Katey Brunini, a San Diego-based jeweler who specializes in one-of-a-kind designs, teamed earlier this year with friend and longtime marketing executive Jeffrey Baldwin to introduce a men’s brand called AeZeus Baldwin.
The collection, which ranges from $250 pocket squares made from vintage Japanese kimonos to $60,000 yellow diamond necklaces, builds on silhouettes Brunini has used in her core collection over the past 25 years. For AeZeus, she infuses them with design elements that feel especially relevant today, including “upcycled materials, small batch production, gender fluidity, and Japanese influence,” Brunini says.
The friends and collaborators spoke to JCK about the new line, which is sold at Neiman Marcus, and the cultural moment we now find ourselves in, when pop icons like Pharrell, Harry Styles, and Tyler, the Creator are helping to redefine masculine style.
The only way for jewelers to truly capitalize on the phenomenon, says Brunini, is by investing in merchandise. “If they don’t have any jewels to offer,” she says, “they can’t sell them.”
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What was the impetus for creating AeZeus Baldwin?
Katey Brunini: Jeff and I had gotten to talking about fashion, art, and life, and there were a lot of commonalities, and we decided, “You know what, let’s do a men’s collection.” I’ve always made jewelry unisex, so a little bit is silly labeling. I don’t think we need to say only a man or a woman can wear a certain piece, but Jeff introduced the idea of textiles, and I had these vintage kimonos to mess around with, and he wanted to do ascots and pocket squares. We think of it as street punk meets the Royal Ascot. It started as fun and took off.
Jeffrey Baldwin: We’d go off on tangents about the samurai, the mighty warrior who can also write poems, and that seemed to fit with the high/low and raw and refined style that Katey has always had.
How big is the collection?
Baldwin: In textiles, there are four to five styles that we’re trying to bejewel at the same time, including antique boros and pocket squares—they’re such nice statement pieces. They add a bit of elegance to any suit.
Brunini: There are probably 70 SKUs of jewelry, as well as the pins that adorn the ascots or the boros. You can wear the textile or the bejeweled element, or wear them together.
Did the men’s designs mark a departure from K. Brunini Jewels?
Brunini: I didn’t depart. It’s all interconnected. AeZeus Baldwin is a collection under the K. Brunini umbrella, much like the Twig collection. And Jeff is the sales manager and brand ambassador.
A lot of the shapes are from my past collections, just more of an exercise in encouraging men and our retailers to carry more jewelry for men. Thus, they will make more jewelry sales to men.
Baldwin: There’s a real harmonious energy in how we see the world: earth, air, fire, and water, and that red thread that connects them all. AeZeus Baldwin is the same extension of what has always existed.
How’d you two meet anyway?
Baldwin: We went to two different North County San Diego high schools, and we met at the beach. It was the early ’80s. We were beach rats.
Brunini: All the wild things lived at the beach.
Jeff, what was your background before you started working with Katey?
Baldwin: I spent years in sales and marketing. I did professional surfing for quite a long time. That liaised into the industry of action sports. I worked for a media firm for 13 years, where I was the director of sales and marketing.
There was a whole wine portion of my life. It was a real cultural explosion for me. We were a brokerage firm that worked with collectors and the highest-end restaurants, helping them curate their wine lists and fill in their cellars.
Brunini: I thought we could take that experience and apply it to gems and jewelry.
Do you get the sense that retailers are ready to go all-in on men’s jewelry?
Baldwin: We feel there’s a movement, and everywhere we go we have that conversation with purveyors. They know it’s happening. We know it’s real, they know it’s real. But how does the average male gravitate to it? When will the bird fly from the cage in full? We don’t know, but we feel it.
Brunini: We only need a few birds.
Top: Opal Antler ring in sterling silver and 18k gold with opal, $12,150; AeZeus BaldwinFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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