Brought to you by Defense Credit Union Council
Story by Liesel Schmidt + Photography Courtesy of Gold Works by David Martin
“Your imagination is my horizon. I can use anything you come up with as a springboard to create something out of my mind.” -David Martin
A slim man with a shock of gray hair that gives him a distinguished air and a certain sense of experience, David Martin is a force in the business community of his adopted city of Alexandria. The eyes behind his round spectacles have stories to tell—and the things he’s seen with those eyes have given him an incredible perspective on life as well as business.
The son of a WWII Navy captain whose approval was hard-won, Martin attended the University of Rochester after high school, quickly finding that he wasn’t quite a fit. Even so, he was determined to take his shot at getting the best possible education and enlisted in the Air Force. After being sworn in by his father, Martin was on track to begin his education, stationed first at Andrews AFB and then Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida. During his time there, he worked as a clinical laboratory technologist and studied invertebrate anatomy to earn his degree. In his spare time, he watched the movement of dancers and practiced sculpture—both of which aided his studies as well as his love of design.
As much as he loved his work in the lab, the reality of that work was something that impacted his decision for the future. “I was in the military, but I didn’t serve in a war zone. I worked in the lab, and I saw the boys coming back from Vietnam.” Those boys that he saw were in body bags. For Martin, the task of performing autopsies on them solidified the fact that he wanted no part of being a pathologist.
After an early out from the military, Martin went back to school for an arts degree, working in the lab at the University of Miami while he continued forward in the education that would ultimately lead him to his true calling. What he could never have foreseen were the aneurisms that forced him to make a choice not only on what to do with his life, but where to do it.
“In healing, I realized that I didn’t want to go back to a medical career, and I couldn’t go back into the military.” That was his turning point, his decision to focus himself on his art. He left Miami to move to Lewes, Delaware, where he entrenched himself in the community and became known for his skills as an artisan. Over the next two years in Lewes, he opened his first shop—uniquely called Through the Looking Glass—won an award from the art league for sculpture, and became involved with the Zwaanendael Heritage Committee, for whom he designed the host parade float on the 350th anniversary of Lewes. Naturally, it was a great honor and huge for his career. “I wanted to create something impressive,” he says.
As much as he loved Lewes, he knew that winters there were detrimental to his ability to stay viable as a business owner. Time was, once again, upon him to choose a destination. Big cities with bustling populations appealed to his business sense, but the call of Washington, DC, was the loudest. “I thought it would be a great place to be doing things in the arts,” Martin explains. “I came to Washington and took a lot of jewelry courses, and much of it involved the same techniques I had used in the clinic for lab technology. I started getting more serious about learning how to cast and carve waxes in the jewelry; and I learned how to identify diamonds with the GIA, so I also do appraisals. The more I did, the more adept I became at making great pieces.”
By the early ’80s, Martin had moved to Alexandria, where he immediately joined the Chamber of Commerce. He was encouraged to exhibit his work, and his sculptures won awards from the Washington Jewelry Guild of Goldsmiths and were displayed at Woodward and Lothrop.
His success as a businessman, however, is not something he credits to his talent—though he does possess a remarkable skill. “My success is really related to my desire to help,” he explains. “I’ve worked in the community, and my artistic skills put me on the front line in Alexandria. My success is related to what I do in the community: I’m in the Medical Reserve Corps, and I’ve been active in improving this city.” In this, he is referring to the banners on King Street—inspired by another town he’d visited in Virginia whose streets were lined with banners—and the holiday lights that give King Street such charm. Both proposals were denied out of hand, but his persistence soon saw success. Now, walking along King Street, Martin can look at the impact he has made on the city that holds his heart. For his contributions of beautification, steadfastness, and connection, Martin was named an Alexandria Living Legend in 2013.
More recently, Martin was awarded Small Veteran-Owned Business of the Year in 2018. As the owner of Gold Works, he’s proudly displayed the award in the window—something he notes has brought many Veterans into his shop. And while he may not have any specific advice for Vets starting their own businesses, he speaks sage words for anyone in business: “No matter what’s happened, my motto is ‘Start, show up, be involved in the community, and be flexible so that you can respond when unforeseeable threats come. And network, network, network.’”
Now in its 32nd year, Gold Works has become an institution, and Martin’s customer loyalty extends generations. Clearly, beauty is important to Martin—and the work of his hands and his heart can be seen all over the city.
Gold Works is located at 1400 King Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314. For more information, call (703) 683-0333 or visit www.goldworksusa.com
VIP Alexandria Magazine would like to extend a very special thank you to Defense Credit Union Council for its sponsorship of our Salute to Service feature over the past year. Their generous decision to partner with us has allowed us to share inspiring stories of service, selflessness, dedication and perseverance. To explore all of our Salute to Service Stories, brought to you by DCUC, please visit: www.vipalexandriamag.com/dcuc