Based in New York City, Karen Karch has been designing jewellery for over 25 years. She can sense what’s next and more importantly, how to translate her visions into desirable jewellery. Her designs have been picked up by stores such as Barneys and high-profile clients including the late David Bowie.
Her fine designs are original and alternative, embracing contractions and pushing boundaries. Over the years, Karen’s design aesthetic has evolved to be noticeably more detailed and refined while maintaining that ever-important edge for which she is known. We chat with Karen about her fascinating journey.
When did you fall in love with jewellery?
“I always loved style and fashion. As a teenager of the 80’s, I wore some crazy fashions and big jewellery! I even made some pieces with large wood beads and sold them to a local boutique, never realising this would be my calling at the time. Once I discovered that I could have a career in jewellery, there was no turning back!”
How has your childhood influenced you as a designer?
“A native of Syracuse New York, I moved to El Paso, Texas when I was 10. This drastic change in landscape and lifestyle really opened my mind. With El Paso’s location on the border of Mexico and New Mexico, my muses included Georgia O’Keeffe & Frida Kahlo. I was also inspired by the way that symbolism was worked into the Native American jewellery and how these pieces were worn piled on. Turquoise to this day is one of my favourite stones. Even though I have lived in mostly in New York since 1988, when I attended Parsons School Of Design for jewellery realizedthis desert, multi-ethnic aesthetic continues to influence my designs.”
"Once I discovered that I could have a career in jewellery, there was no turning back!"
How did you get into the jewellery industry?
“During my final semester of studies majoring in advertising, I took an art elective class that was called “Metals”. Prior to that, I had realised that jewellery making was offered, and never realised it could be a career option. After graduating, I took two more metals classes and then applied to Parsons School of Design in New York where I studied for 2 years.”
What drove you to start your own jewellery line?
“I started my business as my internship in 1989. Immediately I received accolades in the press and orders from stores. To pay my bills while launching my business, I worked as a waitress for a few years. I was always artistic and knew my career choice would involve creativity. I have always loved fashion, but somehow never wanted to be a fashion designer. I loved how jewellery was very personal and was the best way to individualize your look - and how it endures.”
"I value honesty and individuality in people. I am open minded and accepting of other peoples’ differences."
Values are really important us at Jewelstreet. What are your core brand values?
“I value honesty and individuality in people. I am open minded and accepting of other peoples’ differences. I love to travel and experience different cultures, although you are exposed to international influences and cultures daily living in New York, which is a big reason I love it here. My aesthetic absorbs all these influence and street style.”
How do you want someone to feel when they wear your designs?
“I want them to feel empowered, amazing and comfortable, like themselves.”
What inspires your work?
“Inspirations can be an emotion, a fashion show, travel - but often just what I want to wear, as well as from the custom designs I create for my very particular clientele. New ideas emerge when I channel what my clients want. We design and create all the models in house with CAD and 3D printing. We have various contractors here in New York who do specific parts of the job, like casting. We are now setting up to do more and more of the stone setting and finishing work in house.”
"When David Bowie became a repeat client, I felt I had arrived."
Who are your clients you are most proud of?
"My clients who bring me unique custom design ideas are the ones that make me so proud because these pieces become so entwined with their personality. I’ve created designs using family gems, but also completely random things like a bullet! Next week I have a client who wants to bring us a baby squirrel tail that her cat gave her. These challenges keep it interesting!”
Do you feel like you have ‘arrived’ as a designer?
“I have ‘arrived’ many times, but the feeling never lasts long. When I had earrings on Kate Winslet on the cover of US Vogue, I felt as if I had arrived. When I created a custom engagement ring for Ethan Hawke to give to Uma Thurman at the height of their popularity, I felt I had arrived. When David Bowie became a repeat client, I felt I had arrived. There are so many moments. But creating amazing designs is what makes me tick.”