At first sight, you may know Ele Keats for her work as an actor, appearing in TV shows such as NCIS and movies including The Rocketeer and Frankie and Johnny. Yet Keats says her most important role to date is that of designer and matchmaker, pairing the right client with the ideal gem, crystal, or piece of jewelry.
The Los Angeles–based entrepreneur now runs Ele Keats Jewelry as a brand and a mission. Her goal as a designer is to create fully in the moment, following her instincts. Yet she also wants to work with purpose, offering her clients such as Kate Hudson, Selma Blair, and Goldie Hawn with ethically sourced stones.
“I understand our deep connection to the earth and to humanity, and I feel it is extremely important that we all have the awareness that everything we do has a consequence and a cost,” Keats says. “It’s really about our hearts and having integrity around what I do in the world. I want to put my head down at night and feel good about what I’m doing and know everybody is being paid fairly and treated with kindness.”
How did an actor become a jewelry designer? Slowly, and over a lifetime, says Keats.
What was your first job, and how old were you? I’m talking ice cream shop, that kind of thing—not sure you did that because you started acting so young!
My very first job was at the age of 14, when I worked at a flower shop just around the corner from my house called Edelweiss Flower Boutique in Santa Monica. I remember how excited I was that I had been given the opportunity to work there. I had always been so fascinated by the floral designers and the inspiring beauty of flowers. As I look back, I realize there is such a clear connection and correlation between floral design and the gemstones I work with now.
What role did jewelry play in your life up until 2005?
I remember as a child, putting on jewelry and feeling very regal and adorned. It seems like my soul was always connected to these beautiful gold pieces. I believe there has always been this deep connection to gemstones throughout my life. I can especially appreciate my love for this industry as a young girl as I look back at my many experiences with different facets of the jewelry world. At the age of 17, I went to visit India with my mom, and I found myself among gem wholesalers for the first time. I was so entranced by the experience, I went exploring the gem world in a tiny town called Juhu Beach outside of Bombay. That was my first true connection with the actual wholesale world of jewelry.
Why did you start making jewelry—was this while you were on sets or did you keep it separate?
That is a really wonderful question, because, at some point, they ended up colliding.… I started designing in and around 2004 for myself. It was very personal. I was informed that I needed to wear an emerald, a Vedic healing stone, but couldn’t seem to find the right design for what I was looking for. This was the inspiration and the reason I created the divinity necklace for myself, which has become my trademark. I was working on a film with Steven Soderbergh called Eros and had invited my brilliant talented makeup artist Julie Hewitt to my first trunk show at [actor] Elizabeth Berkley’s house. Julie was not able to make it because she was working on Because I Said So (with Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore, Lauren Graham, and Piper Perabo). Since she wasn’t able to make my first trunk show, she invited me to come by the set and show the ladies some of my jewelry. I was pleasantly surprised that I had an amazing initial response and sold jewelry to many of the cast members on set, including Diane Keaton, who purchased wrap gifts for all of the female talent. During this time, I also connected with Lauren Graham, who actually became one of the first dedicated customers of the Ele Keats brand. That moment was sort of the launching point for me and validated the passion and work I had put into that first collection. Diane Keaton was an icon for me and someone I really admired. Her validating my ability as a designer gave me the confidence to move forward and know that I was on the right path. That moment also showed me that I could do both—I didn’t have to make a choice—I could design and still continue my acting career.
How did jewelry blossom for you as a business that you wanted a storefront?
It started many years ago when I was offered a tiny 100-square-foot space that was originally just going to be a pop-up shop in Brentwood [, Calif.,] behind the famous Brentwood country mart. Once I was in there, I realized how in love with it I really was. I loved the customer experience and the connection, and, for me, I was able to experience the intimacy of connecting with my clients who are buying my designs and seeing the difference it can make in somebody’s life firsthand. Jewelry is such an intimate purchase; it’s something you wear directly on your body and is often given with such unlimited love. I felt an instant love and appreciation for each customer, it was similar to the reason I started acting—getting to experience that intimate heart and soul connection between human beings. To be able to have that on a daily basis in our tiny shop, it felt purposeful. I could really feel the difference I was making—it was soul food to be perfectly honest. The other great thing about having that first shop was it really gave me my sea legs for what was to come. Although I never imagined that I would be so in love with retail, here I am now on my fourth location and we are now at over 1,000 square feet from our humble beginnings in 2013 of 100 square feet. So, much like my first job back in Edelweiss Flower Boutique, I would say that is how we started to blossom.
Q: Does your yoga or meditation practice figure into your jewelry work?
A: What a beautiful question. Thank you for asking that. It is intimately connected. While I am practicing meditation, it is often during these times that creative inspiration comes through. I frequently place gemstones that I am working with on my meditation altar and let them sit there as they take shape into becoming their own unique creations. When I sit with them in a creative energy and flow of spirit inspiration, that is where the greatest creations come from. I’ve experienced moments while practicing yoga where I’ve suddenly had to grab my nearest sketch pad and immediately begin to design; I find inspiration comes through, sometimes more effortlessly, once I’ve cleared my mind and let the process occur in its own time and moment.
Top: Ele Keats sees her work as an actor and as a jewelry designer as a partnership between her creativity and her desire to live in the moment (all photos courtesy of Ele Keats Jewelry).
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