This month, we got the chance to speak with John Atencio, who has designed fine jewelry in Colorado for more than 40 years. It all started when he was a business student at Colorado State University and wanted to give his girlfriend a ring. Little did he know this would be the launch of a newfound passion and his own jewelry brand. He made his girlfriend’s ring himself out of silver and since then, has designed thousands of more pieces of jewelry. Atencio hand designs each of the brand’s pieces of fine jewelry to ensure the creation of something distinctive, personalized, and lasting. See what he had to say about his journey to and in the jewelry industry and about his design process and inspirations:
Did you always have an interest in jewelry and/or design/the arts, or is it just something that you discovered from the first experience and fell in love with?
I had no passion for jewelry whatsoever but had a real passion for art and design. I had already fallen in love with the creative process—but jewelry was really the first thing that I was able to get my hands into that was outside of the school experience.
Tell us about your design process.
My design process is pretty much like writing a book. I constantly refer back to previous collections and drawings. (I have a pretty extensive library of collections and sketches after 42 years). From those libraries, I find either a design attribute or something inside an existing design that I can grab and move forward with. Having a skill set from which to draw affords me the opportunity to manipulate and create from existing experiences, inspirations and feelings.
What inspires you when designing?
What inspires me is the creative process. At the end of the day, that is the juice I am looking for and the occupation that I have chosen. There are a lot of aspects to the jewelry design business—but it is the actual designing of the jewelry that I seek and enjoy the most.
Does Colorado style and the states natural beauty help draw inspiration or have an influence on your designs?
The outdoors and the beauty and natural habitat of Colorado is clearly a part of my inspiration. The mountains and my surroundings are part of every day and everything that I do. I am outdoors a lot and exercise a lot; it definitely weighs into my inspiration and design aesthetic. Colorado has a lot of sunshine—and my jewelry has a lot of shiny surfaces.
Have your surroundings influenced your jewelry design? Do you think your designs would turn out differently if you were in a different setting?
It is what it is to be in Colorado. It is different weather, a different altitude. It is what I am drinking, eating—each affects your perspective.
I also work out of the Cherry Creek Mall. There is a lot to be said for being in a fashion environment every day. There is a lot of stimulation in terms of fashion, style, people and activity.
Being in a factory and production environment was not as stimulating as it is now—being immersed in a fashion center. I enjoy moving outside of the box of making jewelry—to inside the box of fashion and other designers, I am constantly being re-energized and stimulated.
Has the recent demand for sustainable jewelry created a shift in consumer attitudes, or is fine jewelry and engagement rings a separate entity that is sort of immune to trends and shifts in demand in other categories?
It is all of a piece. Everything is shifting. People are wearing fashion jewelry for engagement and engagement is fashion today. People are looking at jewelry differently than they were 5-10 years ago. There is certainly more demand for sustainable jewelry and responsible sourcing. There is also more demand for creative outside-the-box thinking. I don’t think that engagement rings are a separate entity—it is shifting like everything is shifting. We are bringing back new clean simple engagement designs, for example.
You need to have multiple attributes to meet the shift in consumer attitudes. In the case of diamonds that have different attributes—we have done well with off-color and fancy shapes. We have also done well with pieces that accommodate larger gemstones. You can’t tell when a customer comes in the door if they are going to buy a quarter carat or a four-carat. It is a very different economy.
What pieces/collections do you like to focus on showcasing at the show?
In terms of the show, I would like a booth that is about 100 feet long—because I think you need to focus on the entire collection. You want to represent the breadth and depth of the collection—from one-of-a-kind signature pieces all the way to Bridal.
How long does it take you to create something new?
Actually, I would say it takes 42 years. It is about creating every day. It is part of the environment and culture. It took me 42 years to design the level of jewelry that I am now creating. It took 42 years to come up with our new Elite Collection. It all builds on itself and is all a part of the process of creating new. It is an evolution.
How do you personalize your jewelry and designs?
In the evolution of the brand and my design ability, I created an aesthetic. The aesthetic became so grounded in my head, my heart and my hand—that I personalize every piece of jewelry every day based on that aesthetic.
What do you think sets your jewelry apart from other companies that specialize in fine jewelry?
One designer and 42 years. It is back to that aesthetic and that evolution. When you have that time and that aesthetic, it comes out special. It necessarily sets us apart from all other brands and companies that specialize in fine jewelry.
You have a number of retail locations in Colorado. Would you consider expanding to other parts of the country?
I now have seven retail locations on the front range of Colorado. I would consider expanding to other parts of the country if I had some distribution and some brand recognition before expanding. The wholesale piece actually helps in defining that sort of footprint.
You have a number of different collections. Do you have a personal favorite?
I do. My favorite is my last collection. If I don’t get excited and put my heart into it—and feel that it is my best work, then it can’t be my favorite. They seem to be getting better.
My favorite piece is the one that smiles the best in the camera, the Intrigue Engagement ring. I created it—worked and re-worked it—during my early years. It has become iconic and has withstood the test of time.
You have incorporated color into a few of your collections. Are you partial to any particular stone or hue?
If I had to pick a particular stone or color, it would be Tanzanite.
What do you see as an up-and-coming trend in the bridal jewelry market?
I see larger rings and more intricate design. It is definitely a challenge for retailers to fill the appetites of the next generation.
What kind of consumer do you have in mind when you’re designing?
I have the consumer with an appreciation for artistry and fine design, with adequate capital and discerning taste.
What are you looking forward to at Luxury 2019?
It is a whole new venue and I am looking forward to that. I think the location of the show will attract more buyers and more traffic.
What are your goals for Luxury 2019?
To build a stronger stepping stone for our brand in the future. Better jewelry, better location, and even better branding. Last year was our first show back after an extended hiatus. Looking at 2019 there is lots of opportunity.
Which goals did you accomplish in 2018?
The emotional piece. Coming back after the long hiatus was difficult but beautiful. It is like getting back up and being glad that you did.