Spotlight on JCK Tucson 2016 Keynote Speaker: Todd Reed

I’m definitely a believer in the mystic energies of the universe. Who knew that a simple breakfast among friends would eventually lead me to a conversation with one of my idols? Fate is a beautiful thing, and I was pinching myself because I got to talk to Todd Reed (pictured), one of JCK Tucson 2016’s keynote speakers and overall jewelry legend. A few minutes into our call, I immediately got why Reed is so successful. He shared his enthusiasm for our event and asked me “How can I help?” He is humble, kind, energetic, and fun. And have I mentioned ridiculously talented? We are beyond thrilled to have him join us in Tucson for our historic JCK Design Center relaunch.

I was fascinated to learn you are classically trained as a chef! Can you tell me more about that experience? 

I love to cook, but the best part of going to culinary school was the lessons learned. I improved my ability to become incredibly organized and prepared. I was also exposed to the power of food and to the intersect between community and creativity. I was a good student and a very competitive chef.

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Necklace in 18k yellow gold with 6.5 cts. t.w. fancy-cut diamonds, 8.4 cts. t.w. round brilliant diamonds, 1.4 cts. t.w. cabochon diamonds, 1.3 cts. t.w. autumn brilliant-cut diamonds, 0.7 ct. t.w. brown brilliant-cut diamonds, and 0.8 ct. t.w. raw diamond cubes

Your studio is located in Boulder, Colo. What about Boulder drew you in?

People come to Boulder for either love or money. I come from the school of love, and that’s what brought me to Boulder. Now what keeps me here is the amazing community and my love affair with Mother Nature. Colorado’s natural landscape is stunning, and I’m constantly inspired by it.

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One of Reed’s jewelers working on a men’s chain link bracelet

How did you develop the aesthetic that we all know today to be synonymous with your brand?

All of my work feels the same in a certain way, because I respond to the energy of a piece. Every piece is one-of-a-kind and handmade. While I do believe they all vary greatly, they are built from my imagination and it’s easy to see my passion infused with all of the jewelry. That good energy flows throughout my entire collection. The studio builds all of the collections and purchase orders, but we also do a large volume of custom work for private clients.

Your fascination with raw diamonds is quite admirable, as you are interested in utilizing a by-product from colorless diamond mining. Can you tell me more about why they first spoke to you?

In high school geology I fell in love with the raw diamond and its inherent perfect geometric shapes. Later in my trajectory, as I was working on developing my craft, I played with the questions around culture, value, luxury, and beauty. My commitment to the community at large is a three-pronged promise including environmental, social, and civic responsibility. When I first started with raw diamonds it was accessible and powerful. After a while the raw material became scarce, and it took mining again to get more. I politely started to look at other more sustainable methods of buying used stones and continue to employ that buying method today. There is always a bit of mysticism and romance regarding the folklore of stones and the cutting process. This is extremely important to me.

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Earrings in 18k yellow gold with 2.3 cts. t.w. natural color rose-cut diamonds

On your website I also see an ice sculpture and that you were involved in leathersmithing. Do you still play with various materials other than fine metals? Do make extra time to explore your artistic tendencies?

I live my life as an artist, so am always doing everything with a reverence for design and beauty. I am currently working on several sculptural projects, a fragrance project, and a lighting project. I am very excited about a number of sculptural works recently completed. One includes the wreath I just finished for a charity in LA. It was fun to make, and it felt incredible to touch so many people. I am also currently working on a project for next year that involves a cooking show, a chef, my LA studio, and little ol’ me. I do many projects throughout the year that keep me close to many forms of art that I love.

If you weren’t involved in jewelry what would you be doing with your life?

I would still be creating art. I like to think that the jewelry chose me. I am excited that by working hard to build the Todd Reed brand rather than simply making and selling jewelry I’ve been able to bring all aspects of my life as an artist into business. It’s all exactly the same to me.

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Setting stones in a cuff bracelet in the Boulder, Colo., studio 

What was your first trade show? How many pieces did you sell? What was the biggest lesson learned?

My first show was American Craft Council Chicago in either 1996 or 1998, I cannot remember. I do remember selling work, but not sure how much. But I consider that first show to be a success because of everything I learned. My best tip was from Richard Kimball who said, “Hey man, your work is really cool, you should get some lights.” I knew then I would always be learning to improve the quality of my shows and was excited for the journey ahead. 

Can you explain more about how you’ve created a model where the jewelry stays unique?

The uniqueness of my jewelry is my brand promise. I pride myself on this as well as the brand experience for my audience. I still design about 40 new works per week and do custom work with clients every day. The success of any company will always be connected to your brand purpose. Many companies do not include the uniqueness of product in their offering, and therefore they lack variety. But on the other hand if you want big numbers, another sales strategy, you could get big without actually having a unique product. It’s very interesting to think about this paradigm. Having a good or unique product is not completely necessary to succeed, but connecting to one’s brand purpose is paramount in establishing trust and confidence.

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Mixed metal cuff in 18k yellow gold and sterling silver with patina with 0.5 ct. t.w. round brilliant diamonds

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years I see myself doing what I’m doing now. I envision the company even more stable and myself further along the path of becoming an expert communicator. I would expect to see more collaborations and strategic partnerships.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you could give to an emerging designer?

Try to establish a strong purpose and also to remember that consistency builds trust. Be consistent!

Is there anything that you would like to see changed in the jewelry industry?

There are many things I’d like to see changed, but I’ll stick to one for this interview. I think the industry would benefit from adopting a more accepting policy of “we’re in this together,” meaning that the desperation in competitiveness is nauseating. There are many channels of distribution nowadays for designers to reach consumers and the other way around (consumers to reach designers). I see good retailers losing because they are coming from a place of fear, and they are not willing to adapt. Also many retailers are hesitant to share the glory, so to speak, with designers or brands. With more of a community-based outlook I believe this antiquated ship could right itself.

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One of Reed’s jewelers working on a men’s band

How do you contribute to building community in the jewelry world?

Again purpose is everything, so experience is the second promise my brand makes. Everything we do is to build community. I do this by mentoring many companies at a time, being a consistent juror for competitions, and by promoting and developing award and editorial competitions for young designers. I’m active in best business practice talks around mining and other resource issues. I respond to any editorial or book on the business and the art. I attend, or my staff attends, every relevant function industry wide. I am friends and/or colleagues with most of the industry and believe wholly that in a high tide all boats will rise. I’ve been outspoken against memo, mining, and bad business for over 20 years. We involve ourselves in local, regional, national, and international charities, and information sources that support and promote arts in community and in schools. I’m involved in Maker Day in LA as well as similar programs nationally. Just today I was speaking at town council to promote initiative.

Any philanthropic efforts you’d like to mention?

We support Earthworks. We also donate to various local and industry charities throughout the year. One of our most recent collaborations was with an incredible organization that helps children caught in the foster care system find good homes.

Why are you excited for JCK Tucson?

I’m excited to see friends and get back into selling to our supportive client base. Many of the Todd Reed retailers that have become like family and regularly visit Tucson.

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A stack of alternative bridal rings made using 18k yellow gold and natural color diamonds. Each piece is one-of-a-kind and handcrafted in Boulder, Colo.