In 1999 Lee Wiser McIntosh founded Katura. A keen student of art and design, Lee has built a distinctive aesthetic for the Atlanta-based brand. Her collections include subtle, as well as sophisticated, pieces that are designed to become one with their wearer. “The woman herself – her style, her personality, her comfort, is what’s important, and jewellery should just enhance that. It should never compete for attention”.
This motto continues to serve her, and all her customers well. Never one to stand still, Lee is always looking towards her next creation and her favourite piece is always the next one. We chat with her about the importance of having un-structured time to allow room for creation and the beauty behind her rare and organic pearl designs.
Did you always want to be a jewellery designer?
“With a background in film and fashion, I feel like I’ve always been a designer who just discovered a new medium: metal, stones, and pearls! I love the design process, but it’s when I started drilling down into jewellery and discovering what I could do within that discipline that I realised that designing jewellery made me feel more like an alchemist than any other creative endeavour. It felt like coming home. And it still feels magical.”
How has your childhood influenced you as a designer?
“I grew up in the Midwest, which had a heavily Germanic influence on me. I was surrounded by artists and craftsmen, and I was given the time and opportunity to simply observe and create. This is something I endeavour to do with my own children; to give them negative space where they can simply read, write, draw or explore and enjoy un-structured, un-programmed time. I believe this is how truly creative work gets done.”
"I was surrounded by artists and craftsmen, and I was given the time and opportunity to simply observe and create. This is something I endeavour to do with my own children"
What inspired you to create your own line of jewellery?
“It sounds so cliché to say that I couldn’t find jewellery that I wanted to wear and so I made it myself, but it’s true! I zig when others zag and I am easily bored (and angered) by how homogenous the jewellery market has become. So, as long as I can offer a fresh and distinctive voice I will continue to create.”
Values are hugely important to us at JewelStreet. What are your core brand values?
“I’m motivated by authenticity and I think like-minded people respond to that. Authenticity refers not only to the quality of materials used but also to the creative process, the marketing and to all of our relationships with clients and vendors.”
"My studio is a veritable treehouse in the loft of a photo studio in the beautiful Buckhead neighbourhood of Atlanta, GA."
How do you create and where do you find your inspiration?
“My studio is a veritable treehouse in the loft of a photo studio in the beautiful Buckhead neighbourhood of Atlanta, GA. It’s a peaceful space I can delve deeply into my library and work with my collection of stones and pearls. Here I meet with clients and vendors. Notebooks and sketchbooks are constant companions, and in the studio a sketch is transformed into an actual design. I’m inspired by the garden, the woods, rivers and the sea and how they coalesce with raw materials. I’m also inspired by other artists in different disciplines.”
Do you have any clients who you are particularly proud of?
“I take the title “private jeweller” quite seriously. Some clients are thrilled to have their pieces photographed for a magazine, others are not. Some want me to be part of the story when they give a piece of jewelry as a gift, others do not. But the type of client that I am most proud of is the woman who openly declares “I’m just not a jewellery person.” Convincing her that maybe she’s just had the wrong jewellery, to see her start to wear pieces that truly become her, and to see her build a collection is very gratifying.”
"These pearls are truly rare and are unlike anything else I’ve encountered and they inspire me to create designs that showcase their natural beauty."
Where do you source your gemstones and materials?
“I’m very drawn to the organic wildness of natural American river pearls which were sourced from rivers in the Southeastern United States. These pearls are truly rare and are unlike anything else I’ve encountered and they inspire me to create designs that showcase their natural beauty. For me, it’s key to connect with vendors who are as passionate about their area of expertise as I am about design and I do that by making the annual pilgrimage to Tucson where the entire world of gemstone dealers converges!”
How do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
“I’d like for her to feel like she looks her best, that she feels like herself. And that she feels empowered to accomplish all that she wants to do. I hope there’s an appreciation for the intrinsic quality, the care and attention to detail that went into making it. And of course, I want them to start dreaming about the next piece of Katura that they’ll get to complement their collections. Katura customers usually do become collectors!”
"Katura customers usually do become collectors!"
What has been the highest point of your career so far?
“Industry recognition is always lovely. I won the Bridal Category in the International Design Competition in 2014 and my work has been featured in magazines. But I still get a kick out of seeing it worn when I’m just out and about. Katura looks just as fabulous in the produce department of the grocer as at black tie events!”
What drives you to be continue creating new and exciting designs?
“The bar keeps getting higher and higher. My favourite piece is always the next one! Because there’s always room for more refinement, more creativity, different solutions, different techniques and experimentation. Each year I strive to do less and less but better and better. This focus has actually resulted in me doing more and more, but I’ve found the more I create, the easier and more natural it becomes.”