The year 1998 was an eventful one for jewelry designer Cynthia Ryan. In January she launched her business from her Manhattan home. She also joined the Accessories Circuit (five annual trade markets for upscale accessory designers), and by the end of January, she had six orders from jewelers around the country. Her second market, in May, landed 12 more orders. She hired the Main Floor showroom in Manhattan to represent her lines and promoted her collections through direct mail. Her “Finial” collection appeared in Accessories magazine in June 1998.
She met with representatives of Saks Fifth Avenue several times that summer, and they admired her work. “They really liked a few pieces [but] wanted me to fill out the collections before they bought anything,” Ryan recalls. “Their customers wanted matching sets of rings, bracelets, collar necklaces, and earrings.” Meanwhile, Ryan readied other collections for future Accessories Circuit markets. Then, less than a year after unveiling her wares, she landed an order from Nordstrom. Two weeks after that, Ryan got even better news: She was pregnant with her first child.
Tough times. Ryan and her husband, New York attorney Bill O’Brien, didn’t anticipate many problems juggling family and careers—after all, Ryan was working from home. But three weeks into the pregnancy, myriad complications arose, putting Ryan’s health and the baby’s safety at risk. Her doctor mandated bed rest for nearly her entire first trimester.
Ryan’s husband and her mother, Maren Ryan, stepped in to help. They worked in tandem, dropping off and picking up models at the caster. Ryan cut back on her weekly trips to gemstone vendors; instead, her mother picked up vendor-selected batches for Ryan to check at home and picked up finished product for her to inspect. Colleagues, too, were sympathetic to Ryan’s plight: On one occasion, when Ryan’s mother was unable pick up an order, a manufacturer’s wife hand-delivered a package to her. “I was so frustrated,” Ryan recalls. “I’m a perfectionist, yet I couldn’t be on top of this situation with my limited abilities at the time.”
Six weeks into the high-risk pregnancy, she knew she couldn’t make it to the January market and fill Christmas orders on time, too. She let clients know she wouldn’t be at the post-Christmas show. Ryan estimates her absence cost her a half-dozen new orders. Her communication with Saks also stopped, and her goal of selling jewelry to the high-end specialty store was shelved, indefinitely. “But doctors told me this was serious,” she says. Standing at a trade show all day for several days could jeopardize the pregnancy. But while she scrambled to orchestrate the completion of Christmas merchandise—this time with limited mobility—more pregnancy complications arose.
Ryan wanted to show new merchandise at the upcoming May market, but that meant another difficult decision: Hire someone or scale down orders even more? Lacking the funds to hire help, she cut back on business. She rationalized: “I can’t do the shows, but [at least] my merchandise is in the showroom.”
After her Christmas orders went out (on time), she worked only two hours a day. If she had to make a local trip, it was brief, and, to keep legwork to a minimum, she stopped pursuing new accounts. She also halted weekly advertising efforts, including postcard mailings. “I just couldn’t give the business my full attention,” she says. “My baby was most important.”
Ryan’s obstetrician induced labor on May 25, 1999, and her daughter Eve was born. She was healthy at birth, weighing in at 7 lbs., 7 oz., but on the baby’s third day of life, she was diagnosed with jaundice so doctors rushed her to the neonatal intensive care unit of Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. After nearly a weeklong stay in ICU, Eve’s health improved enough for her to be taken home.
“When her eyes focused on my hair—her first real sight—I knew she was the most important concern in my life,” says Ryan. “And in an adult lifetime, what’s a few years off from a profession to raise a family? My husband and I both feel having a parent with your kids on a daily basis is important. I don’t know if it was wise from a business standpoint to take time off from my career—and it’s not as if I ever set a date to halt work. I just knew that to have large accounts like Saks, you have to be aggressive and create new lines of products five times a year. Once I decided not to be in the fall  market, I told the showroom to pull my lines and put another designer in my place. It was a very hard decision to make.”
A nice place. Eve is now two-and-a-half years old and active in swimming and music classes. “She loves to sing and dance, too,” says Ryan. And Ryan is creating jewelry again.
“Last fall, I met two other ‘designing’ moms at a local park,” she says. “We organized a private sale in our neighborhood and participated in a local craft fair. The community response was terrific.”
Today, Ryan has a different focus and intensity. “I present myself as an artist and a jeweler, and here’s the line I have to offer,” she says. “I’m designing new pieces, but they don’t have to do with the markets. I’m keeping everything at a smaller level.
“It’s exciting to spend most of my time with my daughter and still have a hand in jewelry,” she continues. “Before [I became a mom], I thought I had to work on a large scale [with big stores] or else nothing at all. But my manufacturer accepts my new direction and is dealing with the smaller numbers. I like selling to people in my community, including local jewelers and museum-type and specialty stores. I still think about Saks, but it’s not the right time. Where I am right now is a nice place to be.”