Keiko Mita discovered metal work while studying fine arts at Hokkaido University of Education in Sapporo, Japan, before earning an Associates Degree in jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Intitially, Mita produced large embossed works, but later focused her energy on sculpture, objects of art and eventually jewelry. In 2002, she moved to New York City and introduced K. Mita. We caught up with Mita to learn more about her inspiration, her design process, what she’s looking forward to at JCK Tucson 2020 and more.
How did your journey in the jewelry industry begin?
I discovered metal work while studying fine arts at the university in Sapporo, where I earned a bachelor’s degree. I enjoyed transforming cold metal into infinite forms. Later I earned an Associate Degree with a major in jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Initially I produced large embossed works, but eventually I turned my attention to sculpture, objects of art and ultimately jewelry.
What was the initial inspiration for your brand?
I was born on Rebun, the tiny northern most island in Japan. I was inspired by the spectacular scenery and beautiful wildflowers on the stormy and isolated island. My Sand Dune collection is based on the sandy beaches and powerful waves crashing on the shore.
What else inspires you when designing?
Patterns in nature and stones. Stones speak to me when I do designs.
Can you give us an idea of your design process?
Basically, I begin with a rough sketch on a drawing pad. Once I am happy with the design, I do a more precise drawing. Then I start to carve wax. Along the way, I sometimes change the design a little bit. After I finish carving, I cast and assemble it. Depending on the piece, I apply texture afterwards. I also like to combine hand fabrication with casting to enhance the movement.
How long does it typically take to create a piece of jewelry?
It depends on the item. One hour to 50 hours. I should count how much time I spend on each item, but sometimes I keep on working until I like it, especially on one of a kind items, so I don’t know how much time I spent.
How would you describe your brand using only three words?
Jewelry with a difference.
How do you personalize your jewelry and designs?
I do many custom orders. There are two types of customization. One is the customer requests to change something based on what I already created. That is easy to design but it doesn’t mean it is easy to create. Sometimes I suffer to create! Another one is creating something totally new based on what they like (or think they like). It can be very time consuming to decide on a design. Once I drew more than 20 designs and the customer changed her mind and wanted to have something totally different.
You have a number of different collections. Do you have a personal favorite?
I have had maybe 8-10 collections over the years, but more recently I have had four collection. It is so easy to create a new collection because I like many different looks. However, I decided to keep to one main collection — Sand Dune — when I decided to do wholesale business (although more recently I have begun to introduce my Washi collection). When I did retail I made what I felt like so I had many more collections.
How about a favorite piece?
“Gloria” ring that I made in Japan. It has pave diamonds on one side and a large diamond on the other side. It’s very sculptural and looks different from every angle. Also, “Finding the Lake” Ring from my Sand Dune Collection. It was a very sculptural free form cut Green Quartz ring. I was thinking about the wondering lakes in the desert when I was creating that ring.
Are you partial to any particular stones or hues?
Since my birthstone is tourmaline, I tend to use many tourmalines. Hues— it is hard to pick one! But I love a gorgeous green.
What do you think sets your jewelry apart from other companies that specialize in fine jewelry?
I think my designs and texture, mostly because of my creative process and unique one of a kind stones. My jewelry is made in the USA, NYC with care, so it can be customized in many ways. I can’t say it is 100%, but I try to use recycled metal and conflict free stones.
Have you noticed a shift in consumer attitudes since the start of your brand?
Social media and online sales changed consumer attitudes. They check jewelry and learn about it online before they decide to buy or order. Also, demand for gold jewelry seems to shift with the price of gold. Of course, ethical sourcing is very important now too.
How would you describe your target audience?
It used to be a professional or otherwise established woman 40-60 looking for something different yet still refined when I was mainly doing retail business. Today I am also trying to reach younger women (25 and up), primarily through my alternative bridal jewelry and stackable rings.
What is one of your favorite memories at JCK Tucson?
Beautiful scenic, weather with a glass of wine during the show! Also, I always enjoy talking to the other jewelers and learning about what they do. Sometimes a jeweler is from another country so I can learn about their business overseas. Other times I get to share experiences and learn how others are addressing similar issues, whether it be making jewelry, finding customers, social media, etc.
What was your favorite part of JCK Tucson 2019?
I always enjoy talking to a new gallery that likes my jewelry. I also like it when a gallery that saw my jewelry in the past comes back to see it again because I know they have been thinking of me. Also, JCK Tucson gives me the opportunity to talk to wholesale customers on the terrace of the hotel (outside of the show). It is a very intimate environment; that is the reason I really like the show.
What are you most looking forward to at JCK Tucson 2020?
I really look forward to meeting new people and old friends, whether they be customers or other jewelers, to show them my new work. In Tucson I also love to go stone shopping to find something interesting and unique.