A new crop of West Coast jewelry designers is getting noticed. Most initially embarked on other careers before finding their niche in jewelry. One has a law degree, another migrated to design after leaving the dot-com world. Now they are building their businesses with items that are intended to be innovative and relatively affordable.
A third career has been a charm for Scholnick. She happened upon a jewelry class while working toward a doctorate in political science at UCLA and after already receiving a law degree from Cornell. "It was an epiphany," Scholnick said. "I went, 'This is so much more fun than political science.'"
Branch Jewelry's birth can be traced to the first piece Scholnick made for the class. Searching for design inspiration was "agonizing," she recalled, but eventually she settled on a leaf with a "minimalist, but soft quality to it." That natural quality ultimately defined her style.
Scholnick's retail debut was more fortuitous. Kristin Londgren noticed a piece Scholnick was wearing in 2004 while shopping at her namesake Los Angeles shop. Things moved quickly after that. Scholnick left political science and ramped up in jewelry full-time. Branch is in 30 stores, including Moondance Jewelry and three Gardner locations. Scholnick expects to generate $160,000 in sales this year. The sterling silver pieces start at $75 and go to $375, and 18-karat yellow gold pieces start at $275 and reach $1,300.
Anna Beck Designs
Hosmer lost her dot-com job in 1999 when the Internet bubble burst and seized on the free time to travel through Southeast Asia. There, she found herself gravitating to local artisans and discovered a jewelry technique in Bali called Armadillo, which gives pieces a textured, three-dimensional quality.
"I had never seen it before," said Hosmer, who brought Balinese-made pieces back to the U.S. "I would go to stores and they would say, 'Oh my gosh, this is so unusual.'"
About three years ago, Hosmer started Anna Beck, a combination of her middle and first names, to distribute the jewelry more widely and began to design pieces herself. Seven months ago, the line was picked up by Nordstrom and is set to spread to all the chain's doors this summer. Hosmer anticipates Anna Beck will notch almost $2 million in sales this year.As her line matures, Hosmer is experimenting with stones, but wants to keep the focus on the technique that's her signature on cuffs, earrings and necklace medallions. "We are trying to stay really focused and not oversaturate with stones," she said. Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Eva Longoria and Hilary Duff are among those who've sported Anna Beck pieces, which run from $78 to $400 retail.
Moran moved to Los Angeles in 2002 from her native Brazil, where she had followed her father into dentistry, so her husband could pursue a master's degree in business at USC. Ironically, Moran ended up finding a new business. She began importing Brazilian jewelry into the U.S. and soon started designing on her own.
"I am much more happy doing what I am doing now," she said. "I always liked fashion and had a good eye for it."
Moran offers around 50 new items per season, which some buyers find confusing. But she insists it has fueled her business because customers of all ages — from teenagers to elderly women — can find jewelry they enjoy.
Large cocktail rings from $110 to $260, long necklaces from $55 to $375 and dangly earrings from $50 to $188, most in 18-karat gold plate, make up the bulk of Moran's line. The items, which have been worn by Vanessa Williams and Rebecca Romijn, are carried in three Bloomingdale's units as well as in Intuition, Verve and LF stores.
Moran, who expects to generate $1.5 million in sales this year, has not completely left behind her dental training. "I wire a lot of the jewelry and use the same pliers as I did for orthodontics."
Tat2 Designs and Briana Erin Jewelry
In her Briana Erin Jewelry line, Kusher strives for the same attributes she's drawn to in clothes: edgy, yet classically feminine. That seemingly unachievable mix has led her to translate dangerous motifs including barbed wire, spiders and snakes into delicate 18-karat pieces.
"I like jewelry that makes a statement on its own," said Kusher, whose middle name is Erin. Briana Erin pieces, which range from $150 to $2,000 retail, are available at Kaviar and Kind in West Hollywood.The Briana Erin line follows Kusher's initial jewelry venture, Tat2 Designs. Tat2 is a lower-priced line — $150 to $650 retail is the norm — that Kusher launched in 2004 during her senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design. Easily layered coin pieces with antique finishes are staples of Tat2, which sells at Jennifer Kaufman, Theodore and On Sunset.
"I do stuff that works for all seasons," Kusher said of her jewelry ethic. For winter, she will add more bone, wood and vintage silver to Tat2 Designs, but she shies away from bright colors that prevent the jewelry from being worn with every outfit.
Katie Costello Jewelry
While working as a sales associate at Planet Blue, Costello was disappointed that the Malibu store's assortment didn't have jewelry that suited her. After hours, she took up jewelry design as a hobby. The result was a pearl wrap that became a surprise hit at Planet Blue.
"Literally, I would come home and make 10 pieces and sell them all the next day in four hours," recalled Costello, who described her jewelry as having "a natural, earthy vibe."
To capitalize on those early successes, Costello began offering jewelry to other Los Angeles-area stores, including Elyse Walker, Madison, Fred Segal and Magnolia. She left Planet Blue in 2006 to concentrate on the line full-time, and expects to generate $250,000 in sales this year.
After the pearl wrap, a chain necklace with five stones became popular. Celebrities who have picked up Katie Costello Jewelry, which ranges from $50 to $300 at stores, include Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry and Mischa Barton.
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