Q & A with Kim Kaufman

A New York designer goes for the gold (despite high metals prices).

At a time when most
designers are launching silver lines to hit lower price points, Kim
Kaufman bucks the trend with her 18k and 20k gold locket necklaces
weighing up to 300 grams per piece.

“I’ve been making them for years, so I didn’t think to alter the
materials,” explains the New York-based designer about her use of gold.
Plus, her choice speaks to her design aesthetic and goal: to “revive the
jewelry market with really precious objects made in a high-quality
way,” she told JCK in a phone interview.

Last spring, Kaufman launched three lines—the least expensive of which
starts at $8,400—during the Baselworld watch and jewelry fair. She
talked to JCK this week about the details of her collection.
JCK: What is your design inspiration and niche?

KK: My niche is lockets made of 18k yellow gold, 20k rose gold, 18k
white gold, silver, and diamonds. While I started with lockets, I plan
on making rings, earrings, and bracelets.

Jewelry at its best is really a wearable sculpture. One of my favorite books is entitled Artistic Luxury: Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique,
covering the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris and these three
jewelry masters, all of whom adopted a singular strategy to broaden
their markets through the presentation of luxury goods as art, presented
on a platform of Symbolism. I aspire to revitalize this notion that
jewelry can be much more than a brand or bling; it can literally be a
piece of art.
JCK: Explain some of the symbolism in your pieces.

KK: In many cultures the horse is known as a solar symbol and is related
to the sun, moon, and water. The horse acts as a mediator between earth
and heaven, but can also symbolize freedom, travel, strength, power,
nobility, wisdom, grace, and beauty.

The flock motif comes from the Edo Period in Japanese history, where
cranes symbolized good luck, long life, and marriage. Cranes in flight
can also symbolize freedom from limitations and have long been a symbol
of the soul.
Finally, the kiss of Venus is geometry—the image of four eight-year
cycles (or 32 years) of Venus’s orbit between the earth and the sun.
Other than the sun and moon, the brightest point in the sky is Venus,
and she is our closest neighbor, ‘kissing’ us every 584 days as she
passes between the earth and the sun.
JCK: How long have you been designing fine jewelry and what is your training?

KK: I have training as an artist, having earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts
from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a Masters in
Fine Arts in sculpture from the Maryland Institute, College of Art. As
such, I approach my jewelry drawings the same way I would if I were
creating a sculpture. My drawings are very detailed and specific and
serve as the blueprints to then go and create the pieces. From here I
work very closely with my production house, supervising the entire
process. As I always say, it takes a village to create these pieces,
from master carvers for the waxes, to master goldsmiths for the casting,
assembly, and finish, to master setters for the stones. My training as a
sculptor has informed my jewelry sensibility. My knowledge of jewelry
and the history of jewelry is really self taught, mainly from visits to
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and my ever-growing
collection of jewelry books.
I have been drawing my designs for the past seven years, but it took me a
very long time to find a production house. I was told that the only
people who could make the pieces the way I wanted them done were either
dead or working at Bulgari; I wanted a master goldsmith to carve the
details in wax, but I also needed the precision of a good CAD artist for
the casing. But I did find someone in New York, and have been producing
pieces for about two years.

JCK: Where is your jewelry manufactured?

KK: All of my jewelry is cast and then assembled in New York. For many
small designers such as myself, it is simply not conceivable to produce
pieces abroad because the production of jewelry is a highly
collaborative process between the designer and the production team. As
such, it is quite important to be involved on a very regular basis in
every step of the production, which would be impossible if the pieces
were being produced in the Far East or in India.  
JCK: What are the details of your collections to date?

KK: My large limited-edition lockets include three styles—Flock, Horse,
and Venetian—the first retails for $125,000, and the other two are

My smaller line of nonlimited-edition gold and diamond pendants are
available in six designs, including Ride (a horse-inspired one), Flight
(birds), Chartres Labyrinth (inspired by a medieval labyrinth outside of
Paris), Venice, Seed, Flower, and Tree, and the Kiss of Venus. These
start at $14,000.

I also have a gold, silver, and enamel line where the pieces are the
same size as the gold line, but they’re less expensive because of the
silver. These start at $8,400.

JCK: How many accounts do you currently have?

KK: I just completed a three-month-long trunk show with Bergdorf Goodman
through which I sold one piece and got press in Harper’s
Bazaar. This was my first retail venture. I’m now in the process of
securing additional trunk shows in other areas of the country. I would
love to sell my lockets in London, the home of the locket!
While Kaufman did exhibit in Basel and JCK Las Vegas last year, she doesn’t currently have plans to exhibit again this year.

Kim Kaufman, president, Kim Kaufman Designs, New York; 914-462-0605 http://www.kimkaufmandesigns.com