Eight Woman Jewelry Designers Talk About Navigating Their Businesses In Tough And Triumphant Times
For Bejeweled, my intention for International Women’s Day was to focus on the talent of some of the wildly imaginative, independent women designers who I have watched throughout their careers. I have known each of these designers since their start and watched them go through the growing pains, trials, tough times and triumphs they have encountered throughout their years in business. All of these designers came into it on their own, without families in the business. Some arrived at designing jewelry later in their lives, from completely different career paths, but felt a strong calling to design pieces that other women could wear confidently and relate to in different ways. Although only one of these designers is International, (I covered 22 international designers today in my article for Forbeslife.com), these women designers are all fiercely independent, brave and have grown their business in some of the roughest of times. This year was one of those times, yet they all came through it with strong collections and the impetus to continue and push through. Some switched their focus and marketing or selling style and were creative about finding ways to continue their business. They also concentrated on what they do best—design beautiful, meaningful and highly wearable jewelry that is instinctive and deeply rooted in their own histories and backgrounds. Yet, these designers are on target with what today’s women want from their jewelry—pieces that can help celebrate their lives, that are not so precious they can’t be worn every day. They have tapped into the need for women to find significance, spirituality or sentiment in the jewelry they choose. All of these talents come from a truly honest place, design from the heart and tell it like it is. Read on for a glimpse into their lives, creative inspirations and their resolve to keep going.
Thea Miller/Dru. Jewelry/Born and Raised in Los Angeles, California
“DRU. has been a scrappy company from the very beginning, and I am proud of that. That scrappiness has kept me in my lane and has helped me to weather many storms. The brand has remained authentic, which I know clients appreciate. DRU. has never tried to be anything but what it is: A jewelry company that focuses a woman’s strength, is inspired by her truths, and aims to empower and embolden her as she navigates her way through life and its complexities. I want women to feel strong and brave and confident when they wear DRU.
I think DRU. is known for its authenticity and edge, and it resonates with people because it is honest and at times raw. People also appreciate the irony and tongue-in-cheek humor of many of my pieces. I like pretty things, but most importantly I like things that make a person think and inspire a person to act, and that’s what I try to do with my jewelry.
Most importantly, DRU. is designed for the wearer. That is why I set stones in places that perhaps only she will see. And why I engraved ‘loved’ on the Loved Reflection Medallion in reverse so that the wearer can read it in the mirror. My goal is to allow my customers to care about how the jewelry makes them feel and be unconcerned with peers, family and people they meet. The messaging on my jewelry is the woman wearing it. Words are powerful, and I have always been drawn to them—as a former teacher, as a student, as a woman—through love and heartbreak—words connect us all and they can provide hope and solace and inspiration and courage—which is exactly what we all need at different times in our lives.”
Kate Hubley K8 Jewelry/ Born in Nova Scotia, Lives in Montreal, Canada
“I started designing and creating jewelry essentially at the same time I started university. I never pursued jewelry professionally until just a few years ago. Instead, I studied languages and translation and later went on to become a French-to-English translator and then a copywriter on the creative teams at the Montreal offices of international advertising agencies. But I never stopped creating jewelry. I would bring my toolbox with me to work, slide it under my desk, then go off to jewelry school at the end of the day. After 20 years, the glamour of advertising faded for me. So I turned to the one thing that I was truly passionate about: jewelry creation and design.
In terms of launching my own jewelry collection, I originally thought if I built it they would come. That was definitely an awakening. Creating a high-end product and marketing it as well as marketing myself proved to be more than what I ever expected. So many times I wanted to give up. But I couldn’t imagine what else I would do. I kept going to find the right mix that would lead me on the path of growth. In terms of personal life, I’ve been thrown a lot of curveballs. Some all of my own doing, some completely blindsided me. I live by the motto ‘The biggest challenges are the greatest creative opportunities.’ And after all of these years, it is finally ringing true. The launch of the engagement ring collection and creating customized designs helped me to see where I fit in in this ever-changing and finicky market. And it is allowing me the creativity and the confidence to grow and go further in my design process. I hope that the people who wear my designs can fend off the forces that put obstacles in their paths and wear my designs in celebration of their fearlessness and their individuality.”
Linda Hoj Linda Hoj Salt Lake City, Utah/Westport, Connecticut
“I have always understood the transformative nature of jewelry. In my bio on my website, it reads, ‘A crown made of flowers and I was a princess, elegant and powerful. A sea glass necklace magically turned me into a dreamy mermaid and a couple of large metal armbands made me feel like a heroine ready to take on the world.’ When I decided to launch a jewelry collection, I knew that I wanted to bring the same feeling to women who would wear my pieces. Women today are proud, brave, independent, with different moods, always changing and evolving—I hope that I am designing jewelry that they can collect and speaks to their multifaceted lives and dreams of what they may become while feeling proud, confident and empowered.
All of my pieces are all one-of-a-kind, each its own little puzzle, arriving at that balance between beauty, wearability and durability is the goal. Many times there are challenges to overcome, lessons to learn and comfort zones to push but that is what makes it endlessly interesting. Every time a piece is finished, and it checks all the needed boxes, is a little victory. My aesthetic is inspired by the ancient world and the intricacies of old-world techniques in goldwork mixed with the inherent beauty of gemstones that immediately speak to me.
My sword collection has been among the most rewarding for me. It is inspired by a touching real-life event that I still have a hard time talking about. This sword collection was inspired by a tattoo that my oldest daughter got, much to the chagrin of her father and me. But she had overcome illness and was taking steps to follow her own dreams. When I heard that for her, it was a symbol of bravery, protection and action to take control of her own life, I not only suddenly loved the tattoo but I instantly thought, I too, needed a sword! So began the collection. It has been a very popular collection that resonates with many people and I feel honored to be able to hear their stories and see how their belief in the power of the sword helps them each day.
There are themes that connect all of my collection which are based on elegance, strength and desire. It is my own ever-evolving story of a wish to live beautifully and creatively to strengthen my voice and become free of fear or self-doubt and live truly authentically. These words describe the jewelry and the intent behind each piece but also the women who wear them, women who appreciate a handmade, one-of-a-kind treasure to remind themselves to thrive in their own individuality and live in the full light of their own brilliance.”
Samantha Jackson/Heavenly Vices/Born in New Orleans, LA, Lives in Atlanta, Georgia
“For as long as I can remember, I was obsessed with jewelry, dragging my mom into any jewelry store we passed much to her terror; she did not like to tell her kids no. And yet it never occurred to me as a path I could take, so I followed my strong suits and pursued a business degree and MBA, which led to a career in management consulting. After 18 years I was at a crossroads, where I had to decide if I wanted to continue this path that was lucrative but unfulfilling or go back to my jewelry dream. I chose to dream.
It’s a strange world, this internet-enabled one we inhabit, that emboldens us to believe anything is within reach if only we are determined enough to pursue it. I was determined and with the support of my trusty assistant Google, I took some seed money and jumped in feet first, not really knowing what I was doing or really what I wanted to say. As naïve as this sounds, I thought how hard can it be to make and sell pretty things? Oh so hard. It is not an easy thing to put yourself and your blood, sweat and tears out there for people you have admired as a consumer and watch them walk by your booth at a trade show with a mere glance. There is so much second-guessing; for a long time a line the Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime (And you may say to yourself, “My god, what have I done?”) danced around in my head. But when you see something come to life that was once an idea in your head, it is all worth it. And when a consumer responds to it and spends their hard-earned money on your work, it is indescribable.
It took a few years to find my voice, people who understood my line that I could trust and the many partners I have to help me bring my products to market, making many missteps along the way. At the end of 2019, I felt like I finally hit my stride and was poised for big things. Then COVID hit and I thought I was doomed. I ended up having my best year of sales in 2020. Even in the darkest of times, we cling to hope and to love. The fear and isolation heightened our emotions, and made us long for normalcy; at the end of the day, for the lucky ones, life went on. And that for some that meant celebrating loves, losses, triumphs and tragedies, buying jewelry to remind them of their own resilience and that this too shall pass. Many times customers reach out to me on Instagram to work on a custom love token design that tells a story of a moment in time, such as the birth of a child or death of a loved one, or reflects a personal mantra, and the pandemic did not diminish the desire to continue tell these personal stories.
Love tokens, the signature of my collection, are sentimental engraved coins from the 19th century that I bring back to life in modern and meaningful settings. When I first discovered them, my heart broke a little to see how these incredible works of art were no longer seen as valuable, languishing in boxes and attics, being appreciated only on a very small scale. I knew that with patience and a little resilience of my own, I could find a customer base that would see what I saw in these treasures – beauty, history and love. What once was another person’s story speaks to my customers on an emotional level, and becomes part of their own story in a specific way as we design the finished piece in a way that fits into their life and tells their stories. In the same way that I chose to extend the tales of these artifacts, customers choose them on an individual level to continue the story from which they were borne.”
Orly Eisbart/ Orly Marcel/ Born In Tel Aviv Israel, Lives in Denver, Colorado
“I launched my collection in 2019 and named it Orly Marcel as a homage to my late father Marcel, an artisanal craftsman whose primary tools were his hands. Growing up in Tel Aviv, I spent a great deal of my childhood watching him work in his studio. In launching my collection I believe I inherited his unbridled enthusiasm and attention to detail which I try to incorporate into each one of my designs. After graduating college with a Fine Arts degree, I continued to be intrigued by other cultures and traveled to India where I studied Yoga and fell in love first-hand with the vibrant richness of India’s colors, textures, meaningful jewelry and Eastern spirituality. My other travels throughout ancient cities in Europe steeped in history, antiquity and cultural nuances also inspire my collection. I think it is in my lifelong pursuit of inspiration and spirituality that has taken me to these and more places around the globe, all culminating in the different Eastern and Western universal symbols and significance that comprise my collection today.
I continue to design sacred symbols, mantras, and talisman meant to stimulate mindfulness, contemplation and to align with the beliefs of women and how their view their own lives and the world. While all of this has been extremely exciting, it has been equally challenging. I am a mother to four young children and a wife to a man I love deeply but with growing a collection from scratch and becoming an entrepreneur almost overnight, I have to remind myself to create a balance between work and family every day. Luckily my spiritual practice helps me create my own quiet space to breathe and quiet my mind. The last year has been particularly complicated due to the pandemic. Half of the time the business has been open, it has been during this time period of COVID. But I have continued to design and also move my business forward in different directions, which has opened up more space for my particular aesthetic and designs and has allowed me to grow opportunities despite some of the obstacles I have encountered during this past year. I love what I do and will continue to create the perfect balance for myself, and for my customers, through my designs, with optimism and hope for the future.”
Kaylin Hertel/Kaylin Hertel/ Born in Kansas City Missouri, Lives in Los Angeles
“I was born and raised in Kansas City with my four brothers. In high school, I took my first metalsmithing class and have been passionate about the medium ever since. It was also in high school that I got my first job in jewelry—an afternoon job at a fine jewelry store. I literally started at the bottom—working alone in the basement and did all of the polishing and rhodium plating. I would go to the jewelry store for a few hours after school and before indoor soccer practice (I was a funny art-jock hybrid). With encouragement from my teacher, I decided to study design/jewelry in college and have worked in almost every facet of the industry since.
While in college, I also studied textiles and worked at the most amazing local fabric store. The store and the women who owned it left a huge imprint on me, my work ethic and my design sensibility. I fell in love with prints and patterns. I have always gravitated towards Japanese textiles in particular. It is the high level of craft and refinement thoughtfully mingled with whimsy and the delicate and natural world that inspires these fabrics that attract me. These are the same characteristics that I strive to incorporate in my own work—a balance between the feminine elegance and tactile feeling of engraved floral designs and small creatures as well and the more graphic three-dimensional fan shapes that define my collection.
In 2011, I moved out to California where I still reside. Since then, I have worked jobs in editorial, production, production management, wholesale sales and retail sales for prominent figures in the jewelry industry. I am extremely grateful to have worked for such amazing employers and mentors (most of which have been women).
Until I made the decision to launch my collection in 2017, I thoughtfully and patiently worked on the designs throughout the years in the evenings and on weekends and whenever I could eek out time to develop my voice. As an independent designer, you have to work at a pace that will allow you to realize your aesthetic but sometimes it might take longer than you hoped. Then once you finally get the collection off the ground with all of the elements in place, that’s when you need to find the people that relate to your sensibility and who will get behind you whether it’s retailers or the consumers you are selling directly. It’s a process. In addition to the regular hurdles, as an emerging designer, the pandemic created a world we could have not imagined.
But somehow I plowed through. And during this time, I saw my refined minimal aesthetic, rich with imagery., I saw my line slowly starting to reflect me and my personality. As an artist, I think that is the ultimate goal.”
Karen Karch/ Karen Karch/ Born in Syracuse New York Lives in Manhattan
“I have been in business a lot longer than the other designers, all of who I admire greatly, but who might have skipped over what we had to do earlier in the business, before computer technology was so advanced, before social media and other developments and progression that helped with creating what we see in our heads.
I attended Parsons School of Design and during my senior year, instead of doing an internship, I insisted that I must “intern” for my own yet-to-launch business. I was all about getting it going. My street-inspired pieces were largely made from found objects cast into silver. Large and a tad aggressive, my designs were grouped with other designers as part of the “Dangerous Jewelry” trend. Upon graduation, I began showing my work at trade shows. I also sent cut-and-past xerox catalogs to targeted stores. Back then Kinkos was where we would create our line sheets during midnight runs after pieces would be finished. And back then, Barney’s was one of the first retailers to sell my collection.
But seven years into my career, I felt my designs were becoming a bit too conventional. I was second-guessing what buyers would want, and feeling disconnected. In an effort to have free reign of my creativity, I opened my first store, then named PUSH, where I could experiment and be daring in my approach without that voice in my head asking ‘would these pieces sell?’. This was when I began evolving my aesthetic and in particular my alternative engagement rings and my now recognizable vine designs. Then came the rose, an unexpected element as I was usually averse to anything too obviously beautiful. But I was drawn to the historic symbolism that roses communicate from pure to passionate love to loss. I added the claws and the thorns to imbue the designs with the element of danger that continued and still continues to intrigue me. The rose collection grew over the years from carved stone roses set in vine and claw settings to mixed metal gold with accents of precious stones.
It has always been my aesthetic to create contradictions in design—which is why we developed the tagline “jewelry for the wild at heart”. I don’t believe fine jewelry captures just one feeling—it’s more captivating, more real and raw if it is a juxtaposition of glamorous and gritty, feminine and edgy, opulent and restrained, historical and ultra-modern. I also am a fan of jewelry with meaning so I tend towards borrowing elements from the Victorian period yet always with a nod to the future for jewelry that both embraces and defies convention.
Now, 30 years into my business, I have been through tough times. What I do is a large part of who I am. I cannot stop so I must always find a way. My business survived 9/11, the U.S. financial crisis of 2008, and now COVID. What gets me through is the support and strong connection to my clients. Many have become longtime friends and all keep me on my toes to keep moving forward and finding new ways to express my personal and professional philosophy.”
Susan Cohen/Circa 1700/Born in Toronto, Canada, lives in Los Angeles, CA
“I was born in Canada. My mum always said that I was born wearing jewelry – had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck – and my love for jewelry was also born.
So when a friend suggested we start a jewelry line back in 2005, I didn’t need to be asked twice. We created pieces using wire wrap and semi-precious stones. Then she got married – traveled the world – and I decided to go back to my first jewelry love, which was antique jewelry—the symbolism and the meanings attached to the pieces drew me in. In 2008, I launched Circa 1700. I originally converted antique charms into charm necklaces. But then as I discovered more pieces that had such romance and in their motifs and words, it lead me down the path of creating my own pieces. These were initially inspired by Georgian and Victorian jewelry and now I also am influenced by the vintage ‘70s.
I wanted to celebrate our unique life journeys by creating pieces that were heavily infused with significance and incorporated old-school techniques. One of the pieces that really encapsulated my line and still does today is the Circa 1700 Loving Hand Mechanical Clasp – a reminder to hold onto the ones we love.
A couple of years ago, my father got sick and I had to return to Canada for several months. It was one of the lowest points in my life, but stepping away from my jewelry line was necessary. And it was also, in a weird kind of way, a time that has inspired so many of the pieces I now have in my line. This part of my personal journey only increased my resolve to bring more meaning and insight into the pieces and develop my craft.
I think this last year has done the same. Looking at the world around us as it all came to a crashing halt, I also had to once again take a step back. It was the year that brought about the Fill Your Heart Pendant and the Write Your Own Destiny Zodiac Collection as well as the Cosmic Connection Chain which are all in my themes of enduring and endless love, protection of all types of relationships, luck, guidance and direction as we build our future, influenced by our past. The creativity that came out of the worst of times has filled my collection with pieces with meanings that all women can relate to in their own very intimate way.”