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Jewelry maker Alyse Ziede whipped up her first collection on a whim and presto! a business was born.
The Big Break. It may be a cliché, but it still happens. Take the story of Alyse Ziede, a Chicago-based jewelry designer whose collections are now featured in nine Marshall Field’s stores around the country and in five boutiques in Texas, Arizona, Minnesota and Chicago. But as of last year, Ziede was just finishing thirteen years as a successful runway model both here and abroad.
“I had other creative pursuits — a small confection and wedding cake catering business and I did some floral design,” Ziede recalls, “but nothing major.”
And then Ziede won Marshall Field’s Designer of Distinction award and vaulted into a successful jewelry design business almost overnight. Since multiple Field’s stores picked up her line, sales increased by 1000% percent.
It all started with a necklace-making class. “A friend of mine was doing the class and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun,” says Ziede. More unexpected was the reaction Ziede got on the street whenever she wore any of her resulting jewelry creations. “People were constantly stopping me on the street and trying to buy whatever I was wearing right off my neck!” she marveled. “Clearly, I was on to something.”
Months later, Ziede learned about a fashion design competition being hosted by Minneapolis-based Marshall Fields at the Chicago State Street store in September 2001.
“Arriving at 3 p.m. the day of the competition with a few sample necklaces in hand, Alyse bowled the judging panel over.
“Her work really stood out,” recalled Sherie Styles, Marshall Field’s specialty jewelry buyer, and a member of the judging panel. “She has a fabulous sense of color and a talent for combining semiprecious stones with unique beads and high-quality crystals.”
Marshall Fields ended up awarding Ziede one of its inaugural Designer of Distinction awards. Even better, “they worked with me to get my line ready for market,” Ziede recalled.
Hallmarks of Ziede’s work — solely comprised of necklaces and matching earrings — include a sophisticated blending of colors and a variety of semiprecious stores and glass beads. Findings and clasps are finely crafted in sterling silver, often set with semiprecious stones.
“I’ve got a thing about the clasps,” said Ziede. “It’s important to me that they be really special, or the necklace suffers. To me, wearing a beautiful necklace with an ugly clasp is like wearing gym shoes with a Donna Karan suit. It just doesn’t work.”
Ziede’s fall collection includes necklaces in several silhouettes and styles.
There are pull-through lariats, standard lariats, and jewel and v-neck styles with clasps, all strung on soft-flex wire.
Fall color stories include turquoise with garnet and carnelian and cinnabar pendants, a range of carnelian (natural and red) with coral and citrine, and another grouping of smoky quartz with mink and black crystal.
Some necklaces feature carved jade or carnelian pendants — others, fashioned of highly polished faceted stones, feature smaller teardrop pendants.
Wholesale prices range from $15 for a pair of turquoise and carnelian earrings to $55 for a carnelian and garnet necklace with sterling and garnet clasp.
Looking ahead to the holiday season, Ziede is working more with black crystal “because it’s neutral,” including some “funky pieces with fringe accents.”
She’s also coming out with some garnet-accented carnelian necklaces, a two-strand smoky quartz choker and a line featuring radiated crystal, and is “toying with labradorite, which has a lovely, mossy green color.”
Currently, Ziede crafts all of her jewelry at a home workshop with the help of family and friends. But as business ramps up, Ziede has been exploring the addition of greater manufacturing manpower. “It’s hard for me to give up the control,” she said. “I want each piece to be perfect.”