I recently spent a very enjoyable afternoon with William Travis at his impressive new anchor store William Travis Jewelry (williamtravisjewelry.com) at University Place, Chapel Hill, NC’s premier upscale mall. The open, airy 3500 square foot space, designed according to principles of Feng Shui, hosts an inviting bar area where Travis regularly entertains clients. By creating a warm, friendly environment focused on his staff’s needs Travis has proved unusually successful at recruiting and maintaining top talent culled from around the country.
Realizing his CAD CAM designer liked to stand up and move around while working, Travis conceived an eye-level desk allowing freedom of movement for maximum creativity. His bright young staff gathers congenially at their in-house dining area with full family-like kitchen, one of the many touches helping inspire their enthusiasm and loyalty. Our fascinating interview there stretched well beyond schedule into the afternoon.
Mia Katrin: “Much of your highly successful business is based on custom work for individual clients. How did you come to focus on custom work?”
William Travis: “The William Travis brand has been leveraged on the custom experience. My success has been my contacts. Many of our clients have been with me from my start. I built WTJ by fulfilling a unique need. Our clients understand we’re not merely delivering to them an heirloom, but an artwork representing to them something of great importance.”
Travis has garnered multiple AGTA Spectrum Awards including three in 2015. His fresh, innovative styles ranging from edgy modern to refined retro continue to fascinate as they evolve.
MK: “Many of your Spectrum Awards are for pieces originally commissioned by individual clients. How have you been able to fuse the development of your own distinctive style with designing for different clients with their own unique tastes?”
WT: “Much of my success has been due to my eagerness to understand a perspective other than my own. Allowing for other perspectives has made our William Travis brand understandable to a larger demographic. I’ve gained a number of awards from exhibiting designs that were created for clients’ personal collections. I’ve been able to set an industry standard simply through getting recognition for what I’m doing daily.”
MK: “What is your background? How did you become a jewelry designer?”
WT: “My family immigrated to the states in the mid-1940s from Poland. I’m a fifth generation metalsmith. When I was 12 my family was constructing a large ornate iron gate. I began my apprenticeship. Becoming a jeweler naturally evolved.
“Beauty is something that’s learned. As a child I became aware of the intrinsic value of creating something from nothing. It fueled a passion that forged a career.
“I moved to the NC Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) when I became head metalsmith for a local jeweler. For 10 years I worked at growing a business that didn’t hold my name. While it allowed me to perfect my talent it didn’t satiate my yearning - producing something from nothing, creating the tangible from mere thought. This is what drove me to start William Travis Jewelry. What started as a store out of my garage gradually became what is now a 3500 sq. foot anchor at University Place.”
MK: “Your design philosophy?”
WT: “I started out strictly modern. This proved to be award winning for me. However, as time went on I started experimenting with mixing contemporary designs with ancient techniques and textures. This merging of past with present has largely shaped our identity in the industry and differentiated us from other designers.
“Too often you see designers riding on the coattails of their teachers, only successors to their established style. I’ve not been professionally taught in art and design beyond my apprenticeships in metalsmithing. I’ve never taken a formal class. I owe my lack of traditional training to much of my success today. It’s allowed me to develop a style uniquely my own.
“I’m a better designer than artist. A designer knows when to adopt change. To protest change is stagnancy. Having an appreciation for the past only makes us stronger. But to grow we must be willing to move forward.”
Next time: Part II. Gem collector, creative entrepreneur, environmental advocate.
Mia Katrin is an award-winning jewelry designer featured in over 100 top stores nationally. She is available for lectures and seminars. To add her Collections or book a lecture: www.jeweljewel.com, 877 539-3569, facebook.com/MiaKatrinforJEWELCOUTURELLC.