Meet Kristen Gipson-Crowley, the jewelry designer keeping it on 100.
Hi Kristen. First things first! Tell us about your upbringing.
I grew up on an equestrian farm in Springfield, Illinois. It’s a town three hours south of Chicago, so I’m a country girl at heart. When I was younger, I used to ride - I even went to the Junior Olympics in 2000 - but I don't anymore. When you’re competing, it gets to a point where you go pro, or you stop. So, I stopped.
In terms of schooling, I actually studied Communications at Cal State. It was something that my family wanted me to do, and not something I was really interested in myself. It’s really hard, at 18 years old, to make a decision that will shape the rest of your life. I was really unhappy so I dropped out, tried to find myself, and then ended up meeting my husband and having a child at 23. It was pretty young - your brain isn't even fully developed at that point! But it's the best thing I've ever done.
Is it hard to balance motherhood with your career?
It’s very hard. Things are a lot easier now my son is in school. Before, I didn’t want to work because I didn’t feel there was anything I could do that was more important than raising my child. I was blessed and lucky enough not to have to work, so I chose to stay at home with him and focus on his upbringing. Now that he’s a little bit older, I have can think more about what I really want to do.
When did you learn to design jewelry?
I had a costume jewelry line in 2009, but then I got pregnant and had to put that on hold. I have taken a few classes at the Van Cleef & Arpels school in Paris, but other than that I’m self-taught. I’m just a jewelry-lover!
What is about jewelry that stokes your fire?
When I’m wearing jewelry, I feel prettier and I feel happier. But also, I see jewelry as wearable art. Handbags, shoes, clothing…None of it compares to jewelry. That’s why I like it. And it lasts forever…Gold is never going to be cheap. It’s never going to devalue.
Jewelry has so much significance. When I was younger, I would buy all my jewelry from Claire’s. I remember for years I dreamed of a Cartier Love bracelet, I now I wear one to mark my wedding and one to mark the birth of my son. I love jewelry that has a story. I don’t buy a piece just to buy a piece…I want it to be an occasion. One day, I plan on passing this down to my daughter or my daughter-in-law, and I want to be able to tell them the stories behind everything.
What was the first piece of jewelry you loved?
It was from my mother - a bracelet that had her initials on it, that my father gave to her when she was a teenager. I used to wear that in high school, but I’ve given it back to her now. My mom has a lot of jewelry, so every time I go home I’ll steal a piece and then return it on my next trip and swap it out for something else!
Tell us about your new line, I LOVE KDIA.
Everything in the collection is 18 carat gold, and the pieces are emoji-inspired. Everything is crafted by hand here in Los Angeles; all the gems are handset. My first collection took me a year and a half...There was a lot of trial and error. I redesigned certain pieces six or seven times - I'm super-perfectionist like that. I figure if I’m going to go ‘fine’ (jewelry), I’m going to go all the way.
You recently relocated from Chicago to LA. Has your new environment been an inspiration to you?
Not so much. I get inspired when I travel - to Paris, or New York, or Tokyo. In Paris, you walk down Rue Saint-Honoré, and they have all these insane vintage jewelry shops with pieces from the 1900s, right through the ’30s and ‘40s. It’s incredible. And Tokyo is so ahead - literally, in terms of the time zone, as well as figuratively. It’s like traveling to the future!
I also like to self-educate. I look at jewelry stuff all day long. I know a lot about the brands and the history, which helps when it comes to my own designs. I study a lot of the big houses, to understand how they place stones, the kind of metals and materials they use. My favorite book at the moment is JAR Paris by the iconic Parisian jewelry designer Joel Rosenthal. It’s an insanely expensive book but it’s huge and features every one of his pieces, which are just exquisite. The craftsmanship is so inspiring. I send photos to my factory like: “I need you to do this!” and they’re like, “Um….!”
I also love going to museums. Every time I’m in New York, I go to the Met - they always have the most amazing jewelry exhibits. There’s a Cartier show in Denver that I’m thinking about going to. It’s all of Grace Kelly’s jewelry on display, so I’m thinking about flying out for that. I also have tons of online references, check tons of jewelry blogs... The world is your oyster, you really can find out and teach yourself anything.
Are you inspired by other women? If so, who?
Absolutely. Designer-wise, Solange Azagury-Partridge is my jewelry spirit animal! I also really like Delfina Delettrez. And of course I love classic stuff. Van Cleef, Bouchon, the Bvlgari snake watches…
There are lot of girls I admire who I don’t really know - Sabine G, for example, who makes these really beautiful, modern, timeless pieces. And of course, I'm also inspired by own friends. My best friend Mirtha is a poet, she just put out her first book. She’s super driven - she did it all on her own. So inspiring! My other friend Fanny who lives in Paris - she does PR for Dior. They’re all just single women getting it done...
What's next for you?
I really enjoy the Van Cleef & Arpels classes that I took in Paris a couple of months ago, so I want to do more of those. I also plan to start my GIA courses, too - that’s the Gemological Institute of America. They teach you how to look at stones, how to identify and grade them, the history. They also offer jewelry illustrating classes, which is definitely something I’d be interested in. I want to know it all.