Last updateTue, 22 May 2018 10pm

The Story Behind the Stone: Inside the designer’s mind

Every jewelry designer started somewhere - but they don't always have the same starting point. They come from myriad life experiences, and disciplines. Their source of inspiration can be very personal - while some began their journey early in life, others built upon a portfolio career whose roots had nothing at all to do with jewelry.

The one thing most designers have in common however is that their creative experience by necessity is a solitary and quiet occupation. One must get off in a corner or seek out a quiet spot in nature and contemplate just what they want to create. At the jeweler's bench, concentration and patience rules the experience. Every jeweler has a unique story to tell, so I thought it might be interesting to steal a look inside one designer's mind.

Contemporary designer Karen Tweedie's work has evolved through the years to become an extension of the things most important to her. Although she started in a completely different career, there were some elements of that earlier life that prepared her for her current vocation as a jewelry designer. Furthermore, she divides her time seasonally between a coastal town in Florida and a harbor town near the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months. I'd bet both locales nourish her deep well of inspiration.

Tweedie's modern sculptural jewelry reflects her casual, active lifestyle - and she connects with many jewelry lovers who respond to her particular fresh take on personal adornment. Recently I spoke with her about the motivation behind her enthusiastic passion to create pieces that best exemplify her brand. Her comments were as candid and forthright as her jewelry line:

Custom order Ancient Ogham Alphabet Wedding Ring set in platinum and sterling creates a highly personal statement known only to the wearers by Karen Tweedie. Photo courtesy of Karen Tweedie Designs.



Delicately sized and interestingly shaped freshwater pearl strand and matching ring with 14kt yellow gold and sterling silver by Karen Tweedie. Photo courtesy of Karen Tweedie Designs.
DJ: What inspired you to start designing jewelry?
KT: An educational organization in New England that I was involved with wanted to use a line drawing depicting American Sign Language I had done. I got the idea to translate it into a piece of jewelry, first a lapel pin, and later a necklace. That was 25 years ago.

DJ: What was the most difficult thing in your learning curve?
KT: Having the patience to do all of the finishing work. By the time I am to that point, I am mentally already on to the next piece or two.

DJ: What surprised you most with regard to someone buying one of your designs?
KT: I'm always surprised and pleased when someone makes a connection to a piece that I have made. I often share my inspiration for the piece and that seems to give it more meaning for them.

DJ: From where do you draw inspiration to create new collections?
KT: From many different places, actually. For color, I almost invariably lean towards the blues and greens of the sea because my house and my studio are right on the Atlantic coast. I delight in seeing the ocean every day. For design, I always carry a sketchbook and find interesting shapes in architecture, seashells, even an ancient tree stump!

DJ: What's most emblematic of your brand?
KT: Spirals, for sure. They manage to work their way into nearly every piece, as a central design element or just in the curved tail of a bale. I love the symbolism of eternity, the cycles of life, and the asymmetrical aspect as well. My pieces are rarely symmetrical. I like the offbeat, the unpredictable!

DJ: What's the most fun you've had designing something?
KT: That would be the wedding rings I made for a young couple last year. They wanted something different, symbolic of their shared Celtic heritage. I discovered an ancient language carved on stones and used that as the design element on their bands. It spelled out a ‘secret' message that only they knew. We used the design on their wedding invitations as well and I made the bride a necklace with a message in the same carved language. It was really special.

DJ: Have you developed a love for one certain gem over time?
KT: I'd say that pearls are my passion. I never met a pearl I didn't like! But I also love blue or green gemstones. I'm currently working with Kyanite and emeralds. I guess the ocean just keeps calling to me.

DJ: Has there been a project that you wished you never started?
KT: When I have a lot of custom orders piling up, I start to procrastinate. I like to do my own thing as much as possible. I've learned to stay away from repairs of other people's jewelry as much as possible because those can lead me down a path I don't want to go down.

DJ: Have there been any duds in your line where you felt you didn't properly connect with your market?
KT: Yes. I have a collection of architecturally inspired jewelry that I think is cool but people just don't seem to connect with it the way I expected. I think I am going to have to salvage what I can from that group and then recycle the metals and stones.

DJ: Is there a particular piece that you just couldn't part with and had to keep?
KT: Yes, a forged silver spiral pendant with a huge oval blue topaz set in the middle. The pendant is large and has a hammered finish that catches the light just right. The stone is a perfect Caribbean Ocean blue. It's my "signature" piece. I wear it often and it is pictured in some of my marketing materials. While I have others that are similar, people have wanted to buy that one but I won't let it go.

DJ: In a perfect world, what would your business be like 10 years from now?
KT: Interesting question. I don't often set goals that far in the future, but in a perfect world, my website would always be up-to-date and I'd have a staff to handle my paperwork. I would love to see my jewelry being worn by some very public personalities and my brand would be recognized in more retail jewelry stores. Of course, I envision the economy to be robust so that business is strong for me and other designers. And I'd like to see the precious metal prices in line to be affordable for every consumer tier. We're in an economic cycle right now that challenges our creativity on many fronts. But by 10 years, I anticipate that the business choices I make today will prove to be sound.

Graduate Gemologist and Registered Master Valuer Diana Jarrett is also a member of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA). She's a frequent lecturer at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett serves as Colored Stone Editor for Rapaport Diamond Report; with other works regularly appearing in trade and consumer publications. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit her website: www.dianajarrett.com.