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.

Michele Scholnick

Branch Jewelry

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.

Becky Hosmer

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.

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