant yet organic quality, with atypical stones and mixed metals.

At Hugo’s home studio, you’ll find hammers and an anvil, crucibles for molten gold, molds he created himself and sketchbooks for design – ancient tools of the metallurgy trade. “To make one-of-a-kind jewelry, you don’t need machinery,” he insists. “If the power goes out, I can still do my work.”




The son and grandson of jewelers, Peruvian-born Hugo practically has gold running through his veins. Perhaps that’s the reason he prefers the lustrous metal over any other. “It’s nice to fire and to hammer. It’s nice to work with, in all the stages,” he says.


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