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Like many a jewelry maker before her, Lisa Clarke-Keller’s business began as an afternoon’s entertainment.
While her peers were busy scheming about new ideas for soft drinks, a different creative outlet was in store for Lisa Clarke-Keller. The former Coca-Cola employee discovered her latent talent for jewelry designing when put to the task of entertaining some young visitors. Little did she know that a carefree day spent stringing beads would turn into a successful career change.
“I had always been a jewelry buff, but hadn’t done anything creative before. I sort of fell into it,” said Clarke-Keller of her line, known as The LCK Collection.
Wearing other designers’ work gave her an eye for interesting styles and materials. One of her biggest inspirations has been Henry Dunay, a New York-based jewelry designer featured at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta.
“I really appreciate how he does so many one-of-a-kind pieces with unusual gemstones and unique carvings,” she said. After practicing on family and friends for years, Clarke-Keller sought the advice of retailer Beth Ann Taratoot, whose eponymous Buckhead store specializes in lavish accessories. So far, two collections have been presented at the boutique.
“Beth Ann gives me support and a great deal of business and design direction, even to this day,” said Clarke-Keller. The line is also carried at the Sidestreet Boutique in Lake Tahoe, Nev., where she also has a summer retreat, and is also slated for fall showings at Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta, as well as in four boutiques in Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida.
Pieces wholesale between $500 and $2,000. Clarke-Keller’s designs typically incorporate stones such as rubies and natural-colored pearls set in gold and white gold.
Though stones have been found during Clarke-Keller’s travels in places as faraway as Africa, most are found at bead shows stateside, which she combs regularly, or through a Hong Kong supplier. A type of turquoise called “Sleeping Beauty,” mined in Arizona and Nevada, was a big hit for summer. “It’s pure without black or brown inclusions like Chinese turquoise has,” she said.
Cultured pearls in cross shapes have been another good find. In keeping with fall’s glamourous and glitzy looks, her latest collection features ruby, carnelian, yellow tourmaline and black onyx with elements like stick pearls and coin pearls in peach and pink tints.
Many pieces tend towards a chunkier, substantial look, with an emphasis on large stones and multiple strands. Clarke-Keller describes a multistrand choker that can be made from combinations of stick pearls, onyx, rubies, turquoise, or sapphires (wholesaling from $900 to $1,500, depending on the stones used) with matching cuffs ($200 to $350) as one of the collection’s signature looks. Working with two full-time employees divided between her Atlanta and Lake Tahoe studios, she is able to turn out 400 pieces per year, a volume she would like to double in 2003.
To secure more presence on the West Coast, Clarke-Keller has set her sights on selling to Saks Fifth Avenue’s San Francisco and Los Angeles locations. A children’s fine jewelry line is also in the planning stages, prompted by a mother’s request for a matching necklace for her young daughter. “I decided that so many of my materials would be suitable for children too,” said Clarke-Keller.