I met Erik Stewart at the JCK Las Vegas show, when I spotted him sitting among a row of the 2012 JCK Rising Stars in the Design Center. Not only did his creations catch my eye, but his personality and easy demeanor were equally endearing. I felt as though I was chatting with an old friend, albeit a super-cool, charming friend who happens to be wickedly talented at designing jewelry. As I understand it, Erik hasn’t had too bad a year, either, winning the Buyer’s Choice Award for platinum red carpet jewelry in the 2012 Platinum Innovation Awards. Plus, he made a ring inspired by one of the people I admire most: architect Antoni Gaudí. Does it get more awesome than that? I must say, it’s getting harder to call Erik Stewart a rising star; his star has risen. I’ve clearly been won over, and now it’s your turn. Learn a bit more about Erik and his designs below.
JCK Marketplace: How did you get into jewelry design?
Erik Stewart: My mother is a first-generation jewelry designer and instructor, so I grew up in the business. I didn’t have an interest in it until my adolescence, when I realized I could take my visual [idea] and make it tangible. My first pendant wasn’t sophisticated—it was the logo of my then-favorite rap duo, Kris Kross. It was a fabricated sterling pendant of their logo, a backwards “K” mirrored with a “K” and bail at top.
Years later, I explored my own designs and pushed traditional boundaries. My father’s talent in architecture began to show through my concepts as well. This is around the time that I began traveling with my mother, showcasing in exhibitions around the country. I created a small handful of designs finished in 18k gold and gemstones. I was 15 years old when I had my first sale and was hooked by the possibility that I could turn my passion into sustainable income.
JCK Marketplace: If you could sum up the Erik Stewart brand in just a few words, which would you choose?
ES: Innovative, conceptual, dynamic, “Art for the Body.”
JCK Marketplace: What sort of inspiration do you look to when designing your jewelry?
ES: I am interested in everything, from how things are made to nature, arts, and culture, including architecture, food, dance, music, theater, and fashion. My process is to keep an open mind and to incorporate my emotions with my senses to visualize an expression. I find traveling and engaging in new experiences to be particularly helpful. My Transit cuff bracelet was inspired by my observations of cultural diversity passing on the Brooklyn Bridge. My Gaudí ring design (right) was sketched at Parc Guell in Barcelona, a tribute to architect Antoni Gaudí. I see visions of designs and doodle wherever I am. Just this year, the Noteshelf app (on iPad) has become an extension of myself.
Additionally, I am inspired by the metal itself and love utilizing negative space, textures, and dents. In the ring and pendant designs of Mooncheese, I created concave surfaces in the metal, which transformed the simple design into a dynamic piece of jewelry with a minimal amount of gemstones. A similar concept also applies to your favorite, the Fluted earrings.
ES: Fluted! The ring is a modern [version] of the Elizabethan collar known as the ruff. In July 2005, while on a backpacking trip, the vision originated during my visit to a museum in Madrid, the Museo del Prado. The outcome of the design surpassed my imagination, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.
JCK Marketplace: What was your favorite experience (or memory) from JCK Las Vegas?
ES: Being a JCK Rising Star this year is the most fulfilling experience to date and marks the accomplishment of a goal I had set for myself 15 years ago when I attended my first JCK show. I’ve always been in awe of the innovation of the designers featured in the Rising Star section, as well as the Design Center, and was honored to be chosen this year. On top of an already unforgettable experience, I won two other awards that same weekend—Rio Grande Saul Bell and PGI Platinum Innovation. The response and support of the trade was phenomenal and validating of my efforts. I look forward to exhibiting next year.
JCK Marketplace: If you could give one piece of advice to jewelry retailers, what would it be?
ES: I would love to see more retailers offer a greater spectrum of jewelry design in their showcases. Customers are unaware of the possibility of obtaining art in jewelry. Museums and galleries can be found almost anywhere around the world; in relation, a jewelry retailer very well could be that destination for artful jewelry as well as traditional.
JCK Marketplace: It’s happy hour—what are you drinking?
ES: Whiskey and ginger juice. Yum!