Karen Karch’s Personal Design Project

At Bejeweled magazine, our favorite stories to share are those that are deeply personal and often sentimental. For so many of us, jewelry is a touchstone of the most significant moments of our lives, whether it be handed down, designed from gemstones from a family member, or created to commemorate someone who has passed on.

Karen Karch getting 2 piercings in her left ear to accommodate the earrings she created to honor her late mother

Karen’s first design for an earring inspired by the Thunderbird

In this story, uber talented designer Karen Karch tells her own story of how she combines all three ways to honor her late mother. Taking piece passed down, the stones out of their original outdated setting and re-fashioning them into current pieces she will ‘never take off’, she figures out a way to keep her mom close while revisiting some of her teenage years in the process.

“ My mother and my biggest champion passed away suddenly three years ago,  I knew that I wanted to create a piece of jewelry to honor her but I wasn’t sure exactly what or how. I have always loved creating meaningful jewels for others- and with my own boutique, I have had the privilege to work with many clients to re-imagine family diamonds and gems, reworking them into new designs that resonate for the person who has commissioned them.  When I finally figured out how I would commemorate my own mom, I realized I was now going to be the designer and my own client.

My mother loved the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull and about five years ago made a point to gift me her copy.  Since she passed away, I often think of this book and of her as a bird watching over me.

But there was a different type of bird that spoke even more about my life and growing up with a mother who gave only pure love and support.

Karen’s second design inspired by the Thunderbird

I was born in upstate New York but moved to  El Paso when I was 10 years old. The mountain that separates the east side of El Paso from the west side has a red rock formation in the shape of a Thunderbird, which we lived just below. I have wanted to create a design based on the Thunderbird for all my adult life as a jewelry designer. But the timing just wasn’t right.  After my mom passed away, my husband suggested that I try the design again. The timing became clear when I accompanied a friend to her appointment for an ear piercing. Like many women these days, she had a few holes in each ear but wanted more to wear all of the variety in designs for earrings that have been emerging over the past few years.

The Thunderbird on Franklin Mountain in El Paso

Another earring inspired by the Thunderbird

Personally, I had my ears pierced only once and had the requisite 1 left, one right piercing since I had them done as a preteen. But as I waited for my friend, I decided I would take the tapered baguettes and round brilliants from my mom’s out-of-date cocktail ring that I inherited to create multiple earrings, inspired by the Thunderbird. And, now that I am more stylishly hip  (read: middle age) and more confident then I was during my apprehensive teen years, I would travel back to those moments and schedule an appointment for two more piercings in my left and another appointment for one, or maybe more piercing in my right ear.

Karen’s Inspiration for Thunderbirds


Lightning Bolt Earring

The minute I was scheduled, I went to work and began my attempt to configure the diamonds, inspired by the Thunderbird and it took me about 5 minutes to separate the stones that were the right size and to set them up. I then decided to create companion pieces- those that would relate, rather than strictly reference the Thunderbird.  I also have a lightning bolt (or 2) that will go in my right ear.

Diamonds that Karen inherited in rings from her mother.

At present, I have two of these earrings in my left ear and as I wait for my next piercings, I already feel my mother with me 24/7.

I refer to these earrings as Diamond “Tattoos—studs that I will wear, like my tattoos, permanently and never remove to commemorate, celebrate and hold close the memory of the biggest champion in my life.”

Karen’s left ear with Thunderbird inspired earrings