In 2001, when Katherine Jetter was a teenager, she earned the top art prize in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme from the International Baccalaureate Organization, an international education movement. To honor her accomplishment, her family gifted her a small, pretty blue opal, a nod to her Australian roots. (Jetter was born an Aussie, but spent her formative years in England, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.) She placed the stone into a ring setting of her design, thus igniting a passion to create fine jewelry.
Jetter went on to acquire a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from University College of London, and then to work at JP Morgan before reconnecting with her artistic side. She moved to New York City to earn a Graduate Gemology degree in 2007, going on to work for De Beers and other jewelry designers in Europe and the U.S. before launching her own line of high-end jewels (including custom, hand-cut opals) in 2008. Now based in Santa Fe, N.M., Jetter’s work largely reflects a love for her home country of Oz, evident in nature motifs and her frequent use of the Australian national gemstone.
Jewelry designer Katherine Jetter
JCK: Describe your signature style.
Katherine Jetter: I use hand-carved gemstones like opal flowers, and organic motifs like vine are part of the DNA of my work. I am most inspired by the vast and diverse natural landscapes of my home country, Australia. The lush vegetation of the Daintree Rainforest in North Queensland, and the beautiful patterns and sea life of the Great Barrier Reef inspired my first two collections. Still, exceptional quality and attention to detail is what I pride myself most in.
Every Katherine Jetter pendant also comes with my signature turtle clasp, where the little turtle head snaps into the body. The clasp becomes an additional decorative feature of the overall pendant and ‘travels’ around the wearer’s neck, instead of seeing a lobster claw. The turtle is my logo as it is a symbol of good luck and protection in Greek mythology (my mother is Greek). This way the owner of my jewelry always has a good luck charm with them.
JCK: How did you get into jewelry design?
KJ: As an artist growing up, and having won every major art prize as an international baccalaureate student, I wanted to find a career where I could apply my artistic talent to a tangible and meaningful product. Jewelry is so much more than ‘just another’ luxury item. It is almost always an emotive gift from one person to another, it carries history from one generation to the next, the science and culture behind gemstones and the stories they tell are captivating to me. Still, I earned a BSc in clinical psychology from UCL, London, and then worked as a business analyst at JP Morgan for three years before moving to New York City to get my Graduate Gemologist degree at GIA.
JCK: Tell me about your design process.
KJ: I sketch all the designs myself, and I monitor and adjust every stage of the manufacturing process in my workshop. All my stones are custom cut or hand-carved, and in many cases the opal I use is rough that I select directly from the miners. This is why my jewelry is so unique and truly couture custom work. To that end, I will be participating in the Couture Show Design Awards Show this year, with a piece entered into the Colored Gemstone Above $20,000 category.
JCK: Where is the jewelry made?
KJ: The U.S. and China
JCK: What materials do you work with and why?
KJ: 18k gold and sterling silver, and opals, diamonds, sapphires, tsavorite garnets, aquamarine, amethyst, tourmaline, emeralds, and rubies. Growing up as an Australian in Europe, I was particularly dismayed at how little my national gemstone, opal, was being used in the international world of fine jewelry. This once much-celebrated stone was now greatly unappreciated by my generation, most commonly set in inexpensive tourist trinkets or old fashioned settings. I had a vision for bringing this stone to life in a fresh and contemporary new way, using modern cuts and dynamic designs to bring opal into the 21st century.
JCK: What jewelry shows do you exhibit in?
KJ: Couture 2012 (booth #514, part of the Sande Finkel Collective).
JCK: What is your starting retail price?
KJ: Silver pieces start at $220 retail, and 18k gold starts at $1,500 retail.
JCK: How many accounts do you have?
KJ: I am in 16 doors—including Lux Bond & Green in Boston, Reinhold Jewelers in Puerto Rico, as well as four Neiman Marcus stores. I do not yet have any international accounts.