Designers / Industry

How I Got Here: Claudia Kronfeld on Building Her Dream Brand From Scratch


For several years at a series of jobs in the cosmetics industry, Claudia Kronfeld secretly sneaked out on her lunch hour with diamonds in her bag so she could rush to New York’s jewelry district, study jewelry brands, and meet with clients.

At one lunch, Kronfeld says, she sold a $30,000 engagement ring. That was the moment she realized she had the skills and experience to go all-in. She left the beauty world for the jewelry industry with her signature Nomad ring and a goal of never looking back.

Today the Claudia Mae brand is a self-funded business with Kronfeld, 27, at the helm. She recently hired her first employees, and says every bump and bruise along the way was worth this result. After all, it’s quite a leap from being a kid who loves the bead aisle at the local craft store—clipping coupons for Michaels so she could buy jewelry supplies—to CEO of a fine jewelry company.

“It was the biggest learning curve,” Kronfeld says. “It was starting from nothing.”

Claudia Mae rings
Claudia Mae’s Nomad rings serve as an homage to the Victorian-era Gypsy rings she grew up collecting with her mother and sister.

Her story begins in middle and high school in Philadelphia when a young Kronfeld took every class and outlet for creativity she could—art, knitting, scrapbooking, cake decorating. Her early leadership training? A school club called Crafts for a Cause, where she convinced her classmates to knit sweaters as a fundraiser for charities.

Kronfeld attended New York University, majoring in cultural studies and Spanish. She took one metalsmithing class, but none of the projects resonated with her. Her sister was working at a big cosmetics brand, and the beauty industry seemed like a close enough fit to Kronfeld’s professional interests at the time. She says these early jobs were part of an exploration into what might make sense for her, but it soon became clear that makeup and fragrances weren’t the right direction.

This is when her lunchtime excursions began to point her toward jewelry design. She found David Benlolo’s jewelry studio and got into one of his classes.

“Working with David helped me fall in love,” Kronfeld says. “The first piece I made was a gold band I had been looking for every time I went out on those lunch hours. I could picture it in my mind, but I could never find it in the stores.”

Claudia Mae necklaces
Beads, butterflies, and unicorns are frequent design elements in Claudia Mae’s pendant collections. Designer Claudia Kronfeld says she loves stacking skinny and chunky chains together.

Creativity came roaring back to her, Kronfeld says. She started making rings, pendants, and other jewelry for herself—and was  loving every minute of it. People would ask her what designer she was wearing, and she gleefully told them it was her own work. Still, nothing developed when she applied for jobs within the jewelry industry.

Rather than wait for a lucky break, Kronfeld decided to make it on her own. She spent a bonus she received in January 2020 on materials to make five Nomad rings. She created an Instagram. She walked vast amounts of New York pavement, selling and hustling and learning.

When she finally hit her personal sales goal, Kronfeld left the beauty career behind and happily started working full time on her jewelry. She describes Claudia Mae as a sophisticated yet funky brand where classic techniques are utilized, such as burnished set stones so the metal is curved yet the stones lay flat within the setting.

She found craftspeople and manufacturers to help build the brand, but a lot of what she does comes from sitting at a bench and working on what she loves. “I still use the molds I created from my jewelry class,” Kronfeld says. “I still cut my charms by hand, so there’s an element of me in those pieces.”

Top: Claudia Kronfeld parlayed her knowledge from working in the cosmetics and fragrance industries and taking jewelry classes into establishing her brand Claudia Mae, which is devoted to creating new classics, Kronfeld says. (Photos courtesy of Claudia Mae)

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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