There’s a new high jewelry maison being established in New York City, from a vetted industry talent.
Kia Schwaninger, former Van Cleef & Arpels senior designer and Harry Winston design director, has slowly been growing her company Kia Schwan behind-the-scenes since 2020.
With a signature architectural play on colorful stone arrangement and clean lines, Schwaninger is taking custom orders with the intention to release more permanent design language and styles later this year.
“It seemed like it was the perfect time for me,” Schwaninger said of leaving Harry Winston in 2019, just as her first child was born. “I needed time personally with my child. After the first two to three months of the pandemic people started coming back — they wanted something beautiful in their life. A few people asked me for engagement rings. I think people were at home and they felt like life is precious and short, so they wanted to celebrate it. A lot of people wanted to repurpose jewels they inherited,” Schwaninger said of her label’s genesis.
And so Kia Schwan, for which she designs jewelry that is then crafted by master jewelers in New York, started picking up — mainly with commissions using inherited stones, which allowed Schwaninger to establish a design repertoire.
“It makes me unique in the jewelry industry,” she said. “It’s hard, the materials are expensive and the knowledge and everything that goes with it. You need financial help to make it big so it’s been wonderful to do custom pieces to get me going. I’m lucky that I haven’t had to make a big collection yet to get my name out there. My clients trust me — I’m in a unique position.”
Schwaninger layers semiprecious stones like malachite, turquoise, chalcedony and amethyst, creating a graphic, jubilant effect. In her signature “rainbow ring” and its more elongated version, “sushi ring,” the gems are stacked like a roll of Lifesavers candy — finessed with a slick execution and sense of proportion that makes the design appear sophisticated rather than kitschy. And none of her pieces, including diamond-laden Onyx drop earrings, appear too glitzy or fussy for everyday wear.
The designer, who had her second child in recent weeks, said of her ability to meld a sense of emotion and fun with practicality: “I am in my little Brooklyn bubble right now. I know that you see more and more celebratory fashion, but I think people are not that interested in flaunting fashion as much with everything going on in the world and work from home culture. It’s shifted a bit. People have money left over and are investing in something [like jewelry that’s] personal and long-lasting.”
Now Schwaninger is hard at work on a more permanent collection to be released by the end of this year. “I feel like it’s pieces that have been in my head for years and I want to see them realized in real life,” she said of the line. “I definitely have an aesthetic that’s minimal, clean, I love mixing color and texture — all of my pieces I make you will see that in a way with a modern twist.”
An assortment of necklaces, brooches, earrings and rings will be priced from about $3,000 to $10,000 with special designs creeping upward from there. Schwaninger said she will initially sell the pieces direct, while aiming to add select retailers within the first year of business.