Behind the scenes with the women who are bringing baguettes back in a big way
Suzanne Kalan has always been enamored of baguettes—those slim, rectangular cuts of gems often lined up like soldiers, in perfect uniformity. But the designer longed to liberate them from their relentlessly organized settings. Kalan saw those rows as sets of dominoes yearning to be knocked down. “I love baguettes,” she says, “but I thought, What can we do with them that’s not so typical?”
Kalan upended their prim queues, tilting and angling them to transform what was orderly and tidy into something kinetic—unruly, but undeniably elegant. From afar it can look like a simple baguette bangle. But the flashes of light it sparks suggest what you see when you get closer: individual diamonds of varied shades and hues, all askew.
In the process, Kalan started a riot. Her innovations—such as transparent stones like pale amethyst cut flat to reveal pavé-cut diamonds beneath, shimmering in a whole new way—have been validated not only by her peers (e.g., a 2014 Couture Design Award) but also by the public. Her Fireworks rings, an explosion of baguettes, have drawn attention from celebrities and gained an international following, particularly among the influential women of the Bahrain royal family.
Fireworks necklace with 4.4 cts. t.w. champagne baguette diamonds and London blue topaz in 18k rose gold; $15,400; Suzanne Kalan, Van Nuys, Calif.; 818-885-6400; email@example.com; suzannekalan.com
One-of-a-kind Devoted bridal ring in 18k rose gold with 1.3 cts. t.w. diamond baguettes and 1.13 ct. diamond center; $11,000
For someone known for her flashy designs, Kalan is surprisingly low-key. When you step into the workplace of a fine jewelry designer, you expect an architectural flourish, or an eccentric personal style quirk. At the very least an extravagant display of jewelry. But nothing like that jumped out when I visited Kalan’s offices in Van Nuys, Calif. The workplace—upstairs from her factory, in a nondescript, two-story building along an industrial strip of the San Fernando Valley—was mostly empty.
“Sorry, we’re just redesigning and the furniture hasn’t arrived yet,” says Kalan’s daughter, Patile, her voice echoing through the glass-enclosed rooms. She asks about the traffic and the long, hot July afternoon drive from Hollywood. As she offers me a bottle of water, I notice her wrists and fingers are covered in colorful gems of her own design. Suzanne—dressed casually in all white, without a trace of jewelry—is pushing some chairs together so the three of us can sit around a table.
If this mother and daughter have an eccentricity, it’s their seeming lack of pretense. “You met my husband, right?” Suzanne asks. It seems I had. The man who opened the door a few minutes earlier is Paul, who has been Suzanne’s business partner since the start of their jewelry line in 1988, the year Patile was born.
Both Suzanne and Paul were born in Lebanon of Armenian ancestry. Their families moved to Montreal and then Los Angeles, where they met. Suzanne’s father had a jewelry store, and Paul was a diamond setter with his own manufacturing business, which gave her access to materials. Suzanne played around with design, making a few silver and crystal pieces for her sister and herself; shoppers at downtown LA’s jewelry mart, where she went with her husband, knew raw talent when they saw it. One thing led to another, and orders started coming in from department stores, including Nordstrom and the now-defunct Broadway and Bullocks stores. With a little research and practice, she got creative. “I was the first one to do invisible,” she says of necklaces hung on a discreet wire.
As the business grew, so did Patile. “In the beginning, they were working at the house, so I was kind of a part of it,” she says. “When I was young, I’d hang out with them and ask what I could do.” After the operation moved out of the house, Patile spent her school breaks helping out. “Actually, I got in trouble at school once because I was making bracelets and selling them to my friends,” she admits.
But when she enrolled at a nearby college, she was studying biochemistry and planned to attend medical school. “I was stubborn,” Patile says, looking at her mom. “I wanted to be independent, do something without you.” One summer, she took a job as a teller at Bank of America to “get a paycheck from someone else.” She hated it.
“I kept pushing her to continue medicine, or something else,” Suzanne says. “You know how sometimes kids get stuck doing their parents’ jobs? I didn’t want that. I want both of them to have their freedom, to do what they want,” she says, referring to her son, Kami, who’s younger than Patile and has no interest in jewelry. “He’s studying graphic design.”
As Patile continued to help out in the family business, however, she gradually realized she “loved this way more than anything. Even medicine. I completely lost interest in it.”
In 2012, Suzanne handed her daughter her Kalan by Suzanne Kalan collection—simpler pieces, geared toward younger women, ringing in at under $3,600. Suzanne had started the 14k line in response to the 2008 recession. When the economy picked up, there was renewed demand for 18k, Suzanne’s first love.
18k rose gold post chandelier earrings with 1.15 cts. t.w. white baguettes; $6,160
Fireworks collection 18k gold baguette diamond bangles; $9,250 each
18k rose gold vitrine ring with 3.75 ct. pear-shape topaz center and champagne diamond baguettes; $12,760
The Family That Works Together…
In the Armenian tradition, Patile still lives at home with her parents and brother. She has also reclaimed the family name, Kalandjian; her mother Americanized it to Kalan decades ago. “You couldn’t have an Armenian name back then,” Suzanne says. “Now you can.”
Perhaps that’s partly because of the half-Armenian clan that also lives in the Valley. But, really, don’t get them started on the Kardashians. “Armenian girls are supposed to be modest and respectful,” says Patile, exasperated. “They are exactly the opposite.”
The Kalandjians might make a great reality-show counter to the Kardashians. “If I want to go out—and I go out often—my dad gets sad,” Patile says. “I think, Haven’t you had enough of me?”
In July they took a family trip to Europe, where Patile imposed some work boundaries. Or tried to. “I don’t want to talk about work when I’m in Mykonos and I’ve had too much to drink the night before. She’s asking me if I’ve answered an email and I’m like”—Patile makes a face of frustration that would be familiar to most parents.
All agree that working together and living together isn’t hard—they rarely fight—but Patile is in awe of her parents’ relationship. “They go home, they sit down, have a drink, and talk to each other,” she says. “When I wake up, they’re having coffee together and talking. I can’t imagine that.”
Kalan by Suzanne Kalan rings in 14k gold with amethyst; chalcedony; and English blue, green envy, champagne, salmon, pink, and blue topaz; $575–$660
18k rose gold Vitrine ring with round white topaz center and 1.1 cts. t.w. white diamond baguettes; $7,480
A few years ago, Suzanne got an email from a woman in Bahrain, a small island nation in the Persian Gulf, who was putting together a pavilion at the Jewellery Arabia show. She wanted Suzanne to come and showcase her designs. “I had no idea who she was, but I asked a friend and she said that’s the name of the royal family,” Suzanne says.
Sure enough, Sheikha Dana Al Khalifa is one of the daughters of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s king, and has been the Kalans’ conduit to a whole new market in the Middle East.
“I know the Middle East, but this is…more intense,” Suzanne says. Suzanne and Patile describe, in tandem, their newest customer group:
Suzanne: “They’re all beautiful.”
Patile: “Very elegant.”
Suzanne: “And they’re all crazy about our jewelry. Everybody wants the baguettes, everybody wants the bracelets. They already knew about us—”
Patile: “—through Instagram.”
Suzanne: “All of them were educated in either Europe or the U.S. They’re all smart, very worldly.”
Patile: “They have great taste. They notice the quality, they notice the design.”
Suzanne: “They wear jewelry all the time, and they wear a lot of it.”
Patile: “And they all want to be different from each other. Here, women want to have the same bag, the same shoes, the same watch. Over there, a woman will come over and tell her friend what she bought so that the friend will buy something else.”
This new market has made it easier for Suzanne to go over the top, to make pieces like $10,000+ champagne diamond–studded rings and pendants. In fact, while she was on vacation, she started cooking up some ideas for new designs.
“I want to work with baguettes and brown diamonds,” she says, to her daughter’s surprise.
“Together?” Patile asks.
“Mmm, no. Not together.”
“I don’t know yet,” Suzanne says. “Some bigger pieces, more statement.… Totally different than what I’ve been doing.”
“I don’t know how she comes up with the things she does,” Patile says of Suzanne. “Her brain is amazing. It scares me sometimes. I have big shoes to fill.”