Redding, Conn.–based jewelry designer Jessica Kagan Cushman of Jessica Kagan Cushman Studio crafts word-motif jewels that make buyers laugh.
Jewelry designer Jessica Kagan Cushman
Company principal: Jessica Kagan Cushman
Headquarters: Redding, Conn.
Year firm launched: 2006
Signature style: I started out making scrimshaw pieces with fossilized woolly mammoth; it was a tradition used on sailing ships, but I put it in jewelry with sassy and fun phrases. Words are a major motif in my work—I use ones that are supposed to make people laugh and smile. I also use motifs like skulls and eyes, as well as oxidation; I love when the black wears off because it gives pieces a wonderful patina and tells an interesting story.
Training, education, and design process: I grew up in a design household—both of my parents were designers, so the design process came naturally to me. My dad is Vladimir Kagan, a mid-century modern furniture designer, and my mom is Erica Wilson, a needlework artist who had a TV show and a syndicated column. [The New York Times called Wilson “the Julia Child of needlework” upon her death in 2011.]
I had taken jewelry making in high school, but I couldn’t remember anything when I started. I started engraving pieces because I couldn’t do anything else! But I also felt that sassier women were underserved.
In college, I got an art history degree and then worked in consulting for 15 years. But even as a management consultant, I always had a beading project spread out on the kitchen table! I also had son who had fallen at age 21 and developed a traumatic brain injury, so I was home with him, taking care of him, and he helped me get the jewelry business started. After he died, I spent six months in bed! But eventually, I got up, decided I had to do something, and since he had helped me start the business, I would continue it.
Since then, I’ve taken classes at Jewelry Arts Institute in New York City and the Silvermine Guild in New Canaan, Conn., but I’m primarily self-taught. Now I sketch designs for others to make and make some pieces myself. Our components are a mix of bought and proprietary, and our jewelry is both cast and fabricated in the United States and in Jaipur, India.
Materials of choice: Pieces are made in 14k gold and sterling silver with diamonds, colored stones, and doublets. I love to add a touch of sparkle and color to my pieces, many of which are oxidized silver.
Jewelry trade show exhibits: I plan to exhibit at the ENK International Accessorie Circuit and possibly Couture in Las Vegas.
Accounts: I have six domestic accounts, including Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, and four international accounts, including Colette in Paris.
Starting retail price: In silver, my pieces start at $400 retail and in 14k gold, prices start at $1,200.
Retailer buy-in: Right now it’s $2,000.
Accolades: I was a finalist for the Fashion Group International Rising Star Award in 2012.
Cuff in oxidized sterling from the Berlin Gothic collection, $450
Bangles in oxidized sterling silver, some with diamonds, $900–$1,500
Whatever cuff in silver with 14k gold and diamond accents, $2,200
Ring in in oxidized sterling silver and 14k gold from the Berlin Gothic collection with 26 ct. rhodolite garnet, 4.1 cts. t.w. black diamonds, and a mother-of-pearl doublet, $2,800
Earrings in oxidized sterling silver and 14k gold from the Berlin Gothic collection with 28 cts. t.w. rhodolite garnet, 1.2 cts. t.w. single-cut diamonds, 0.8 ct. t.w. polki-style diamonds, and mother-of-pearl doublets, $4,500
Necklace in in oxidized sterling silver and 14k gold from the Berlin Gothic collection with Mozambique garnet and diamonds, $4,900
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