Designer’s career snowballs after 14 years of building a strong foundation.
If Mia Katrin seems philosophical about her career in jewelry, perhaps it comes with the territory.
Katrin was a tenured philosophy professor by the time she was 22, a career that fostered her intellectual curiosity and inspired her to dig beneath surfaces. One of her favorite philosophers, Plato, took as his maxim the saying from the Oracle at Delphi, “know thyself.”
So while she recognizes that the past year has been a turning point in her jewelry design career, she also believes it couldn’t have happened without a steep learning curve and the slow and steady growth over 14 years leading up to it.
Katrin was only 30 when she was ready to try something new, outside academia.
“As different as it sounds, it’s really not very different,” she says. “My dissertation was on aesthetics, on beauty, on creativity, so there is a thread through that. I’ve always been interested in beauty and the perception of beauty and I’m fascinated with gemstones.”
“Philosophy has to do with a fascination with the world, wanting to know about everything, delving beneath the surface. And I’ve applied that to being a jewelry designer. It’s a fascinating world, always evolving and revealing new aspects, which has kept me motivated and excited. I love what I do.”
When it came to her own jewelry wardrobe, she had long treasured classic design and gold. “I would wear gold hoop earrings and a beautiful diamond platinum ring from my grandmother,” she says.
During her career transition she began to collect gems and worked part time as a gem broker. When she turned to design, she also took courses in metal-smithing and CAD/CAM, learning enough to know what’s possible in terms of manufacturing.
But she also learned she doesn’t want to do it all herself.
“I love to play with gold, but I’m at a point now where routine soldering is kind of boring to me,” she says. “I’d rather give it to a bench jeweler who is better at it; I’m not by any means a master jeweler.”
She launched her company Mia Katrin for Jewel Couture in 2003. “I really wanted to do one of a kind, world-class pieces, and highlight them in unique designs -- couture-level pieces that highlight the beauty of gems,” she says.
Pieces from Precious Briolette, one of her first collections, were made by hand with gems set in 18K and 22K gold, which she sold to individuals or through art galleries. “You can’t start out with a $50,000 piece. But I did as much as I could do in that direction.”
In 2008 she was stymied by the economy and had to rethink her approach, making more mass-produced pieces in silver and 14K gold for her Jewel Casual collection that sold for less than $1,000. Although that was an unexpected detour, it did help to standardize her manufacturing process.
Post-recession, she was still interested in one of a kind looks and exploring exotic themes, when a revelation led to another detour.
“I was doing a show and I had a Cleopatra necklace, very elaborate and ornate. But a client came up and asked if I had a pair of pearl stud earrings, and this light bulb went off in my head,” she says. “A lot of people want these classic, simple things, and here I am designing all this way-out-on-a-limb kind of thing.”
The answer to the pearl stud earrings question is the Signature Collection, which she has found to have universal appeal.
“I realized there are certain designs through history that people always love and I wanted to design a whole collection around that, the best of the best in classic design but updated with a designer twist.”
Each piece is made in the U.S., and customizable to the extent that it is available in any gemstone, and in 18K gold or silver, or silver with gold accents.
As she continued to fill orders and add pieces to the Signature Collection, she was a hit with a new brainstorm, right after Christmas 2016.
“I had been so busy and at a certain point I let go for a few days and suddenly I started getting all these ideas about a new collection,” she says. “Ideas came to me in dreams, or when I let my mind relax, and wasn’t thinking about anything. Or often, when I was driving, I would get flooded with ideas. “
That was the origin of her latest launch, The Dream Collection of 2017, named both for her source of inspiration and for the dreamy, ethereal designs that sprung from it.
It was another turning point.
“I don’t know if you can say it’s an overnight success when it’s something you’ve been doing for 14 years, but all of a sudden I just had the inspiration.”
At the same time, she began shifting her focus from trunk shows to exhibiting both the Signature and Dream collections at national shows.
Katrin, who is a columnist for Southern Jewelry News, was asked to speak at the American Gem Society Conclave in LA in 2017, on the topic “Working with Designers, the Inside Scoop.”
One show led to another – the JCK Design Center, Luxury Prive in New York and the upcoming AGTA Gem Show in Tucson. Exhibiting led to recruitment of sales help around the country.
The convergence of all of those efforts attracted new interest from retailers.
“It really seemed to snowball last year,” she says. It took years of slow, steady growth to get to a point where we could make that big spurt in growth.”
When David Rotenberg of David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, PA, met Katrin several years ago he began by selling her more unique designs. Since then, she has built a following among his clients.
“She’s very accommodating, very nice and easy to work with,” Rotenberg says. “People like her. And not only did she have our best sell through at a trunk show, we even had an after-sale come through.
“I think the design works very well and the cost is reasonable. People are price-point oriented. She’s given the opportunity of bringing in gold and diamonds at a price point that may have been reserved before for better silver. And her newest collection has a millennial-type flair to it. It’s understated and appeals to people of all ages.”
A few common threads run through all of Katrin’s collections.
“I do like a basic, classic kind of look, a universal appeal with a fresh twist,” she says. “I tend to use a lot of negative space. So the bracelet in the Signature Collection is ornate but it’s not clunky or heavy. I love motion in pieces, actual motion like in Briolette, but even in Signature and the Dream collections, there is open space and a sense of motion.
“I’m moving in the direction of what I wanted to do from the very beginning of Jewel Couture. It’s all about the jewels, all about the gems.”
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