Philadelphia, August 1977. It’s hot. The news of Elvis Presley’s death is what everyone’s talking about. At just 20 years old, Steven Lagos starts what will eventually become a fine fashion jewelry brand that will be a staple in stores such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale’s, and will draw in legions of collectors across generations.
Lagos founder Steven Lagos first entered the jewelry trade as a mere teenager (albeit one who did not share the jaded ennui of his peers at that age).
“Growing up in Philadelphia at a time in the ’70s, when there was a real focus on craft, had a major effect on me,” he tells JCK. “I started as a small trade shop and through that was able to gain a lot of experience. We were located in Jewelers’ Row in Center City, and I would ask the more seasoned jewelers for help with projects. They became my mentors, and with their help I learned the techniques and skills to become a master jeweler.”
Producing collections for his eponymous line, Lagos ascended alongside other designer names that likewise went on to to become great commercial successes, including the Yurmans, John Hardy, and Elsa Peretti.
“Designer jewelry was a completely new category, and many of the people involved were costume jewelers trying to work with silver and gold,” says Lagos. “I was a goldsmith, and I also knew how to work with silver to get the right weight and right value for the customer, so the collection really took off. We were among the first to do two-tone because people weren’t wearing silver and gold together. It was one of those rules of jewelry that I was happy to break.”
Though Caviar, the brand’s signature bead design, didn’t officially make its debut until 1984, it was in development as far back as the brand’s beginning.
“The idea for Caviar came from one of my original designs,” says Lagos. “It was a necklace with hematite beading that looked like actual caviar. Caviar is rich, it’s universal, it exudes luxury, and is instantly recognizable as Lagos.”
Below, more from our Caviar conversation.
Caviar is a great example of a motif that stands the test of time. It debuted in the 1980s, but still feels fresh and current. What do you attribute that to?
When I was starting out, one of my objectives was to become a master jeweler, where you really understand all the techniques and you’re able to decide what you want to do and execute it. That knowledge and experience allowed me to create a design that appears simple and classic—it’s essentially a sphere—but it has a sculptural texture, unique look, and was totally different than anything else in the market.
I am always looking for ways to innovate the Caviar design. When I learned about ceramic and saw the opportunities to develop designs in rich color, I knew that it would be the perfect material for Caviar. We pioneered the technology and have created something completely different and unique. I love exploring new materials and techniques to create a variety of options for our customers.
A lot about the jewelry industry, and how we wear jewelry, has changed since 1977. I’ll assume you agree, but when you look at the last 45 years, what things about the industry, and how we interact with each other and consumers, have remained constant?
There are aspects of the business that have changed, but the fundamentals of jewelry haven’t changed in 1,000 years. It’s super personal. It’s meaningful. It’s treasured. Jewelry has universal appeal. Everywhere in the world people are wearing jewelry. At every level of society, it stands for status. It stands for love. It has meaning.
Your daughter Kate represents the next generation of Lagos. Does her influence surface in the current Caviar assortment?
Kate grew up in the business. She was always listening and paying attention, so she has a strong point of view and is not shy about her opinions. She has always come to me with ideas, and recently we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on the KSL collection. It stands for Kate Shares Lagos, and you can see her influence on our classic Caviar collections. It’s edgy and youthful, and it was really a lot of fun working together.
What is the next chapter for Caviar? Is there room to grow?
We continue to innovate Smart Caviar, our fine jewelry bracelet for the Apple Watch. We’re exploring more opportunities in ceramic, new colors, new designs. Additionally, we’re seeing an increased focus on gold and diamonds, higher price points, and customers really looking for investment pieces that will hold their value. So, we’re growing those pillar collections as well.
Top: Lagos sold nearly 250,000 units in 2021 and, now in its 45th year, is poised to exceed that number in 2022. Black Caviar Ceramic Rope bracelet, $500.
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