Now that we’ve all passed Jewelry 101, it’s time to delve a little deeper into the work of Claire Kinder, one of ANOMIE’s most beloved designers and maker of our best selling Pip rings and studs. Think of this as a virtual graduation field trip, and I’m your Ms. Frizzle. Destination: Kinder’s new Brooklyn studio. Seatbelts, everyone!
In honor of the line’s re-branding from Claire Kinder Studio to Claire Kinder, I sat down with the namesake designer (and her canine assistant Stormy) to pick her brain on all things jewelry production and branding. After lusting after Claire’s iconic Pip rings both at Brooklyn’s infamous Catbird (spoiler: where Claire got her start) and ANOMIE, it was quite a thrill to see where it’s all made. [ Editor’s note from Chelsea, stuck in San Francisco: JEALOUS AF! ]
As told to Jennifer Bastien.
How did you come into your line of work?
I’ve always been an artist, but more of a engineering-minded one. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I had a keen eye and a need to make and do things in a very particular way. I applied to art school as a ceramics major, knowing I wanted to learn a different medium. My parents wanted me to major in Industrial Design, which probably would have been great as I do have the mind for it, but I wanted more art in my field. I’ve always been good at micro details, so jewelry just kinda made sense. I declared myself a jewelry major, having never taken a jewelry or metalsmithing class. I took a gamble, or got lucky, because I loved it the very moment I first took the tools in hand.
What was your experience like working at Catbird?
I was one of three employees when I started. It was a teensy little ship with a lot of love, and a passion for the creations of people like myself. It was an amazing experience to see how much it changed over the years. Being there greatly influenced my work by exposing me to the work being made by people like myself. I got to see what actually sold, what customers reacted to, the emotions attached to these little art collections they curated, and the passion they felt about jewelry. It was a deeply valuable time in my life for so many reasons.
Seriously invaluable information! How did you decide to go off on your own?
It took a long time and a lot of prying. I never wanted to stop working at Catbird (I still cover a shift there on the occasional weekend), but I was too overloaded with work. I’d spent so many years racing around to prove myself and afford to live in NYC, that I didn’t really see when it happened. After a point, my boyfriend had to push me into taking myself off the permanent schedule, just so I could really breathe for the first time in five years. A HUGE part of that is because they allowed me to sell my work in the store, and as they became more popular, my work sold more and more, so I got hit with a lot of orders before I was really set up structurally to handle it. I’d like to think it was the most respectful riding of coattails ever conducted in Brooklyn. I hope they know how grateful I am to them every day. A lot of it was hard work, but there was definitely an element of luck and timing.
I’d like to think it was the most respectful riding of coattails ever conducted in Brooklyn. I hope they know how grateful I am to them every day.
I love that you still find yourself there some weekends — even with how busy you are running and producing your own brand. What gets you most excited about your work?
When an idea that’s been floating around in my head finally comes alive. To be able to physically hold something that was literally in a waking dream not long before, man that’s a great feeling. As well when someone else makes a connection with it and gets really excited.
What is the hardest part?
Forcing myself to let go. There are a lot of piece I’ve designed that don’t really fit anywhere right now. I get very excited about structural concepts, about ways light hit stones, about planes and curves and colors and philosophy and history and alloys and detailing and subtlety. I have a constant and unstoppable stream of designs swirling through my head. The ones I get more excited about don’t always come out in cohesive bodies/collections.
I get very excited about structural concepts, about ways light hit stones, about planes and curves and colors and philosophy and history and alloys and detailing and subtlety. I have a constant and unstoppable stream of designs swirling through my head.
How is it different than you’d imagined?
Running a business. I never gave much thought to it until mine was suddenly more than I could handle. Had I known, the first person I would have hired would have been a business manager.
I don’t think anyone ever knows how much work it is until they have a business of their own… definitely not for the faint of heart. Happier thoughts: what’s your favorite stone to work with?
Sapphires and diamonds. But mostly Montana sapphires. They’re just so hard to find.
Do you listen to anything while you’re making your jewelry?
Always. I usually do music when there are other people in the studio with me and podcasts if I’m by myself. I used to listen to audiobooks, but that doesn’t work so well when there are other people coming in and out. I save them for road trips now.
Do you have a favorite piece from CK?
The Citadel. It took years to get from concept to current piece. It was the first piece I had to give up on making by hand and get done by a CAD designer. I tried for months to get the planes perfectly flat and perpendicular, but every time I would get the newest version back from the caster I’d notice something just a bit off. I set it aside for a long time and came back to it later.
Well your patience has definitely paid off. I know you’ve also been working on another big project — can you tell us a little about CK’s rebranding and the new look?
The whole project is the baby of my art director, Danielle, who really started setting parameters for the world CK exists in. We’re aiming bolder and more defined, really developing a look and style for Claire Kinder. A big part of it was putting together the collection lookbooks which will go out when the new website launches. We’ve done lots of photoshoots with the typical pretty-girl-in-pretty-poses wearing a bit of everything; what we did this time was really break down the pieces into their proper families and put them into concepts that elevate their design.
Seriously looking forward to seeing it all come into fruition. We love how your jewelry feels modern and vintage at the same time — as the designer, how would you describe ‘Claire Kinder’ jewelry?
Definitely a combination of the two. I love being inspired by antique jewelry, when people were really making everything by hand. To say how I’m able to fuse the two together, well that would be giving too much away.
When you’re not in the studio or managing the business, what do you spend your time doing?
Lots of time with my perpetual puppy, Stormy. He’s a mini Australian Shepherd, and has a lot of energy. He’s my first dog, and I’m making up for lost time. I haven’t made him is own instagram account, but he does have his own hashtag, #StormyLittleMan.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten, either in terms of business or jewelry-making?
Come back to it later. If you try to force things to happen, you’ll most likely have to spend just as much time if not more re-doing it later. Always keep a running list of projects in the sidelines so you don’t forget about them. Make sure it feels right.
And if you’re really stuck on something talk it out with a friend, or a like mind. That’s what I missed most after leaving school; being constantly surrounded by people who understood the language my brain spoke, people to bounce things off of. We’ve both been too busy of late, but my friend, Sandy, and I started having monthly jewelry critique meetings where we would hang out with a bottle of wine and talk about what was going on in our heads, what was and wasn’t working, and really hash things out with each other. Nothing beats it.
Noting all of this! Thank you so much, Claire.
Photos by Jennifer Bastien of Claire Kinder and her studio.