Mike Berger’s latest project combines his love of estate
jewelry with his passion for eco-friendly materials. This longtime retailer—his
family runs Lippa’s Jewelers in Burlington, Vt., and he operates Lippa’s Estate
and Fine Jewelry in San Francisco—recently debuted Stuart Berger Designs, an
American-made jewelry line comprised of reclaimed metals and Fair Trade gems.
The company name conflates the names of its two founders:
Berger and Matt Stuart, a friend who has since moved on to other projects. Both took
part in designing the premiere collection called Ruby Rocks. The line contains
17 pieces featuring recycled palladium from Hoover & Strong’s Harmony
Metals division and rough-cut rubies, a less-popular material in industry.
Berger exhibited at the Buyer’s Market of American Craft’s
Niche The Show—his first trade show—in Las Vegas this year, and spoke to JCK
this week about the line and its future.
JCK: What is your design inspiration and the niche of this
MB: I grew up in Vermont, where my family has had a retail
store for 80 years. Vermont is a green state (it’s been recycling for years
before other states) and very liberal, and having been in the estate business—I
was constantly recycling, reusing materials, and re-cutting old stones—I think
that’s the trend of the future. And since I keep hearing more and more people
ask questions about the Kimberly process, the age of stones in jewelry, and
whether or not the metal in their jewelry is recycled, I thought that the
timing of this line would be right.
JCK: Why palladium and rubies?
MB: The estate business is difficult to control—you never
know what you’re going to be able to buy—so when I was presented with an
opportunity to use some ruby rough, I decided to try something new. I wanted to
take something that was not being utilized in industry (rough rubies had been
sitting in a friend’s safe for years), and do something creative with it. I had
taken a design class at the GIA in Carlsbad [Calif.] where I got my graduate
gemology degree, so I started sketching on paper napkins, and came up with the
styles you see today. But I am working on expanding into other colored stones as
well. I used palladium because I wanted to work with an alternative metal, it
was in the platinum family, and unlike white gold, it won’t discolor at all.
JCK: Describe the signature style of your jewelry. How do
your styles stand out as a Stuart Berger look?
MB: I try to combine modern and estate looks in a wearable
way. For example, the Pervidi earrings have metalwork on top that’s considered
an Edwardian look, but I’ve placed slices of ruby behind the metal so the ruby
shows through, and added some diamond accents.
JCK: What are your price points, and where is the jewelry
MB: The line retails from $1,800 to $10,000, and it’s made
in San Francisco.
JCK: How many retailers currently carry the line?
MB: I sell it at my retail store in San Francisco, and at my
family’s store in Vermont, and I do have a Facebook page that is generating some
Mike Berger, G.G., owner, Stuart Berger Designs, San Francisco;
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