Susan Oster’s Organic Singular Statement Jewelry
A successful interior designer for 16 years, Susan Oster turned her eye to jewelry after sketching some pieces for a friend’s collection, who appreciated Susan’s earthy yet powerful aesthetic. “It all went very quickly after that. My friend offered to help me start up my own jewelry company, took me to the Tucson Gem Show and I began sketching like crazy. For some reason, as I was drawing and concentrating on the materials I was most attracted to, I had no doubt that the change was right and that this was the direction I should go in. This might have been the first time I felt so secure in a creative decision.” Susan explains.
The result was the launch of her collection Feral Jewelry in 2016, which is not only inspired by the organic world but incorporates the natural materials found in it. “Fossils, bone, horn, shed antler and wood are combined with diamonds and precious metal, which elevates these findings from the earth to the status of a gem,” explains Susan. She continues, “In working these intriguing forms into large rings, wide cuffs and singular necklaces, I am creating glamorous reminders of where we come from. The collection is bold and empowering. These are statement pieces all ethically garnered from natural materials. Additionally the jewelry is designed to complement the human color scheme rather than compete with it.
We chatted with Susan to learn more about the collection and the creative mind behind the shed antler and fossilized diamond studded sharks tooth rings and vine upper arm cuffs.
As a young girl, was there one piece of your mom or grandmother’s jewelry that you coveted?
“My mother had an awesome pair of turquoise earrings that she used to let me wear. They were flawless, gold and Persian turquoise danglers. I lost one and trouble followed. As a family we were not prone to spending money on lots of flash, but rather handing things down and having them reset. Those earrings were the only jewelry of hers that I really loved.
Were you creative growing up?
“As a young girl I did everything from hang my own wallpaper to draw to put together outfits from our neighborhood thrift store that the best dressed girls at school always asked about. My most prized possession, aside from my stereo, was my box of 60 Prismacolors, handed down from my sister.”
Was your creativity supported by your family?
“My sister is a professional artist and is ridiculously talented. She was the one who taught me how to blend the colors of the crayons and how to draw hands and feet. Art supplies were always at the ready in our house and it never, ever occurred to me that drawing and painting and working with ceramics were difficult things to do. It was like breathing. I was shocked that none of these type of projects were in the works at my friend’s homes.”
What was your first important piece of jewelry?
“To celebrate my first big interior design job, I bought myself an important 35-carat pale aquamarine and diamond Art Deco ring in New York City. I had seen it at least a year earlier. When I arrived back in New York, I was hoping the dealer still had the ring. When I got to his showroom, I found outhe sent it on its way to a jewelry show in Las Vegas. Luckily he was able to retrieve it. I was apparently meant to own the ring. After I paid and slipped it on my finger, I floated home.”
What was your career before you began designing jewelry?
“After working in television and having my own promotions company, I went to UCLA design school. Soon after, I was hired by a prominent LA interior designer. Then I decided to start my own company it really took off.”
Take us through how you launched Feral.
“I started with less money than I think a lot of jewelry companies probably do, so I had to think strategically, and I made enough inventory to work up a collection that would be integrative and cohesive. Initially I planned to have four lines, but I kept it at one. My best friend’s brother is an amazing photographer and I flew him out from the East Coast. I had a great model with a wonderful spirit and styled the shoot myself. I had huge problems developing the website, as I hear so many people do. I launched the site in June 2016. And in September began selling to brick and mortar and online stores.
What was the first piece you ever designed and produced?
“The first piece I ever designed and produced is not in the collection. It is a weird ring I gave to a friend who used to be the publisher of a magazine. I went into a bead store in Santa Monica one day and started playing and was hooked. I made a very unusual ring of gold druzy and wire and she just loved it so I gave it to her. The first piece for the collection is the ‘tattoo’ double vine upper arm cuff with diamond thorns. I still love that piece.”
What came next as far as figuring out your distinctive aesthetic or sensibility for the collection?
“I knew it would be unusual, and that it would be something that a woman would respond to strongly. I do understand that my collection is not for everyone, but I have tried to design pieces that can be worn by all ages and demographics. A good example of this is my amber acorn earrings. They are just the right length, not too edgy and the color really goes with almost every complexion. However, the women that are attracted to the collection are connected to what I describe as the undomesticated part of themselves: strong, empowering, with a love for organic forms. When I got deeply into my first collection, I realized that some pieces were too expensive to make, others were too hard to engineer and some were just plain too far out. But I knew it had to have a singular voice that wasn’t out there yet and not just a reference to nature, but rather the actual use of nature.”
What inspired your well-balanced juxtaposition between alternative and precious materials?
“I walked outside one day with my mother and my Japanese maple had shed every leaf on the tree. They lay on the ground, covered in glittering frozen dew. It was one of the most beautiful sights we’d ever seen and we stood transfixed and in awe. I knew then that I would work to achieve that beauty—the mix of raw and refined.
What are some of the organic materials you use?
“Materials range from shed deer and moose antler to petrified wood to ancient megalodon shark teeth to boar’s teeth and more. As far as the materials traditionally associated with fine jewelry, I mix my natural materials with diamonds, 18K gold and silver, I also love tiger’s eye as a gemstone. I don’t use a lot of color. I find it distracting from people’s faces— but there are exceptions: pinks, greens and blues can be great. And I passionately love turquoise and will use that soon. But for now, I work with neutrals.”
What are some of your favorite pieces in the collection and why?
“There is the War Ring, which is totally badass. It is made of shed antler, 18k and diamonds turned upside down. I am also really into my new spike rings, which I can make in a variety of incarnations. They were a real hit at my retail trade shows: modern and edgy but just in the right dose of each. They may wind up being my signature motif. They are really easy to wear and not too big and even men love them. “
Have you had a piece of jewelry handed down to you that you wear often or never take off and what is it?
“My grandfather was a famous coach. He won title after title in both football and baseball. I had a charm bracelet with about 20 gold footballs and baseballs on it in 18K, which was stolen when we moved to LA. When I think of all he did, all his boys did, to earn those little gold footballs, it breaks my heart that it was stolen and lost to me forever. It was so meaningful.”
“As for what I have never taken off: my wedding set, not even to surf.”
How would you suggest women buy and wear jewelry?
“Every kind of jewelry has its place. There is room for all types of pieces. I do, however, get tired of the repetition that I see in the jewelry market and stores. There are a million of the same diamond bands out there, for instance. All lovely, stackable and easy-to-wear. They also have a place in a women’s jewelry wardrobe. But if you want to something to show up or stand out, save your money and get a statement piece that really moves you, that really expresses who you are. And when you’ve found and purchased it, ‘you’ll float home.’ ”
In Partnership with Feral Jewelry