In the beginning, there was the team of Michael Hamilton and Sarah Hill. Sarah brought the jewelry and gemology experience, Michael brought a lifetime of interest in design. Both brought a passion for funky, diverse Durham and shared in the dream of its urban revitalization.
Today, joining Sarah in day-to-day operations, HH team members make the Hamilton Hill mission possible. In addition to knowledge of jewelry, gemstones, and metalsmithing, they bring all manner of experience necessary to making a small business run. They also listen, advise, and offer support to the boss and each other, creating a beautiful community from which to serve and delight!
OWNER | GRADUATE GEMOLOGIST, SARAH HILL
Sarah Hill can’t believe how lucky she is to have a life where her vocation and avocations collide. Passionate about art, design, fashion, personal style, and urban revitalization, the Hamilton Hill owner is in her element working with clients and designers and being a merchant in her beloved 27701 (downtown Durham!). On the winding road to Hamilton Hill, Sarah earned a Graduate Gemologist certificate from the Gemological Institute of America and a B.A. in English from the University of Florida. In her non-jewelry work life, she has had the honor of being employed by the Smithsonian Institution, The Urban Institute, Duke Women’s Studies, and the Duke Diet & Fitness Center, where she met Michael Hamilton (!). Paperwork and business matters require a good deal of Sarah’s time, but if she could, she would spend all day, every day talking jewelry and life with her incredible clients. Sarah generally works Tuesdays through Saturdays and is happy to take appointments.
CO-FOUNDER, MICHAEL HAMILTON
Child of an artist and a dancer, Michael grew up in Cote d’Azur, France, home to a number of prominent artists which left art and design in his blood. Being part of Hamilton Hill — curating, merchandising, and dressing women and men — fulfilled many of his “should I have been an artist?” yearnings. Michael studied flute at the Eastman School of Music and later played in the Marine Band and Orchestra assigned to the White House (no, he did not have to go through Marine Basic Training!). In lieu of a music career, Michael did an about-face, studied medicine and public health, and from 1967-69 served as a Peace Corps physician in Afghanistan. (He adored the country which he found beautiful, safe, and filled with friendly people.) For thirty+ years he was on the Duke Medical Center faculty where he directed the Physician Assistant Program and later specialized in obesity care and research. Michael still adores HH and drops by often!
DESIGNER | GOLDSMITH, KAI HILL
Is Kai Hill related to Sarah Hill? Well, they say no, but given their shared love of jewelry and business, a nearly identical sneeze, and that they look somewhat alike, genetic testing is ongoing. Kai’s life story involves east coast, west coast, Colorado, Switzerland, downtown Durham, German and Portuguese language study, community activism, and more. In early 2020, an interest in apprenticing with goldsmith Ken Weston brought Kai to Hamilton Hill where she softened the blow of early pandemic! In addition to making jewelry and performing repairs, she has settled into an important sales role. Kai also runs her own jewelry business, Kai Hill Metalsmithing.
DESIGNER | MASTER GOLDSMITH, KEN WESTON
The son of professional artists and makers on Long Island (East Meadow), Ken’s earliest memories include playing with the tools of his parents’ trades. For five+ decades in his practice as a designer/goldsmith, Ken has aspired to create heirloom-quality jewelry and perform the much-needed professional services of repair and restoration. Ken is passionate about metals, stones (insatiable!), design motifs, and finds joy in being part of clients’ experiences. Other passions include his children Oliver, and Emily; furball children; music of just about every flavor, but especially drumming; flavorful food and the cooking of it; living a peaceful life in rural NC.
SALES | DESIGNER, SHEILA STILLMAN
If you’ve ever seen a clear blue-green sea, the travelogue of Sheila’s life is one you may understand, as in, I want to see this water every day! A sailing pro who learned in New York harbor (guts!), Sheila lived on St. Thomas for 20 years. The island became home after a few years spent exploring the world, and it was there that jewelry making became a passion and profession. After a rigorous training program and apprenticeship, her specialty evolved (granulation and other challenging ancient techniques) requiring, as above, guts! Sheila’s current pleasures and pursuits include reading, gardening, and dog rearing. At HH, look for Sheila in long strands of pearls … yes, a connection to the water!
DIGITAL MEDIA MANAGER | PHOTOGRAPHER, HELENA GATES
Topics you can discuss with Helena Gates include: her recent move from NM to NC, Spanish language (one of her college majors), fashion, painting, living abroad, skiing, bicycling, and of course jewelry! About that first item, thank you, Helena, for moving to Durm to work at HH and for bringing your twin super powers of creativity and attention to detail with you!
EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT, KAIYA LEVINE
Kaiya is a can-do kind of gal, and she is can-doing up a storm at HH. As Sarah’s right-hand woman, she assists with client needs, designer communication, community relations, facility management, sanity preservation, and oh so much more. Kaiya has lived in 10 U.S. states, Belgium, and Greece. Her passions include travel, board and card games, puzzles, reading, meditating, philosophical inquiry, and here’s a biggie, rescuing wild and domestic animals. Kaiya is known for treasuring and nurturing friendships and says she is empowered by helping others. For that we thank our lucky stars!
SHOP MASCOT, MS. WILHELMINA “BILLIE” JEANS HILL
Billie has been part of the Hamilton Hill family since Thanksgiving 2011 when she was a stray in the Brightleaf neighborhood. Found initially by Mr. Bill Jeans, Billie immediately took to the retail life. She is a pro at bringing people together and protecting the shop from other dogs. The HHumans hope we’re not causing her an identity crisis by referring to her as Willie, Billers, BillBill, Beauty Princess and other silly names born of our love for her, but we can’t help ourselves. Billie only shares her email address with close friends and family but welcomes your visit in person anytime!