JCK Rock Star Spotlight: Rosanne Pugliese Talks Milestones and Trusting Herself

The opportunity to be a contestant on JCK Rock Star came to Rosanne Pugliese at an interesting time in her life. Watch her story in episode no. 5, and you’ll learn that the principal behind the same-name jewelry design firm in Brooklyn, N.Y., shelved a blossoming fashion career in order to raise children. Of course, she has no regrets (family is always the priority)—not to mention the decision put her on the path to jewelry design.

But when JCK approached her to be a Rock Star contestant, Pugliese was on the brink of a milestone birthday and about to watch her older son, a senior in high school, fill out college applications, knowing that his imminent departure would open a Pandora’s box of mixed and powerful emotions for the mother of two. Plus, the thought of a partially empty nest (she also has a 14 year old) was equally intimidating.

So while all of these thoughts were swirling around in her head, she signed on for yet another challenge, the JCK Rock Star competition. In it, she is surrounded by a group of talented but less-seasoned designers than herself. Pugliese learned how they work—using CAD and drafting detailed sketches—and started to compare their skills to her own. She started second-guessing herself, her talents, and abilities. “It was a time of soul searching for my business and my personal life,” she confides to JCK in a phone interview.

Working and living in New York City, the latter is easy to do. You’re surrounded by some of the most talented people on the planet, and you’re so busy being impressed by them that you forget that you are among them, and have earned that place in the mix for some of the same reasons—talent and passion—the others are there. For Pugliese, the proof of her talent is in the distribution: Her work is featured in 17 doors nationwide, including Barney’s.

Pugliese was confronted by these realities—changes in family life, the passage of time, changes she might want to make to her work (perhaps a few new manufacturing tricks learned from her Rock Star colleagues?)—and temporarily lost sight of the simple and elegant design aesthetic she does so well. For example, she planned to use four Swarovski Genuine Passion Topaz Gemstones, but ended up setting seven in the final piece. “My usual process is to take away, not add,” she says.

“I was overthinking things,” she says. “I knew that my business and way of working had to change—I was already anxious to go in a different direction. I was looking at the others’ methods of working and thinking that I needed to update myself and get more current with modern techniques.”

The competition taught Pugliese the value of using CAD (something she doesn’t currently do) for particular tasks, like making clasps or achieving shapes that can’t be accomplished through hand fabrication. 

She says working with FIT instructor and Rock Star advisor Leila Shenkin Tai was a “liberating experience,” as well as enlightening. “She encouraged me to sketch more,” says Pugliese. [In the video, Shenkin expresses concern over Pugliese’s straight-to-metal method of working, relying little on sketches.]

“She’s kind of working in the dark,” Shenkin says, later encouraging the one-time FIT student: “You can draw!”

Shenkin pointed out that Pugliese drafted her design on a paper towel, indicating it was “very much from the heart.”

Overall, Pugliese came to the realization that she alone was in control of her destiny and thoughts. “I was limiting myself because of what other people have told me—‘You’re supposed to be this or that as a business owner and a parent’, she observes. “And when I saw the other designers, I saw limits, later realizing that they only existed because of me. No one else was putting limits on me, so I decided to take them away.”

Next up for Pugliese: one-of-a-kinds. “I’ve lived with the Alexander Calder book on my bench for the last six weeks,” she says. “I can focus on work more now, and am going to do pieces that are a little more artisan. I’m kind of marking time not necessarily to grow the business, but to get more out of it as a really enriching experience.” 

Her holiday collection—forged out of a single piece of hammered wire—may be an example of this new direction. Plus, there’s a wedding band line in the works. “It’s something I’ve not worked on before,” she says. “It’s such a delight to work with 22k gold, and to make pieces like a wedding band that someone will have on for the rest of their lives.”

Rosanne Pugliese 22k gold hammered jewelry line

What’s on Rosanne Pugliese’s workbench today: the makings of a new hammered holiday jewelry line.

Rosanne Pugliese 22k gold wedding band line in the works

What’s on Rosanne Pugliese’s workbench today: a new bridal line in her signature 22k gold