How Did Famous Jewelry Designers Get Their Start?
How jewelry designers got started in their career seems to be a very interesting subject to a lot of people. Did they hit the ground running and become an overnight success? Were they “discovered” on a beach stringing shells by some wealthy investor who financially nurtured them into the sophisticated artist they became? Or did they slog it out for 20 years and gradually grow into fame and fortune?
Who Loves Ya, Baby?
There’s just something compelling and so attractive about jewelry designers. I don’t think a lot of other peoples’ occupations stir up the same kind of interest and excitement. “Oooo, you’re an insurance lawyer! Wow, how exciting! What made you want to practice insurance law?” Nope. It just doesn’t happen.
My Brush with Fame!
I remember when I first met Steven Lagos, the fabulous designer who creates museum-inspired fine jewelry, at a Chicago trunk show. I was so in awe of his talent, I got weak-kneed and tongue-tied. But what was most important to me was what inspired him to start creating jewelry, and what his early days were like. He graciously tried to answer my questions, but he was trying to sell jewelry and there were a lot of people clamoring for his time, so I never got a response.
How have some of the most famous, or popular, jewelry designers got their start? David Yurman, for one, was not an overnight success. He and his wife never expected the company to be the worldwide phenomena that it is today. They just wanted to make enough money to pay the bills!
At 16, he was already exhibiting talent, producing little angel sculptures that he was selling at his high school. He studied for a year at NYU, left for California to hang out for a year in an artist’s commune, came back east to Greenwich Village and started studying with such famous sculptors as Jaques Lipshitz and Theodore Rozack. He was apprenticing as a sculptor with Hans Van de Bovenkamp when he met his future wife, Sybil Kleinrock.
How to Be Famous Rule #1: Wear your Jewelry!
Like so many other designers’ stories, things started to happen when Sybil started wearing David’s pieces. An art gallery owner wanted to purchase one of David’s creations that Sybil was wearing at an art opening in 1970, and that, along with other important sales, prompted them in the early 1970’s to open Putnam Art Works in the country.
During that decade, they spent their time doing art fairs, developing their craft, exhibited their artwork and jewelry, and learned the marketplace for fine jewelry. In 1980, the company David Yurman was born, and by the mid-80’s had already established a national reputation and was showcased in Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdales and other high-end retailers.
Roberto Coin: A Different Story
Roberto Coin’s story is an interesting one, too. In my opinion, just about everyone Italian oozes with taste, talent and sophistication, so of course Roberto Coin is a jewelry designer, right? But his is a story of honoring your soul that paid off handsomely.
His parents died young, and he was sent off to boarding school in Switzerland to study the hotel trade. After school, he worked at a Channel Islands hotel and gradually assumed more and more responsibility. A very upwardly mobile and ambitious man, he owned his own hotel at the age of 24 and became one of the youngest hoteliers in Europe.
But he nurtured other dreams. Despite his success, he yearned for a life immersed in beauty and fashion. At 32 in the late 1970’s, he sold his hotel and took the proceeds to begin brokering jewelry. It was a daring and romantic move for a young man who had no jewelry experience whatsoever.
He Had a Plan
For many years he developed his reputation and learned the craft, his personal charm creating relationships that would be invaluable later on. In 1984, he finally felt ready to design jewelry, and for another 12 years designed for some of the most notable names in fine jewelry today. In 1996 he finally struck out on his own, and, cliché notwithstanding, the rest is history.
Such Different Stories
Roberto Coin and David Yurman had very different early beginnings. One studied under great masters. The other was essentially self-taught. Yurman wasn’t well-known in jewelry circles and did the art & craft fair route until his exposure reached a critical mass. Roberto Coin was very well known by the time he started his company and the fashion world was waiting for his debut.
One Fundamental Similarity
But they both had one thing in common: persistence! It took 15 to 20 years for both of them to achieve the beginnings of the success they now possess. David and his wife trudged through the entire decade of the 1970’s doing art shows, slowly building his clientele and reputation as he developed and improved upon his technique and style. Roberto Coin worked for at least 7 years learning the trade. Then he worked another 12 years (!) developing his craft and style through other companies.
The Power of Passion!
They may not have understood or formulated their goals early on, but I’d be willing to bet my firstborn child that as time on went their goals became razor sharp. There is one thing I can guarantee, however, being a jewelry designer myself. They LOVED what they did, and do. Nobody spends that much time on a path unless they are passionate and single-minded about it. Nothing will get in their way. Failure will not deter them. Hardship and despair are obstacles to overcome. A person doesn’t just work as a jewelry designer; a person IS a jewelry designer. It’s more than love; it is who we are.
I’m sure both David Yurman and Roberto Coin are asked incessantly how they became jewelry designers. I’m asked that question frequently. Sometimes I give the flippant simple answer. “I made a necklace, and I sold it. Voila! AndreaGems was born.” And it’s true, in the most surface of ways.
But in reality I was at a crossroads in my life. As a successful real estate agent in downtown Chicago for 20 years, I was living the good life. But I was so tired of what I was doing, and I’d been tired for a long time. I felt like the life was being slowly sucked out of me. I couldn’t imagine doing this for much longer, let alone for the rest of my life. But my husband and I was a two-income couple. Our lifestyle (and mortgage) was based on two high incomes. I was a prisoner of my job.
I come from a family of artists. I knew that I could no longer turn my back on my creative side. But how could I make money and be creative at the same time? This was a very difficult period. A caterpillar crawling out of his cocoon turns into a butterfly. What was this caterpillar going to turn into?
When in Doubt? Clean Your House!
So what did I do to help me think through that period? I cleaned my house! I cleaned out closets, the garage, drawers, and in one drawer there were a bunch of necklaces that I hadn’t worn in years. I got a little angry because they weren’t cheap and I didn’t especially like them. But it was such a waste to have them sitting in drawer gathering dust.
Turning Coal into Diamonds
I got a brilliant idea! I’d remake them into something I’d wear! What a concept! I decided to those take a 2 hour stringing class, and I was shocked to see what beautiful things I created from ugly necklaces.
That weekend, I went on a business trip to Miami with my husband, and wore one. One of his clients tried to buy the necklace off of my neck. I said no. He kept upping the price. It got ridiculous. I didn’t sell it because I thought he was an idiot.
The next evening we went out to dinner, I wore another necklace. Another client of my husbands’ wanted to buy that necklace off my neck for his girlfriend. He was a sweetie pie, so I sold it to him.
What Is Happening Here?
By the end of next week, I had sold all of the remade jewelry, and I thought that something fundamentally important had happened. It was as if the skies had parted and God had pointed his finger at me and said, “You have found your calling. Now go be fruitful and multiply… your jewelry”.
And that’s what I did. I jumped into jewelry design feet first, real estate be damned. I knew nothing about the business, but that didn’t matter to me. I had discovered my calling.
It’s now 7 years later. And that’s another story…
Note: The jewelry modeled in this article is jewelry that I have designed!