Industry Veterans Reinvent Themselves (And Clients’ Old Jewelry)

Some jewelers relish the challenges that come with creating upcycled jewelry designs for clients, and some just aren’t into it, often lacking the vision, as well as the time and resources that such projects require.

Jewelry industry veterans Jaime Polk and Katherine Rosenberg-Pineau fall squarely in the former category. In fact, after amassing nearly 50 years of experience between them, they recently ditched their jobs in the corporate world to focus on a business model that centers entirely on reimagining jewels that clients already own but would like to update, refresh, or otherwise wear anew.

After heading up design teams and running global sales forces for the likes of Hearts on Fire and Frederick Goldman, they were tired of the old way of doing things. They decided to title their brand 21C Designs (as in, 21st century), firmly embracing a fresh concept grounded in modern definitions of how jewelry should be worn and enjoyed.

21c Designs store and owners
Clockwise, from left: 21C Designs operates out of a chic cottage-cum-atelier on the Connecticut shoreline; Jaime Polk previously held executive-level sales positions at Scott Kay and Karl Lagerfeld Fine Jewelry; Katherine Rosenberg-Pineau has held creative, product development, and merchandising roles at Leo Schachter, Gregg Ruth, and Hearts on Fire.

“We were so frustrated with what was happening in the jewelry industry—the lack of change,” says Polk. “It was stagnant, we weren’t learning, and we didn’t feel the industry was changing enough. What led me to want to be an entrepreneur more than anything else was wanting to change with the consumer and feeling that the industry was not doing that.”

Rosenberg-Pineau loves the creative freedom that the venture affords her, and likes that they can produce and deliver within their own time frame. Both she and Polk credit the fact that 21C Designs is a partnership—not a one-person operation—as key to their success.

“We complement each other,” says Rosenberg-Pineau. “I loved being in the corporate world because you’re part of a team and part of a company, and this is a version of that, but it’s much more rewarding. Everything that we’ve each worked so hard for for 25 years can now be executed and implemented for ourselves.

“Plus, Jaime and I work really hard,” she adds. “We gave 150 percent to someone else, and now we can put all that energy into ourselves and our business.”

21c works in progress
Works in progress: Birthstone stud earrings will become stacking rings (left); a grandmother is having her jewelry recast as a series of chain bracelets for each of her granddaughters.
21c multi gem pendant
Salvaged gemstones from outdated designs appear on a pendant (partially funded by the melt value of the old pieces’ gold content).
21c sapphire ring conversion
Setting the vintage ring’s pear-shape sapphire slightly askew in a wide gold band makes for a design with presence and cool factor. The old ring’s diamonds serve as accent stones.

21C Designs operates out of a red-doored bungalow overlooking a marsh just off Main Street in Madison, Conn., a coastal resort town about two hours from New York City. Design ideas are sketched out on the spot and then executed by a trusted network of diamond suppliers and bench jewelers in New York and Boston (where Rosenberg-Pineau is based; she commutes to Connecticut a few days a week) to help bring the projects to life.

Since quietly launching a couple of years ago, Polk and Rosenberg-Pineau have expanded their services to include custom engagement ring design, and work with clients all over the country.

Consultations tend to be held via Zoom and Skype, but the women also see their share of foot traffic, especially in the summer and fall, when Madison’s Main Street is at its busiest. Before the pandemic, Polk and Rosenberg-Pineau also worked with local and driving-distance clients who would host jewelry parties in their homes; guests would bring their jewelry boxes for review and explore possibilities. This service will resume in the future.

A one-on-one, Marie Kondo–esque service is also in development, wherein the jewelers will work with a client in her home to assess her jewelry collection, editing it with sharp, discerning eyes while providing styling advice and solutions for reimagining heirloom or outdated pieces.

The team is also building relationships with a network of New England–area estate lawyers to assist in valuing inherited jewelry property, and advising executors on what to sell, keep, and, if they wish, upcycle as a way to honor and remember their loved one.

Of course, some clients see 21C Designs as a discreet way to liquidate their gold pieces and put the cash toward, say, some preppy plaid drapes for the Florida room refresh. Polk and Rosenberg-Pineau are always happy to assist in this way, no questions asked.

Every client’s story and needs are unique, they say, and that’s what makes it fun.

Top: One client’s diamond rings—including one with ruby side stones—enjoy new life as a single band that offers the look of multiple styles stacked together: Made in high-polish gold with ultraclean bezel settings, now it’s a modern classic that can be worn every day. (All images courtesy of 21C Designs)


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Amy Elliott

JCK Contributing Editor

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