Designer Spotlight: Michael Jensen Designs

Catherine and Michael Jensen of Michael Jensen Designs have been part of the JCK family for some time. They are willing to talk to anyone and everyone about our efforts and believe in our cause: to rebuild the Design Center with amazing talent, supportive retailers, and tons of positive vibes. I had so much fun interviewing this dynamic duo, and we shared a laugh over our pets. Their cat is a staple in their workshop–you can see him supervising here. (My new furry adoptee, a kitten named Velcro, loves to climb atop my keyboard.) It’s a silly way to connect and a great reminder that fun is always a winning component when building beautiful jewelry.

How does jewelry history and archeology influence your work?

Catherine Jensen: Jewelry history and archaeology hold a story. There is an illusion of simplicity in the inspirations–the interaction of nature’s visual images, and prevailing philosophical views seem to create an almost universal symbolism that has an emotional resonance. The classical lines and design elements have resonated for centuries as a storied revival of solutions to design dilemmas that speak of the story of what is happening historically.

Vetus Ancient Intaglio brooch (1st century) in sterling silver and 22k gold with carnelian points

How did both of you get started in fine jewelry?

Michael Jensen: My academic work at the university was in sculpture, which lead to an apprenticeship as a goldsmith. Jewelry can be seen as very small sculptures.

Catherine Jensen: My passion for jewelry began in museums, archeological sites, and historic buildings. I was raised abroad. My experiences seeing some of the finest examples of jewelry and art has stayed with me.

What are the challenges and joys of working with your spouse? How do you complement each other?

Michael Jensen: We haven’t found too many challenges. We really seem to complement each other. We have different skill sets. It seems that we fuel and ignite each other’s thinking. I have the metals skills. Catherine has the gemstone knowledge. I have a passion for engineering. Catherine is deep into history. We talk about art all the time, whether it is books, philosophy, car and engine designs, furniture and interior design elements. Art is in everything. We are constantly pushing processes and exploring new techniques, while suggesting and refining new design directions. If there was an area of challenge it is Catherine’s issue of giving up time at the bench to manage the paperwork aspects of a business. This was more of an issue before she read Profiting by Design by Marlene Richey, which helped greatly. 

What is your favorite piece? Why does it has special meaning to you?

Michael Jensen: My favorite piece is always the next new design and our discussions around it. However, there is the diamond pendant I created for Catherine with her 19th-century diamond inspired by a fleur-de-lis of which I’ll always remark, “This is my favorite creation.”

Catherine Jensen: My favorite piece is a diamond ring created by Michael as a celebratory gift. The ring is in 18k yellow and white gold with half of the mounting in a classical style and the other half in a mid-century modern. The mounting expresses my stylistic favorites.                 

Which designers are you excited to see when you go to a trade show? What attracts you to them? Their jewelry? Their personality?

Michael Jensen: At any trade show we are excited to see our friends and the designers who deliver very different design styles. We love the conversation. We share design inspiration, gemstone info, business experiences, and strategies of all kinds. We are energized by the new perspectives. It is also cool to meet long-term designers that we followed for years while we were largely creating custom designs.

What is the biggest change you’d like to see in our industry? Why?

Catherine Jensen: I hope that our industry shares more of the story of a piece of fine jewelry, including an explanation of the stones and the style. There is an evolving new type of customer who thrives on the experience and the story. Fine jewelry has a history of being a celebration of a benchmark event and often has an emotional element. We have begun to see a growing awareness that the customers of today are more interested in the story than the customers of 30 years ago.

Vetus pendant with African-sourced 8.8 ct. emerald in sterling silver and 22k gold

What is the longest-standing relationship you have had with a retailer? Can you tell us more about it?

Michael Jensen: Our longest-standing retail relationship has been with Fairchild & Co. Fine Jewelry of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The relationship has continued for the last 17 years. The owner, Valerie Fairchild, has been in business since 1976, beginning as a goldsmith. She has carried our work since 1998. We began showing three different 18k gold lines, which frequently lead to custom designs. In 2005, we shifted to the Vetus line exclusively with the evolving economic challenges. This line continues to be a strong seller at Fairchild & Co. Valerie has always been strongly in our corner encouraging us and requesting exclusive designs. 

Why are you excited for JCK Tucson?

Catherine Jensen: JCK Tucson is exciting to us because it offers the opportunity to meet with jewelers and gallery owners who don’t attend JCK Las Vegas. It is the chance to build on the excitement of the gems at Tucson with talk of the creative process and its engineering. We can share our pieces and their stories.

Vetus rings in sterling silver and 22k gold with raw lapis lazuli and sapphire

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