Ann Ko, the third-generation creative director/designer of Liven Co. jewelry, was actually once on the path to becoming a doctor! We’re thankful she changed her mind and decided to pursue gemology, because she now makes gorgeous jewelry for us all to enjoy. Since taking over the family business, which her grandfather started in Taiwan, Ann has designed more contemporary pieces in an effort to stay current and create collections that speak to her. We chatted with her this week about the inspiration she draws from uncommon places, advice she has for up-and-coming designers, and her own personal style. We’re very excited to see Liven Co.’s latest designs at JCK Las Vegas this year!
How did you get started in the jewelry industry?
Jewelry has always been a part of my family’s legacy. My grandfather started Liven in Taiwan, and my parents continued its legacy in Hawaii, then in Los Angeles. But my path to becoming a designer was far from linear. I was on the premed track throughout my studies, but after getting my degree in biochemistry, I decided to take a detour to pursue a more creative path, and I haven’t looked back since. I obtained a graduate gemologist degree from GIA, fell in love with the science of gems, and became the third-generation creative director/designer of my family’s journey in the industry.
Since then I have striven to take Liven in a more current direction by designing contemporary pieces and collections that speak to me. Through the years, jewelry styles may have changed, but one thing has remained constant—love and family. We are still very much a family business with a big heart. Our love for our craft and our customers (who are like family) is what keeps us motivated to continue this creative journey.
What is your go-to source for inspiration?
Inspiration really is everywhere for me—from the view from my office window, traveling to far-off places, to the simple patterns in a tile; everything that I see and feel is a steady flow of inspiration.
Currently, I’ve been inspired by all things resort—something about the light layers, with subtle textures, combined with the summer season’s blue hues and little pops of color, is really connecting with me. Also, I can always find inspiration from going to antique and flea markets; just seeing what artists of past lifetimes have created is eye-opening.
If I’m feeling a creative block, I’ll peruse the internet or magazines for color/pattern inspiration—just seeing images of different and interesting color combinations or textures in textiles can give me that little kick-start I need.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is just starting out in the industry?
My biggest piece of advice is to believe in yourself and continue to soak in as much knowledge as possible. It’s so easy to get caught up with what everyone else is doing and distract yourself from your vision, passion, and your personal design aesthetic. If you keep learning—whether it’s getting a foundation degree from GIA or eagerly taking on new tasks at your job—everything that you learn, in conjunction with where your passions lie, will help guide you to your sweet spot within the industry.
Again, don’t stop learning! Soak it all in, figure out what your strengths are, and focus on them. The hard work will pay off!
Describe your brand in three words.
Contemporary. Everyday. Luxury.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career? The biggest reward?
Being in the industry is filled with challenges and rewards, sometimes both at the same time!
I would say my biggest challenge has been my internal battle with perfection. Being a designer, details are a critical part of what I do. Sometimes the difference between a successful style versus a dud lies in the proportion of a piece. A little too much or a little too little of one aspect makes the piece no longer flattering. But running on those same principles can overcomplicate decisions in running a business, and not all decisions are or should be that complex.
Learning to break things down to basic concepts, and letting things go, have been vital to my growth and sanity.
The biggest reward is definitely hearing from our happy customers, and having them share their story with us. As I mentioned before, our family business is based on family and love—and when our customers love their pieces, it really is the most rewarding feeling. The fact that we can create something special and unique that is a meaningful part of someone’s life story is remarkable.
Why are you excited for JCK Las Vegas?
Not only are we super excited to be able to share our latest designs with our family of retailers, and meet new and potential retail partners, I’m excited to see some of my fellow designers and jewelry friends from all over the world. It’s the one time of year we all come together under one roof.
What is one piece of your jewelry you could never live without?
Before I was born, my grandma made me a 24 karat baby signet ring. It serves as a constant reminder of the love and support of my family. It’s my lucky charm, and something I hold dear to my heart.
Since my niece was born last year, I’ve been wanting to design a special piece that she’ll hopefully cherish for years to come. I hope that I can make something as meaningful as that signet ring was for me, for her.
What is your social media app of choice?
Facebook and Instagram.
What is one item you’d be willing to splurge on?
I recently moved into a new space, and would love to find the perfect piece of contemporary art that inspires me and helps to tie in the look and feel of the room.
What is your favorite quote or personal mantra?
“If you work hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen”—I truly believe and live by this!
Describe your personal jewelry style.
I love mixing delicate layers with a larger statement piece. I also love clean lines and simplicity in design, which describes a lot of my pieces. Simple shapes and concepts that are beautifully executed speak volumes. Precision in design is something I truly appreciate.
You’ll also always find me wearing my personalized plaque.
What’s next for your company?
I’m super excited about some projects that are in the works! We can’t reveal them just yet, but stay tuned! :)