When Erica Molinari retired after 19 years as a member of the national and Olympic U.S. luge team, her husband suggested she take her love for cooking, crafting, and needlework and expand it into jewelry.
Molinari resisted. She didn’t wear much jewelry—it’s not exactly practical when you’re living out of a suitcase for more than half of the year or in training. She didn’t think she particularly liked jewelry at the time.
Then, after many spousal suggestions, she took her first jewelry class at age 40.
“I loved it,” Molinari says.
That led to another class. Then another. Soon, she was taking two classes a day and searching for her next ones. Today, she has a New York–based studio where she produces Erica Molinari Jewelry, specializing in keepsake double-sided charms, enamel work, and pieces embellished with gems as well as inspirational quotes.
How does an Olympic-level athlete turn into a jeweler? It’s that willingness to learn, her competitive nature, and her discipline, Molinari says. When she struggles, she reaches out for help. When she thinks she knows everything, she pushes to find something new to challenge herself.
It’s kind of like going to college in some ways, something Molinari didn’t do because of her devotion to sports from an early age. Her family lived in Lake Placid, N.Y., where the city hosted the 1980 Winter Games and got everyone interested in high-level competition. Her brother was a ski jumper, so Molinari followed suit and found her own path to snow and ice through luge.
She competed in the 1988 (Calgary, Canada) and 1992 (Albertville, France) Olympics and qualified for the 1994 team as well. But she quit around then, having met the before-mentioned spouse. Although she never won a medal—the East German and Russian teams dominated luge then, she says—Molinari says the experiences were life changing.
Jewelry is now her daily training. Molinari created her first jewelry collection in 2005 and never stopped. She works seven days a week sometimes—well, most of the time—because she is fascinated with jewelry technique and the business as a whole. Her company is mostly her own handiwork, whether it is accounts payable, running a mop, or crafting the pieces that make up her collections.
“I always say: I have apprenticed for myself. I always want to learn more,” Molinari says. “I keep at it and I finally figure it out.… It’s the one thing in my life outside of luge where I never look at the clock.”
In real life, she did work under a bench jeweler for six years, but otherwise has had no formal training in metalsmithing or jewelry design. Her inspirations come from history—gothic, medieval, Victorian. Her charms honor ideals such as strength, courage, love, and life’s lessons.
Molinari says she continues to stretch herself into new ideas and new techniques, including her current passions for enamel and engraving. She remains inquisitive, working with great teachers and using her competitive skills to reach her goals—only now, it’s about gold, silver, and diamonds.
“I still don’t wear jewelry,” she laughs. “I just really love the art.”
Top: This hand-engraved cross is one of the many one-of-a-kind items Erica Molinari creates from her New York–based studio (all photos courtesy of Erica Molinari).
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